Published 24 May 07
by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist
Smokin' on Somalia
Last week, my colleague at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), Andrew McCarthy – the former Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York who led the prosecution of "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman as well as the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and who now heads FDD's Center for Law and Counterterrorism – forwarded to me some interesting material on Operation Somali Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration's 18-month nationwide attempt to crack down on the traffic in qat (also known as khat).
The flowering shrub indigenous to the Horn of Africa yields masses of ubiquitous evergreen leaves which are chewed by the peoples of the region, especially the Somalis, for its naturally occurring alkaloid cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant whose affects on its users vary from manic hyperactivity characterized by unrealism and emotion instability to drowsy hallucinations marked by depression and lethargy. Following developments in U.S. policy towards the geopolitically sensitive subregion of the Horn, one might be tempted to wonder if most of the 25 tons of qat which the traffickers – 44 were charged in the Southern District Court of New York while 18 others were indicted in Seattle – were accused of smuggling into the American might not have been delivered (and consumed) in government offices inside the Washington Beltway.
On May 10, I testified before the U.S. House of Representatives. At a joint hearing held under the aegis of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight and the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health examined American relations with the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. While I used the opportunity to speak on "Responsible U.S. Policy Toward Ethiopia: Context, Challenges, and Opportunities of a Strategically Vital Relationship," it was pretty clear that I was rather alone in taking the view that the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was one "with which we can work" and, its flaws notwithstanding, remains a reliable partner who has not only "advanced our interests in the Horn of Africa in recent months" but also, with the exception of Uganda, been the only country to put forward resources to support international efforts at stabilization in Somalia.
I took my share of hits for my politically incorrect assessment both at the hearing from congressmen of both parties and subsequently as a torrent of correspondence poured in from critics of the Ethiopian government. In the end, I did not even have to wait one week for vindication of my point. On May 15, Prime Minister Meles gave an interview in which, citing the "onerous financial burden" of operations, he stated he was withdrawing his troops from Somalia where they had intervened in December to drive the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Courts Union from power and have remained ever since to prop up the internationally-recognized but utterly ineffectual "Transitional Federal Government" (TFG). The chair of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konaré, quickly declared that "if Ethiopia withdrew from Somalia today, it would be a catastrophe," while U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazier said it would be a "mistake" for Ethiopia to pull out and all but begged the Ethiopians to stay put.
Two days later, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice announced the appointment of a retired career diplomat, Ambassador John M. Yates, as special envoy to Somalia with a mandate to "represent the United States with the Transitional Federal Institutions" in order to "contribute to the peace and stability of the Horn of Africa." Rice characterized the appointment as being in support of an effort by the people of Somalia to use the TFG as the vehicle to develop their national institutions and overcome the legacy of violence and disorder of the past." Unfortunately, someone neglected to tell the warring Somali clans in Mogadishu: a car bomb killed four Ugandan soldiers taking part in the woefully undermanned African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) "peacekeeping" operation just one day before Dr. Rice named her envoy and, at almost the very same time the appointment was being made in Washington, TFG "Prime Minister" Ali Mohammed Ghedi narrowly escaped another bomb as he escorted the bodies of the Ugandans to the airport; a few days earlier, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes cut short his visit to the former Somali capital after yet another bomb went off 300 meters from the UN building, killing three Somalis.
The supreme irony of Secretary Rice in dispatching an envoy to the TFG on a permanent basis – last month Dr. Frazier visited Baidoa, the provincial outback where the rump "regime" pretends to rule Somalia, but only stayed for a few hours – is that, for all the Bush administration's emphasis on democracy promotion and antiterrorism efforts, the TFG is, as I have repeatedly demonstrated in this column space (see, most recently, my April 12 column, "Peacekeepers with No Peace to Keep"), a motley collection of self-appointed warlords who enjoy little support and even less political legitimacy among their long-suffering countrymen – and that is putting it charitably. An article by a veteran U.S. diplomat published in the American Foreign Service Association's influential Foreign Service Journal recently described the TFG in unusually candid terms as "impotent and corrupt." The sending a retired ambassador to treat with the phantasmal TFG "government" in order to promote "peace and stability" crosses the line between the farcical and tragic, however, when it privileges a pointless mission while simultaneously perpetuating the Department of State's pusillanimous non-engagement with the one part of the former Somalia which not has a democratically elected government but also a secular polity that is a beacon of stability in the region, the Republic of Somaliland, which even hailed in the title of aforementioned Foreign Service Journal article as a "democracy under threat."
