Bush and Somalia.

While a great deal of attention has been given to the Bush administration’s activities in Iraq, the administration itself has been making mischief in the places around the world other than Iraq 

In Somalia, for instance, it has been supporting the transitional government in its efforts to topple the popular Islamic Courts Union which six months ago brought to Somalia the first peace and stability it had experienced in sixteen years. Now, though both Ethiopia and the US are denying it, it appears that the Bush administration has sponsored the recent Ethiopian military invasion of Somalia. 

This is how the successful invasion was portrayed by Los Angeles Times staff writer Edmund Sanders on December the 29th 

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — The headline in an Ethiopian newspaper drew familiar, if unflattering, comparisons to another nation’s faster-than expected victory in a war abroad.

“Mission Accomplished,” blared Addis Ababa‘s Daily Monitor in a story about Ethiopian forces’ triumph over Somalian Islamists this week.

In 2003, the same phrase adorned a banner behind President Bush as he declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, though the battles and bloodshed proved far from over.

Just as the Iraq invasion has divided Americans, Ethiopians are split over their government’s decision to get involved in Somalia‘s brewing civil war by sending troops across the border.

After just a week of fighting, Ethiopian troops have enabled Somalia‘s transitional government to gain control of a vast swath of southern Somalia that had been seized by the fundamentalist Islamic Courts Union over the last six months. By Thursday morning, Ethiopian and Somalian government troops had reached the outskirts of the capital city, Mogadishu, with Islamic forces there apparently having disappeared into the populace.

Ethiopian leaders are calling the military intervention a smart preemptive strike against the spread of religious extremism in the Horn of Africa. They say the world should thank Ethiopia for defeating a coalition of militant Islamists that U.S. officials have accused of having links to terrorists, including Al Qaeda.   

The Prime Minister, Meles Zenwai, who heads a dictatorial regime in Ethopia, has strongly denied that U.S. soldiers or weapons were being used in any battles, though he noted that Washington and Addis Ababa have a long-standing agreement to share intelligence.

“We are not fighting anybody’s war,” Meles said. “We are fighting to defend ourselves.” Meles said that during a visit this month by U.S. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East had advised against a Somalia invasion. “He shared his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan with us, and he indicated that we have, to the maximum extent possible, to avoid direct military intervention in Somalia,” Meles said.

That is certainly not the opinion of Salim Lone, who was UN spokesman in Iraq  in 2003 and is now a columnist of the Daily News Kenya. In his comment is free column in today’s edition of The Guardian, he writes:

Undeterred by the horrors and disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the Bush administration has opened another battlefront in the Muslim world. With US backing, Ethiopian troops have invaded Somalia in an illegal war of aggression.

But this brazen US-sponsored bid to topple the popular Islamists who had brought Somalia its first peace and security in 16 years has already begun to backfire. Looting has forced the transitional government to declare a state of emergency. Clan warlords, who had terrorised Somalia until they were driven out by the Islamists this year, have begun carving up the city once again. And the African Union, which helped create the transitional government, has called for the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from the country, as did Kenya, a close US and Ethiopian ally.

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And Lone goes on to scrutinize the real motives behind the
US sponsorship.

As with Iraq in 2003, the US has cast this as a war to curtail terrorism. The real goal of course is to gain a direct foothold in another highly strategic and oil rich region by installing a client regime in Somalia. TheUS had already been violating the UN arms embargo on Somalia by supporting the warlords who drove out the UN peace-keepers in 1993 by killing 18 US soldiers, in order to push out the Islamists. That effort failed and an Ethiopian invasion remained the only way to oust a group with popular support. All independent experts warned against such a war, saying it would destabilise the region.

His conclusion is that the US has once again made a fundamental error of judgment.

The US has every right to be concerned about terror. But the best anti-dote to terrorism in Somalia is stability, which the Union of Islamic Courts provided. The Islamists have strong public support, which has grown in the face of US and Ethiopian interventions. As in other Muslim-western conflicts, the way to secure peace is to engage with the Islamists to ensure that they have no reason to turn to terror.

That’s a lesson Bush never listens to.

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