It was sharply ironic to see American air strikes being launched this week from the decks of the mighty attack carrier USS Eisenhower against the remote East African nation of Somalia.
"The U.S. has opened a fourth front in the war on terrorism," trumpeted the Pentagon, as if it did not have enough failing wars on its hands.
U.S. warplanes and special forces attacked Somalia from the sea and from the U.S. base at Djibouti. Other U.S. units deployed on the Kenya-Somalia border. Much of Somalia is already occupied by Ethiopia's powerful, U.S.-financed army. Ethiopia invaded defenseless Somalia, with Washington's blessing, under cover of the Christmas holiday.
But was Somalia really a "hotbed of terrorism" as Washington claimed? The U.S.-Ethiopian invasion of Somalia was sparked by last fall's defeat of corrupt Somali warlords armed and financed by the CIA. They had kept Somalia in turmoil and near anarchy for 15 years. Last year, a group of Muslim jurists and notables, the Union of Islamic Courts, managed to defeat the warlords and impose law and order on chaotic Somalia.
The conservative Islamic Courts were sympathetic to pan-Muslim causes. But they were not involved in anti-American jihadist movements and had no identifiable links, as Washington loudly claimed, to al-Qaida. Four or five African suspects on the 1998 bombing of U.S. Embassies in East Africa may have been in Somalia, but going to war against a sovereign nation to try to assassinate or capture a handful of suspects (some reportedly escaped) is like using a nuclear weapon to kill a gnat and is sure to generate more anti-U.S. violence.
But in line with increasing militarization of U.S. foreign policy, the Pentagon's new golden-haired boys, Special Operations Command, pushed aside the humiliated CIA and the feckless State Department and vowed to "drain the Islamic swamp" in Somalia.
Thus begins U.S.President George W. Bush's fourth war against the Muslim world. He failed dismally to capture Osama bin Laden, conquer Iraq, or pacify Afghanistan. Dirt-poor, defenceless Somalia is Bush's last stab at glory.
Once again, the administration is recklessly charging into a thicket of tribal politics in a remote nation it knows nothing about. U.S. policy in Somalia is being driven by rabid neocons seeking jihad against the entire Muslim world, by gung-ho, know-nothing generals, and self-serving advice from ally Ethiopia. Eritrea's 1993 secession took away Ethiopia's natural access to the sea, leaving it landlocked. Ethiopia's prime goal in Somalia is seizing one or more deep-water ports, turning Somalia into a protectorate, and crushing any Islamic movements that might inflame its own voiceless Muslims.
America's attack on Somalia recalls Afghanistan. The U.S. is again blundering into ancient clan and tribal conflicts, using foreign troops and local mercenaries to defend a hated puppet regime without any popular support. Unfortunately, the word "Islamic" triggers murderous, knee jerk reactions by Washington's war party and the Pentagon's dimmer generals. The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim. As U.S. soldiers once said in that earlier counter-terrorism success, Vietnam, "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out."
Like Afghanistan, Somalia was easy to invade, but may prove very difficult to rule or eventually leave. The invading Ethiopians, blood foes of Somalis, were not greeted with flowers, as U.S. neocons again promised. Somalis saw the U.S. and Ethiopians as invaders, and the now scattered Islamic Courts militias as their best hope for stability and normalcy.
The White House is using puny Somalia as a straw man to be set up and knocked down. "War president" Bush desperately needs a victory in his bungled "war on terror." After three defeats, a fake victory over a fake Islamic threat in obscure Somalia is just the kind of jolly news Bush & Co. hopes will cheer gloomy Americans and divert attention from the disaster in Iraq.