Recent developments in the Horn of Africa: Accident or design?
Tracing some real progress in the Global War on Terror
By AcademicElephant Posted in War — Comments (19) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
Judging from the headlines this week, the Global War on Terror is going to hell in a handbasket. The debate over the President's new plan for Iraq has dominated the media as, among other initiatives, Mr. Bush has decided to deploy 21, 500 additional soldiers and marines to the region. This strategy appears to reverse the "small footprint" approach that has characterized Iraq operations to date. All that talk about a new, transformed military must be dead. This conflict isn't different. What we need are more boots on the ground--a more traditional approach to this war--and if only we had had them from the beginning everything would be different now.
This conventional wisdom has overshadowed another story with perhaps more profound ramifications for the Global War on Terror than even Iraq, which suggests that be conditions there as they may, the broader policy is not such an unmitigated disaster. This story is the ongoing success of Ethiopia and Somalia in destroying or dispersing the Islamic Courts Union that had plotted to take over the Horn of Africa with an al-Qaeda aligned militant regime. For is there any doubt that the ICU would have started in weak Somalia, moved into sympathetic Eritrea, and then challenged Ethiopia? After all, there has been little to stop them, and the region has great strategic potential. Six years ago, this must have looked like a pretty good plan. The US had pulled out of Somalia in 1993, and subsequent attacks on American interests in the region--the USS Cole and the embassies in Kenya and Ethiopia--had elicited little response. The ICU and its al-Qaeda cohorts must have thought their plan for the Horn a no-brainer.
Yet things have not worked out swimmingly for them so far (for additional RS analysis, go here and here). Somalia hasn't rolled over and played dead. The ICU had some initial success and occupied Mogadishu, but a well-armed and managed Ethiopian force, aided by the US and accompanied by American advisors, has driven them out of the country and restored the UN-backed transitional federal government. The Ethiopians were nothing if not ruthless as they, unrestrained by rules of engagement or concerned about international opinion, eviscerated the ICU. As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone outside of the fever swamps of the left approves of this action, and of our participation in it. After all, once the ICU was disrupted, Somalia allowed us to bring in C-130 gunships to bomb some high-value targets--bad guys from the 1998 bombings who were left vulnerable by the Ethiopian intervention. None of this was pretty. Actual war rarely is. Some of the evil-doers got away, and the conflict was certainly bloody. But it was effective and the end result, which is the ICU in disarray, Somalia with at least the chance to pursue its secular democracy, al-Qaeda aligned Eritrea isolated, and the US persuing anti-terrorism operations in the region, is certainly acceptable. I think the consensus is that this is a little more like it.
But how has all this come to pass? It hardly happened overnight. And it was hardly an accident.
As it turns out, the Bush administration focused attention on the Horn right after 9/11. In early 2002, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld laid the foundation for a strategic partnership with Ethiopia in the course of a four-day visit to Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Djibouti and Qatar. Rather than a "transactional" visit, Mr. Rumsfeld described this one as aimed at "relationship" building, designed to "to encourage that this important partnership that we have in the global war on terrorism evolve and develop and strengthen from our mutual standpoint." The trip obviously not an unmitigated success as Eritrea is now firmly in the al-Qaeda camp. But Ethiopia is another story. During the visit, the President of Eritrea had little to say. But the Prime Minister of Ethiopia pledged his country's aggressive support for the US:
Whatever is required to effectively combat terrorism globally we shall do. There is no limiting.
