all of the discussion about the pirating of a US ship off the coast
of Somalia, it is possible to overlook a far more important discussion
concerning the Horn of Africa. According to the Saturday, April
11th issue of the Washington Post the Obama administration
is discussing whether military action should be taken against the
Somali right-wing Islamist group known as Al-Shabab.
began as the military wing of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC),
the movement that stabilized and ruled much of Somalia during 2006
(and parts of Somalia prior to that). At the end of 2006 Ethiopia
staged a US-inspired invasion of Somalia. The Ethiopians quickly
overran the UIC positions and drove them from power, at which point
the rootless Transitional National Government was installed. The
UIC, however, began a deadly guerrilla campaign against the TNG
and their Ethiopian allies. Al-Shabab was one of the instruments
of that campaign. In time, however, differences emerged within
the UIC and between it and Al-Shabab such that the latter now exists
as a largely independent organization.
pretext for the Ethiopian invasion was that the UIC had connections
with Al Qaeda. No such ties were ever proven, but the Bush administration
used these allegations to support the invasion and to carry out
military attacks against UIC and alleged Al Qaeda positions
following the Ethiopian invasion.
largely withdrew from Somalia at the end of 2008, unable to ever
stabilize the situation yet making itself the enemy of the mass
of Somalis. In this situation of great instability, Al-Shabab has
emerged as a domestic force fighting for power.
of the Obama administration and the US military believe that Al-Shabab
has ties to the Al Qaeda and, as such, should be subject of military
assaults by the USA. Others in the Administration suggest caution
since the objectives of Al-Shabab seem to be focused on Somalia
(and that ties with Al Qaeda are dubious, at best).
in so many respects, finds itself in a chaos that, once again, is
the product of US foreign policy. The dictatorial regime of former
dictator Siad Barre (overthrown in 1991) was a major ally of the
USA, despite all evidence that the original reform aims of Barre’s
regime had been
repudiated. US intervention in the post-Barre period of warlord-ism
was a failure and was disconnected from any serious effort to help
the Somalis to rebuild their state. The USA, along with the rest
of the global North, was comfortable allowing Somalia to wallow
in civil chaos for most of the 1990s and early 2000s. And, finally,
when the country began to stabilize, the USA—under Bush—concluded
that the UIC was unacceptable and needed to be overthrown, thus
plunging the country back into chaos.
military strikes against Al-Shabab will, if anything, further inflame
the situation. Consider what is transpiring in Pakistan at this
moment. US military strikes at alleged terrorist bases WITHIN
Pakistan, which more often than not result in civilian casualties,
not only create great hostility to the USA, but further destabilize
the political situation in an already fragile Pakistan. Rather
than strengthening the Pakistani government, US military operations
discredit the Pakistani government.
military strikes in Somalia will settle any questions that may exist
as to the objectives of the USA, at least from the standpoint of
the Somali people. Since there is no evidence of Al Shabab actions
targeting the USA, US military actions against Al Shabab will be
seen for what they are, acts of unprovoked aggression.
to the US-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia the UIC attempted
to convince the Bush administration that it was not interested in
a hostile relationship with the USA. Bush ignored these overtures
and, true to form, pulled the trigger. The question for the Obama
administration is whether it, too, will travel the easier path of
closing their eyes and pulling the trigger. The alternative is
to recognize that the so-called war against terrorism framework
is the equivalent of a pair of broken glasses through which one
can not see reality, but only fragments.
has one chance to get this right. Impetuous action will more than
likely produce just the enemies the USA so fears, not to mention
unhinge the region.
Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice (University
of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor
in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.