America’s failure in foreign policy concerning Somalia

Jason Lamb and Jason Lamb

With the same old news filled with stories of developments in Iraq and its forgotten counterpart Afghanistan, it is easy to overlook other international atrocities, fears and hopes.

In Somalia, for example, the past month has brought with it great potential. Potential for what, however, has yet to be determined. Since 1991, much of Somalia has existed in a state of anarchy. Warlords and faction leaders ruled with iron fists and the United States’ weaponry. Walking across downtown Mogadishu without an assault rifle was suicide. Walking with one wasn’t much better. Reports of the seemingly never-ending violence have been widespread.

The United States’ strategy to bring peace to the region was to play the warlords against each other. Arms and cash were funneled from the U.S. to one warlord or another in the hopes that one would emerge victorious and unify the region under his command. This warlord would naturally be loyal to the U.S. The method had been field tested to perfection in Iraq, Colombia, Chile and other numerous nations.

After the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, the event that inspired the movie Black Hawk Down and killed 18 U.S. soldiers, one Malaysian soldier and between five hundred and five thousand Somalis, the United States government decided that our public efforts in the country weren’t worth the bad press. The U.S. and the United Nations significantly reduced their presence almost immediately after the incident, effectively abandoning hope in the East African nation. By 1996, they were gone.

But in the past month, the New York Times reports the entrenched chaos has rapidly dissipated, and it seems no one saw it coming, least of all the United States. The streets of Mogadishu are now safer than they have been in almost two decades. Who is it that has succeeded in bringing a sense of order to Somalia, succeeding where the U.S. and the U.N. failed so miserably over a decade ago?

A group of militias united as the Islamic Courts Union are responsible for this change. The law that has finally brought a flicker of peace to Mogadishu is Shari’a law, the Islamic scriptural law condemned in Afghanistan and quietly accepted in Saudi Arabia. Even now, the Islamic Courts Union is negotiating with the international community to reinstall a secular government.

In a country that is predominantly Sunni Muslim, the magic bullet for peace was not additional ‘peacekeeping’ troops from the West, nor was it trade sanctions from the U.N. or even a structural adjustment program from the International Monetary Fund. The cure was found within the country, among the minds, hearts and religious beliefs of the people who rose up against all the warlords – U.S.-backed and otherwise.

As for the United States’ hopes that a victorious and U.S.-controlled warlord would emerge, those hopes were quashed. The Islamic Courts Union claims that the two remaining warlords in Mogadishu fled and were escorted to safety by the U.S. Navy, although our government denies this. Perhaps a few of our hired thugs will live to fight another day.

These events must cause us to stop and consider, as a nation, if the professed goal of creating democracies in the service of American Empire is the correct goal, even if this goal is achievable. Which country will be targeted for democracy next? Will it be Venezuela, Iran, North Korea or Colombia? The list of countries in queue for a government of the people seems to grow faster than cruise missiles can create them, and I am not feeling any safer.

The established methods of U.S. intervention are not working. There is a time and a place for intervention, but these times and places are rarely tied to domestic oil or business interests. And, as 160 members of the Ohio National Guard leave Bowling Green for Iraq and not the Darfur region of the Sudan, I have to wonder when the U.S. government will figure this out.

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