Monday, January 21, 2019

No, Our War in Somalia Didn’t Start in 1992

The Historical Context of Our Many Wars: Global Dominance is a Full-time Job

Unlike most news stories on America’s military interventions, Michael Phillips’ recent description of the U.S. role in Somalia’s foreign-fueled civil war (Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2019: The Other Endless War: Battling Somali Militants) provides crucial historical context. Unfortunately, even this effort stops short.

U.S. intervention in Somalia, in fact, did not start with President Bush’s humanitarian decision in 1992 to save Somali civilians by enforcing a cease-fire and distributing relief supplies. It actually started in 1980, when under strategic and electoral pressure President Jimmy Carter made a fateful decision to give military and economic aid to a number of East African and Persian Gulf dictators in return for military bases and cooperation for the U.S. “Rapid Deployment Force.”

In Somalia Siad Barre, a Marxist general who had come to power in a coup, used Carter’s and then President Ronald Reagan’s bases aid to prosecute a brutal civil war that ended with his overthrow by uncoordinated tribal clans in 1991. The resulting chaos and lack of central authority has prevailed now for nearly 30 years. The civil war under Barre resulted in the death of some 100,000 Somalis. The civil war since his overthrow has been even more deadly. About a million Somalis live in refugee camps in Kenya and elsewhere in the region, and two million are displaced within Somalia.

Carter’s short-term motivation was the need to react to Iran’s seizing of American hostages and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. His decision, though, took place in the context of an American policy of selecting and sustaining cooperative regimes in the former colonial countries. The policy dates back to Franklin Roosevelt and the House of Saud after the discovery of oil in the 1930’s, and then to the Cold War competition for allies. 

Today it remains our policy, under the guise of a war to safeguard the United States from terrorism – something which it ironically stimulates itself, by making the United States a logical target. It’s high time we ended that policy and allied ourselves with the aspirations of the people of the Middle East, rather than continue to seek the military cooperation of their medieval rulers. That is the key lesson from our troubled history in Somalia.    

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