Two months ago, I outlined three essential points for realistic policy with respect to Somalia. These remain unaltered by recent developments because they are grounded in the realities of the Somali clans, their history, and political aspirations:
- Recognition of the "wholesale rejection by Somali clans of the TFG as well as any foreign forces which are viewed as shoring up that pretender government… Stop wasting time, money, political capital, and, now, lives on the TFG."
- Acceptance of the fact that "there is no hope of outsiders being able to reconstitute a unitary Somali state." Somalilanders will never agree to turn back the clock and reenter into a union with the rest of the country. The inhabitants of the semi-autonomous northeastern region of Puntland have likewise shown themselves unwilling to chain their destiny to that to the anarchic rest of the former state. Consequently, "short of employing overwhelming brutal force – and, even then, the odds of success are not good – there is little likelihood that Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again."
- Realization that the primary strategic objective of the international community "must therefore be to prevent both outside actors from exploiting the vacuum left by the de facto extinction of the entity formerly known as Somalia and those inside the onetime state from spreading their insecurity throughout a geopolitically sensitive region." While on a purely secondary level the international community might also be interested in facilitating progress inside the failed state, "outsiders' chief interests will be allocating their scarce resources where they can achieve some effect."
This last point is particularly important because actual resources are even scarcer than political will to become involved in the Somali imbroglio: almost six months after a unanimous UN Security Council first authorized an African peacekeeping mission only Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has stepped forward to make a real contribution to the force, the now embattled 1,200 seasoned troops under the command of Major General Levi Karuhunga. Despite repeated assurances of their commitment, the other countries which have pledged troops – Burundi, Ghana, Malawi, and Nigeria – have yet to send so much as platoon, leaving AMISOM woefully under its authorized strength of 8,000. And, as I noted in my January 25 column, "even if U.S. and European envoys manage to cajole other countries into contributing the rest of the 8,000 peacekeepers to take the place of the withdrawing Ethiopian intervention force, it is beyond delusional to think that such a modest contingent of Africans can succeed where the infinitely more robust UNITAF and UNOSOM II forces, with their 37,000 and 28,000 personnel respectively, failed barely a decade ago."
In the final analysis, the only true national interest that the United States has in Somalia is ensuring that foreign non-state actors such as al-Qaeda as well as state sponsors of terrorism or other spoiler states such as Eritrea do not avail themselves of the carcass of the onetime state breed the maggots of their instability and radical Islamist ideology. While an effective Somali central government could potentially be a help in this regard, it is not a prerequisite. A policy of containment can achieve the same strategic effect by a continuing partnership with Ethiopia which has a strong vested interest in preventing spillover, a long-overdue recognition of the democratically elected and politically legitimate authorities in Somaliland, and a redeployment of AMISOM along the boundaries of the former Somali Democratic Republic while beefing up the African force's capabilities. And the U.S. Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) based in nearby Djibouti should certainly continue and even expand its efforts to help build these local capacities even as it remains ready to take preemptive action against terrorist threats should our partners prove themselves unwilling or simply unable to do so.
The "offshore" approach I advocate would not only give Somalis the time and space within which to exercise their self-determination concerning the shape that their political future(s) ought to assume, but it would also more directly and realistically address the key interest of other countries, especially the neighboring states in the Horn of Africa, their concern about spreading insecurity. Furthermore, this realist foreign policy enjoys, at the state level, the advantage of being dependent on neither manic hyperactivity nor exaggerated paralysis, behavioral symptoms which, in individual physiology, can be indicative of smoking – or chewing – psychoactive drugs on the DEA's Schedule I for controlled substances.
– J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs and a Research Fellow of the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.
Dr. Pham is the author of over one hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).
In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review Online's military blog, The Tank.
© 2007 J. Peter Pham
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