Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hillary in Africa, Shakes Fist at Eritrea

During her Kenyan stopover during her African tour, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took some time out to threaten Eritrea over their support for Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia. The US has long accused the government of Eritrea of supporting al-Shabab ("The Youth") in their ongoing battle with the Somali transitional government for control of the capital, Mogadishu. The two sides have been slugging it out for weeks now, displacing tens of thousands of civilians in the process.

Clinton said that "it is long past time for Eritrea to cease and desist its support for al-Shabab", adding that Eritrea's actions were "unacceptable" and that the US would "take action" if they didn't cut their support of al-Shabab. The US position is that if al-Shabab were to take over Somalia, it would become al-Qaeda's new base of operations.
This isn't the first time that the US has threatened Eritrea, the tough talk with the East African nation goes back to the Bush administration, as do the fears of Somalia becoming a terrorist state, though so far the US hasn't done much in the way of action besides occasionally calling out the Eritrean government like Clinton just did again.

Of course maybe it would be a good idea to first wrap up one of the existing battlefields of the Global War on Terror, before looking to open a new one. The US still has more than 100,000 troops in Iraq, mostly sitting around on bases since the agreement with the Iraqi government pulling US troops back from the cities went into effect this summer, meanwhile we are sending more troops into Afghanistan, even though top commanders admit that al-Qaeda has largely left the country and the government of Hamid Karzai (our man in Kabul) is hopelessly corrupt and inept. I think that the case for the US staying in either place in large numbers is getting pretty weak.

Meanwhile Ahmed Egal, a founding member of the Somali National Movement (SNM) is putting forward his own radical idea for bringing peace to the region - recognize the area of Somaliland as an independent nation. No, it's not some East African theme park, Somaliland is the northernmost part of Somalia, a region that broke away from Somalia in 1991 and set up its own state, one that so far no other country on Earth has recognized as an independent nation.

But unlike Somalia, which in the nearly 20 years since 1991 has been a battleground for dueling warlords and Islamic militants as well as a pirate hideout, Somaliland (a land of 3.5 million) has been at peace and relatively prosperous. Egal says that for this exact reason, the world should recognize Somaliland as a state, then use Somaliland as a base of operations to help reestablish Somalia as a fully functioning country.

Sure, Egal's suggestion is self-serving (getting the world to recognize his erstwhile country in the process), but it makes more sense than the current strategy of supporting pathetically weak "transitional governments" in Mogadishu. Ethiopia backed the last transitional government for two years before deciding that they were tired of constantly fighting against local Islamic militias and called their troops home. Hillary Clinton while in Kenya, pledged more military equipment to the current Somali government - that may help them fight off al-Shabab for now, but it's not going restore Somalia as a real, functioning country.
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