Is what happened in Mogadishu during the past week a microcosm of how badly the Bush administration has fundamentally mishandled its “global war on terror?”
Superficially, at least, it would seem so. By all accounts, the administration’s single-minded obsession with seizing suspected al Qaeda and associated Islamist terrorists without any regard for the political context not only undermined ongoing indigenous and international efforts to rebuild a shattered nation, but it also boosted popular backing for of local Islamic militias against U.S.-backed warlords who have now been expelled from the Somali capital.
Media accounts and research by the International Crisis Group (ICG) appear to have established that the Central Intelligence Agency funneled money through the Pentagon’s Joint Combined Task Force (JCTF), a 1,800-man force based in neighboring Djibouti since shortly after 9/11. The warlords were originally retained by Washington to monitor and, when possible, “snatch” suspected terrorists in Mogadishu. But they started receiving more cash earlier this spring to challenge the growing power and reach of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Baptized the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, the warlord coalition launched the worst round of violence in more than a decade only to be routed from the city by the UIC.
While the administration worries that the Islamists could turn into a new Taliban, other voices say the eviction of the U.S.-backed side could turn out pretty well, particularly if anticipated negotiations between the UIC and the two-year-old provisional national government in Baidoa can work out an agreement that would permit the latter to move its headquarters to Mogadishu and begin the long-stalled process of rebuilding a state.
“That’s a good riddance,” ret. U.S. Amb. Robert Oakley, who served as the UN’s special advisor during its ill-fated foray into Somalia in the early 1990s, said of the warlords’ flight from Mogadishu. “If the provisional government can work out some kind of understanding with the Islamic courts, it does create the possibility of some stability.” He told IPS that Washington should now work with the African Union, the UN, and neighboring states to promote such an outcome.
Not surprisingly, the wisdom of Washington’s one-track counter-terrorism policy in Somalia has long been questioned by professional foreign-service officers and CIA analysts who argued that an effective real counter-terrorist policy in the world’s oldest “failed state” would include an emphasis on “nation-building,” as well as “snatching” or killing suspected terrorists. But, in a pattern that has become all too familiar, they were overwhelmed by the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House. The result: “The U.S. now has nothing to show for three years of investing in these warlords as the sole element of their counter-terrorism (CT) strategy in Somalia,” according to the ICG’s John Prendergast, who called the policy a ”travesty.”
“There simply hasn’t been a U.S. comprehensive policy on Somalia; just a counter-terrorism policy that takes no account of the political context,” one knowledgeable foreign diplomat told IPS today. “Do you give priority to snatching individuals by any means necessary, including backing warlords, at the expense of a wider political process? That’s essentially what the U.S. has done. One would hope that this could get them to broaden their thinking, but I think that may be a naÃƒÂ¯ve.”
You can read more on this subject by Jim Lobe in “Bush Hawks Down.”
Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief for Inter Press Service (IPS), a Rome-based international news agency. He specializes in foreign-policy coverage, particularly the ideology and influence of neo-conservatives.