Monday’s news of a US naval attack in Somalia against Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection with 2002’s attacks in Kenya against the Paradise Hotel and an Israeli airliner, and a suspected associate of Harun Fazul, who was indicted for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, only deepens my suspicion that that the US is not interested in helping to re-build the Somali state. Rather, the Bush administration’s policy makers and military planners deem the “wild-west” environment that is southern Somalia the perfect arena for carrying out a policy of assassinating suspected al-Qaeda operatives who use southern Somalia as a base for their East Africa operations.
The failure to kill Saleh and the death of Somalia civilians instead only serves to underscore the unwavering stupidity of US policy in the Horn. In December 2007, the US backed an Ethiopian invasion of southern Somalia in order to dislodge a coalition of Islamist factions who had styled themselves the Union of Islamic Courts. The Courts had been the only group strong enough to bring peace to southern Somalia since the demise of Mohamed Farrah Aidid who was killed in 1996. Rather than use diplomacy and other means to have the Courts marginalize its more radical factions, however, the US opted to support the Ethiopian military in destroying the Court’s militia armies and threw its diplomatic weight behind Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, a divided and feckless government-in-waiting that nonetheless enjoys international, although not internal, legitimacy. The result of this policy has been a return to chaos in southern Somalia. At this point, only those with War on Terror blinders cannot recognize the cynical pattern of US behavior that, in the words of Condi Rice, promises “[t]he Somali people… an historic opportunity to begin to move beyond two-decades of warlordism, extreme violence, and human suffering,” while deliberately undermining the hope of a stable Somali state by its unstinting opposition to the Courts, who by the way are currently making a comeback–taking over towns in southern Somalia and inflicting a steady stream of casualties on Ethiopian forces, including attacks in and around the Ethiopian protected TFG stronghold of Baidoa. Without a doubt, US support of Ethiopia and TFG in conjunction with the death of innocent Somali civilians only serves to breed greater extremism and resentment against the US and its allies in Somalia and the greater Muslim world.
In Africa’s worst region–genocide in Darfur, military tension between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and the recent political and ethnic tension in Kenya (to name only a few challenges)—failure to seek stabilization and peace in Somalia is like throwing gasoline onto a raging fire. Our politicians lament that the world is becoming a more dangerous place. Unfortunately our current policy in Somalia does not lessen those dangers but increases them.