That long-broken land is, in so many ways, a hell of our own creation. Year by year, stage by stage, American policy has helped drive Somalia ever deeper into the pit. Millions of people have been plunged into anguish; countless thousands have lost their lives. It seems unimaginable that the situation could get even worse -- and yet that is precisely where we are today: on the precipice of yet another horrific drop into the abyss.
The Way of the Warlord
All of this is captured vividly in a new article by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation. His piece, based on solid reporting in the field, is by far the best overview I've seen of the situation in Somalia today -- and of how we got to this horrendous pass.
Scahill notes how the current situation is exemplified by one of the many warlords now being funded by the Peace Laureate:
The notorious Somali paramilitary warlord who goes by the nom de guerre Indha Adde, or White Eyes "is not simply a warlord, at least not officially, anymore. Nowadays, he is addressed as Gen. Yusuf Mohamed Siad, and he wears a Somali military uniform, complete with red beret and three stars on his shoulder. His weapons and his newfound legitimacy were bestowed upon him by the US-sponsored African Union force, known as AMISOM, that currently occupies large swaths of Mogadishu.
"...Yusuf Mohamed Siad was not always known just as Indha Adde. As one of the main warlords who divided and destroyed Somalia during the civil war that raged through the 1990s, he brutally took control of the Lower Shabelle region, which was overwhelmingly populated by a rival clan, earning him the moniker "The Butcher." Then ... he remade himself into an Islamic sheik of sorts in the mid-2000s and vowed to fight foreign invaders, including rival warlords funded and directed by the CIA.- Advertisement -
"Perhaps more than any other figure, Indha Adde embodies the mind-boggling constellation of allegiances and double-crosses that has marked Somalia since its last stable government fell in 1991. And his current role encapsulates the contradictions of the country's present: he is a warlord who believes in Sharia law, is friendly with the CIA, and takes money and weapons from AMISOM. ... Over the past year, the Somali government and AMISOM have turned to some unsavory characters in a dual effort to build something resembling a national army and, as the United States attempted to do with its Awakening Councils in the Sunni areas of Iraq in 2006, to purchase strategic loyalty from former allies of the current enemy -- in this case, the Shabab. Some warlords, like Indha Adde, have been given government ministries or military rank in return for allocating their forces to the fight against the Shabab. Several are former allies of Al Qaeda or the Shabab, and many fought against the US-sponsored Ethiopian invasion in 2006 or against the US-led mission in Somalia in the early 1990s that culminated in the infamous 'Black Hawk Down' incident."
This was precisely the same policy adopted by George W. Bush in 2002, when it was apparently feared that the tiny handful of scattered individuals then in Somalia who might possibly have some loose connection or vague adherence to "al Qaeda" would ... er ... build rocket ships that would drop atom bombs on the Super Bowl, or something. In any case, in the vast, Big Bang-like expansion of power and profiteering that gorged the military-security complex after 9/11, it was thought that "something" had to be done in Somalia. And that "something" was taking American taxpayer money away from schools, roads, hospitals and parks and giving it to Somali warlords, who proceeded to terrorize their own people " and fuel an Islamic insurgency, ostensibly the very outcome the policy was designed to prevent. Scahill notes:
"The 'US government was not helping the [Somali] government but was helping the warlords that were against the government,' Buubaa, the former foreign minister, tells me. Washington 'thought that the warlords were strong enough to chase away the Islamists or get rid of them. But it did completely the opposite. Completely the opposite.'...By the beginning of 2006 (if not well before), the CIA's warlords had become universally despised in Mogadishu. Nearly everyone I interviewed in Mogadishu about this period characterized them as murderers and criminals. The warlords formed a formal coalition whose title reeked of CIA influence: the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism.
"'This was a turning point in Somalia,' says Aynte. At the time, he explains, the Islamic courts were little more than small groups of poorly armed, autonomous militias who supported the implementation of Sharia law and the provision of social services in their regions as a counterbalance to the warlord-sponsored lawlessness that infected the country. They had no central authority. 'But they realized that the sooner they unite, the sooner they can defend these innocent people who have been murdered across the city.' And so they formed the Islamic Courts Union, and local businessmen funded it, allowing the ICU to purchase weapons to take on the warlords. 'People started siding with the Islamic courts,' says Buubaa. The ICU 'brought about some semblance of order and stability to Mogadishu. And a lot of people in Mogadishu appreciated that.'
In the summer of 2006 the ICU, along with fighters from the Shabab, ran the CIA's men out of town. 'The warlords were ejected out of Mogadishu for the first time in sixteen years. No one thought this was possible,' recalls Aynte. From June to December 2006, the ICU 'brought a modicum of stability that's unprecedented in Mogadishu,' reopening the airport and the seaport. 'You could drive in Mogadishu at midnight, no problem, no guards. You could be a foreigner or Somali. It was at total peace.'"
Peace is No Object: The Essence of Imperium
But of course peace was not what Washington had in mind for Somalia. It is never the object of imperial foreign policy. The object was, as always, domination. Obedience. A regime that toes the line -- and crosses the palms of Western elites with the proper amount of silver. The Islamic Courts Union was outside of Washington's control. One couldn't "do business" with them. They were the wrong kind of Muslim fundamentalist -- not like those nice head-choppers and hand-choppers and palm-crossers in Saudi Arabia. So the ICU -- and Somalia's brief window of peace -- had to go. Scahill:
"Most of the entities that made up the Islamic Courts Union did not have anything resembling a global jihadist agenda. Nor did they take their orders from Al Qaeda. The Shabab was a different story, but it was not the most influential or powerful of the ICU groups. Moreover, clan politics in Somalia held the foreign operatives in check. 'We deployed our fighters to Mogadishu with the intent of ceasing the civil war and bringing an end to the warlords' ruthlessness,' says Sheik Ahmed Mohammed Islam, whose Ras Kamboni militia, based in the Jubba region of southern Somalia, joined the ICU in 2006. 'Those of us within the ICU were people with different views; moderates, midlevel and extremists.' ...
"But by most credible accounts, the Al Qaeda influence at the time was small -- consisting of about a dozen foreign operatives and a handful of Somalis with global jihadist aspirations. A UN cable from June 2006, containing notes of a meeting with senior State Department and US military officials from the Horn of Africa task force, indicates that the United States was aware of the ICU's diversity, but would 'not allow' it to rule Somalia. The United States, according to the notes, intended to 'rally with Ethiopia if the 'Jihadist' took over.' The cable concluded, 'Any Ethiopian action in Somalia would have Washington's blessing.' Some within the US intelligence community called for dialogue or reconciliation, but their voices were drowned out by hawks determined to overthrow the ICU."- Advertisement -
Note well the telling phrase in the passage above: the United States
would "not allow" the ICU to rule Somalia. There, in sum, in microcosm,
is the essence of the American Imperium, its guiding philosophy and
modus operandi for more than 65 years: no nation has the right to
determine its own destiny. Only the American power elite can make that
decision: it can "allow" a government to rule, if it suits American
interests -- or else it can institute "regime change." This is the
bedrock principle that informs and determines American foreign policy
across the board, across both parties, and across many decades.
(Of course, this principle cannot always be put into practice to the extent that our elites would like: a frustration that accounts for, say, the vindictive strangulation of Cuba for more than half a century -- during which time Washington has "done business" with regimes far more repressive. But it is the pliability of a regime, not its political structure -- and certainly not its attitude toward human rights -- that determines its "legitimacy" in Washington's eyes.)
Scahill goes on: