By mid-2007, the 50,000 Ethiopian troops that invaded Somalia in late 2006 found themselves increasingly bogged down, facing much fiercer resistance than they had bargained for as Somalis of all stripes temporarily put aside their differences to stand together against the outside invader.
Then U.S. Under Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer insisted that, prior to the invasion, the United States had counseled caution and that Washington had warned Ethiopia not to use military force against Somalia. Frazer was a close collaborator with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Frazer tried repeatedly to distance the United States from responsibility for the Ethiopian invasion in a number of media interviews she gave at the time.
But one of the released WikiLeaks cables suggests a different picture, one that implicates Frazer in pressing Ethiopia's President Meles Zenawi to invade its neighbor. The content of the cable is being widely discussed in the African media. It exposes a secret deal cut between the United States and Ethiopia to invade Somalia. If accurate, the cable suggests that Ethiopia had no intention of invading Somalia in 2006, but was encouraged/pressured to do so by the United States, which pushed Ethiopia behind the scenes. Already bogged down in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time, the Bush administration wanted Ethiopia to invade Somalia with an eye to crushing the Union of Islamic Courts, which was gaining strength in Somalia at the time.
During the invasion there was little doubt that the Ethiopian military incursion was "made in Washington." Like so many other WikiLeaks cables, this one merely puts a dot on the "i" and crosses the "t" on what was generally known, although it does give specific information about Jendayi Frazer's involvement in the affair.
According to the cable, as the main U.S. State Department representative in Africa, Frazer played a key role, spearheading what amounted to a U.S.-led proxy war in conjunction with the Pentagon. At the same time, Frazer was laying the groundwork in the U.S. media, both for the invasion and for a cover-up, claiming that, although the U.S. did not support the Ethiopian military action, she could understand "the Somali threat" and why Ethiopia might find it necessary to go to war.
Frazer spread rumors of a possible jihadist takeover in Somalia that would threaten Ethiopian security. Turns out that media performance was little more than a smokescreen. The U.S. military had been preparing Ethiopia for the invasion, providing military aid and training Ethiopian troops. On December 4, 2006, CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid was in Addis Ababa on what was described as "a courtesy call." Instead, the plans for the invasion were finalized.
At the time of the Somali invasion, Zenawi faced growing criticism for the wave of repression he had unleashed against domestic critics of his rule, including mass arrests, the massacre of hundreds of protesters, and the jailing of virtually all the country's opposition leaders. By the spring of 2006 there was a bill before the U.S. Congress to cut off aid to Zenawi unless Ethiopia's human rights record improved. His human rights record, by the way, has not improved. Given how the U.S. and NATO view Ethiopia's strategic role in the "war on terrorism" and the scramble for African resources, Western support for Zenawi has only increased in recent years.
In 2006, dependent on U.S. support in face of a shrinking political base at home—and against his better judgment—Zenawi apparently caved to Frazer's pressure.
This was not the first time Frazer had tried to instigate a U.S. proxy war in Africa. Earlier, as U.S. ambassador to South Africa, she had tried to put together a "coalition of the willing" to overthrow Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe, an initiative that did not sit so well with South Africa's post-apartheid government and went nowhere.
The 2006 war in Somalia did not go well either for the United States or Ethiopia. Recently a State Department spokesperson, Donald Yamamoto, admitted that the whole idea was "a big mistake," obliquely admitting U.S. responsibility for the invasion. It resulted in 20,000 deaths and, according to some reports, left up to 2 million Somalis homeless. The 50,000 Ethiopian invasion force, which had expected a cake walk, instead ran into a buzz saw of Somali resistance, got bogged down, and soon withdrew with its tail between its legs.
The political result of the invasion was predictable: the generally more moderate Union of Islamic Courts was weakened, but it was soon replaced in Somalia by far more radical and militant Islamic groups with a more openly anti-American agenda.
As the situation deteriorated, in an attempt to cover both the U.S. and her own role, Frazer then turned on Zenawi, trying to distance herself from the fiasco using an old diplomatic trick: lying. Now that the invasion has turned sour, she's changed her tune, arguing in the media that both she and the State Department had tried to hold back the Ethiopians, discouraging them from invading rather than pushing them to attack. The WikiLeaks cable tells quite a different story.
In 2009, the Ethiopian forces withdrew, leaving Somalia in a bigger mess and more unstable than when their troops went in three years prior. Does there seems to be a pattern here?
Rob Prince is publisher of the online Colorado Progressive Jewish News.