[dehai-news] Alertnet.org: President's Corner: President Bush Could Repeat His Father's Mistake in Somalia

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Fri Dec 19 2008 - 14:55:18 EST

President's Corner: President Bush Could Repeat His Father's Mistake in

19 Dec 2008 02:05:00 GMT

Written by: Refugees International

At the end of his presidency in 1992 President George H.W. Bush deployed
U.S. troops to Somalia as part of a United Nations operation that ended in
disaster for America. His son, President George W. Bush, could make a
similar mistake.

The current Bush administration is rightly concerned about escalating
violence and humanitarian tragedy in Somalia, Somali piracy in the Indian
Ocean, and the increasing fragility of the U.S.-backed government in
Somalia. In response it is proposing a plan that could lead to greater
military involvement in Somalia by the United Nations and most likely by the
U.S. and its allies.

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. is discussing the deployment of a
small UN peacekeeping force to the capital city of Mogadishu to protect the
current government. In addition, it is proposing a draft resolution that
says that all nations may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia,
including in its airspace, to interdict those who are using Somali territory
to plan, facilitate or undertake acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea and
to otherwise prevent those activities. Such actions would almost certainly
involve the U.S. military.

I think the resolution is crazy, and I'm not alone. Some of our closest
allies, who also can veto UN Security Council Resolutions, oppose the plan.
The top officials in the U.S. military, including Defense Secretary Robert
Gates, have raised questions about the wisdom of the plan. And Somali
experts are speaking out against it.

These eleventh hour shifts in policy will only create more blowback for the
United States in the region, and serve as a de facto recruiting tool for
hard-line Islamist militia, or shabaab, that is wrapping itself in a mantle
of Somali nationalism fighting foreign forces, according to Ken Menkhaus, a
Somali expert who advises the Enough Project. The U.S. is already supporting
an unpopular deployment of Ethiopian soldiers to Somalia in support of an
increasingly weak and unpopular government.

Somalia is a poor, violent and largely lawless country torn apart by a
series of civil wars. Any solution to these problems must start with
political reconciliation and economic growth, not military action. I thought
the U.S. learned this lesson 15 years ago when Somali militia forces shot
down a U.S. helicopter and killed 18 Army Rangers, a loss chronicled in the
book and movie, Blackhawk Down. U.S. forces had gone to Somalia as part of a
UN humanitarian mission supported by the first President Bush in 1992, but
the mission morphed into an anti-warlord security mission in 1993, with
disastrous consequences.

Could a similar tragedy happen again? You bet. A small UN peacekeeping
force, as the U.S, and others have proposed, would not have the strength to
protect the current government or civilians. In fact, it would be vulnerable
to attack itself, as is the current African Union force in the Somali
capital. As for fighting piracy, the Associated Press reported that Bryan
Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "There are many that are seeking a
simple military solution|to address the piracy issue. I think that we need
to take a more comprehensive look at this, and while there may be a military
component, this is an issue that has to be addressed more broadly." Both
Secretary Gates and the U.S. admiral who would implement an anti-piracy
policy have also raised concerns.

Somalia today is a humanitarian disaster. More than 3.2 million people - 40%
of the population - depend on outside assistance. Some 1.3 million Somalis
are displaced within the country and some 400,000 are refugees in
surrounding countries. My colleagues, Patrick Duplat and Jake Kurtzer,
surveyed conditions of Somali refugees last month. They concluded that the
incoming U.S. administration should overhaul U.S. policy towards Somalia by
taking a comprehensive regional approach, prioritizing the provision of
humanitarian assistance and calling for a truly inclusive political process.

What we need in Somalia today is a new approach, not a return to a failed

--Kenneth Bacon


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