Fueling unrest: from Iraq to Somalia

Examining U.S. foreign policy toward Somalia.

The rise of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia is in some ways a phenomenon inspired by the U.S. government, and largely a response to unchecked corruption within the country. Many Somalis, believing that the U.S. government was funding the warlords through the CIA project “Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism,” became outraged over the support of individuals who were particularly brutal to the masses. In this sense, many Somalis accepted the ICU movement as an emerging struggle against the “anti-nationalist” client forces propped by other states.

Somalis also perceive the ICU as a nationalist movement by the Somali people against tribalism, corruption and an absence of a government apparatus with autonomy. And while it’s important to critique and question the policies of the ICU, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the group maintains popular support – highlighting that it is not only Islamist, but particularly nationalistic in nature. Furthermore, it’s equally important to avoid lumping the ICU with al-Qaida when no such connection exists. Iraq is a case where al-Qaida did not exist before the U.S. occupation, but the situation certainly attracted foreign terrorists and created situations where they were able to glean sympathy from the locals.

For the United States, its perception of Iraq became a self-fulfilling prophecy; similar reactions to Somalia should be avoided. The fall of Saddam’s regime not only gave rise to al-Qaida popularity, but it also assumes some larger implications that affect international relations, and the prospects for success in the “war on terror.”

In Iraq, failure to improve and protect the lives of individuals continues to fuel the popularity of insurgent groups; continued bombardment in Somalia is likely to produce similar conditions. The attacks on Somalia are counterproductive, especially at the expense of regional stability in East Africa, and the prospect of another civil war in Somalia.

The Somalia case shares many similarities with recent U.S. adventures abroad. At the most basic level, U.S. foreign policy plays a role in establishing elements of discontent abroad. This approach has a tendency to support corrupt puppet regimes abroad while reducing opposing groups as “fundamentalist.” This is a blanket treatment toward many popular movements across the globe. These labels are inconsistent and often only cater to U.S. interests abroad. “Good regimes,” reflect the extent to which the regime is supportive of U.S. interests. In Somalia, it is not the case that the transitional national government is “good” or “better than” the ICU. Both entities have erred, and, in this situation, it’s perhaps best for the international community to either retreat or attempt to facilitate some collaboration between the two groups.

Finally, this “war on terror” rhetoric is inappropriately used to justify the collateral damage of civilians across the global south. Looking back, the United States has a history of involvement in failed states, many times pushing these volatile nations deeper into chaos. The difference is that the current political vernacular has shifted from the liberal internationalist projects in the ’90s in Haiti and other nations, often packaged under “humanitarian assistance,” to the more recent phenomena of the “war on terror.” This campaign now involves direct conflict in numerous areas of the world: conflicts, which not only fail to produce security, but mobilize individuals in profound ways, and result in strong anti-Americanism abroad.

Ramla Bile welcomes comments at [email protected]