Shortly after Mr. Rumsfeld returned from Africa, President Bush welcomed the President of Kenya and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia to Washington. Mr. Bush discussed both the humanitarian aid the US could offer these countries and the help they could provide in the Global War on Terror during the meeting. And the President has put his money where his mouth was. Just last year, for example, he directed the DoD to offer substantial assistance to Ethiopia during the terrible flood that went largely unnoticed by our media. Many presidents have paid lip service to the dire problems that beset Africa, but the fact is that the war-mongering cowboy from Texas has provided more real support to the troubled continent than any of his predecessors. Some find this state of affairs somewhat surprising, but there it is, and countries that both want to participate in this aid and have no interest in joining the new caliphate have acted accordingly. Mutual interest can be a powerful motivator, and by identifying a neglected potential hot-spot and working over a period of years to cultivate a relationship, the US found itself in a position this past December to have the Commander of CENTCOM, General John Abizaid, visit Addis Ababa to put the "final handshake" on the US-Ethiopia military alliance that would route the ICU. And both countries are the better for it.
In other words, recent successes in the Horn of Africa are not fortuitous. They are the product of years of painstaking work and collaboration inspired by a vision of a network of strategic partnerships through which the US can exert counter-terrorism influence around the globe. We are not dealing with a bunch of good-deed-doing boy scouts here, and the Horn is far from pacified. The ICU may well attempt its own Iraq-style insurgancy. But this exercise has demonstrated that the broader approach to the Global War on Terror pursued by the Bush administration is far from the hopeless failure its critics maintain, and it may well be hard to assess its success for some years to come.
For in the past, Ethiopia has been considered notable mostly for the virulence of its famines, and the time invested in it wasted. In 2003, The Washington Post reported that Ethiopia was among countries then Secretary of State Colin Powell listed as the "coalition of the willing," and snidely suggested that such a country would "have little to offer beyond moral support." I wonder if they've changed their minds after the events of the past few weeks. In the context of these developments, I also find it interesting that Post reporters Dan Balz and Mike Allen went on to single out Colombia as a country that no only had "little" to contribute, but didn't even seem aware that it was on the list. They got a superior little chuckle at the expense of this stooge of a country being used by the bumblingly imperial Bush administration to suggest multi-lateral support for its counter-terrorist activities. Obviously, this is a blind. As far as Mr. Balz and Mr. Allen are concerned, there's no there there.
But again, I wonder.
Looking at another map, I wonder if Colombia, like Ethiopia, really has so very little to offer us. Yes, the country struggles against internal instability, and has humanitarian problems. But it is not the drug-riddled disaster of the late 1980s and 90s. Colombia boasts a functioning democracy and a strong, independent leader who has proven a true friend to the US, and who is positioned to well-repay the investment of time and resources that the Bush administration has made in his country--not only through expanding free trade, but through strategic assistance. For who knows how soon this backward and remote country might be our most important ally in a conflict with another threatening foe? Following the example of Ethiopia, we might at that point be relieved that Mr. Rumsfeld found the time to visit Bogota in 2003, and that President Bush welcomed Alviro Uribe to Crawford in 2005. At that meeting, President Uribe had this to say:
As you have well said, both of our countries have a strategic relationship that is based on mutual trust, which is aimed at deepening democracy, at combating terrorism, and on building social cohesion. Our agenda is very important for the present and the future of both of our peoples, so that Colombia can free itself from the scourge of terrorism.
The great enemy of Colombian democracy is terrorism. And our great partner in defeating terrorism has been the government and the people of the United States. Allow me to say here to the rest of the world that U.S. cooperation has been exemplary. It has gone beyond rhetoric, and it has, in fact, been cooperation that has been put in practice. And all democratic countries need to know that: that cooperation should be realistic and put into practice.
Ethiopia and Colombia are not isolated examples of Bush administration military, economic and diplomatic outreach in the service of the Global War on Terror. The Pentagon calls the collaboration with Ethiopia is a "blueprint" for its strategic alliances in the conflict. It's a good one, and we should not lose sight of its success. While Iraq may be the main front in this war at the moment, it's not the only one, and regardless of the outcome there we most likely will find ourselves fighting elsewhere. But the success of the Ethiopians and the Somalis make the Horn of Africa a less-likely theater for that fighting, and for that we should be grateful--even more so if another such an apparently-unlikely ally emerges in the new future. And then we might consider that the existence of these useful allies are the product not of accident, but design.