Lame Duck Follies on Somalia

The Enough Campaign warns that recent developments in U.S. policy toward Somalia are counterproductive to the cause of peace and stability there.

As the Bush administration prepares to leave office, it is taking three ill-considered actions that threaten to exacerbate the already catastrophic situation in Somalia and tie the hands of the incoming Obama Administration. The Bush administration is: 1) urging Ethiopia to keep its armed forces in Somalia until after the administration leaves office; 2) pushing for authorization of a U.N. peacekeeping mission to protect the fractious and impotent Transitional Federal Government after Ethiopia’s departure; and 3) moving to place Ethiopia’s arch-rival Eritrea on the U.S. State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. There is little indication that the Bush Administration has thought through the implications of these major steps that would not only prolong the violence on the ground, but would hijack the incoming Obama Administration’s policy prerogatives while leaving it with an even more intractable crisis in the troubled Horn of Africa.

“These eleventh hour shifts in policy will only create more blowback for the United States in the region, and serve as a de facto recruiting tool for the hard-line Islamist militia, or shabaab, that is wrapping itself in a mantle of Somali nationalism fighting foreign forces,” said Enough Project adviser, and long-time Somalia expert, Ken Menkhaus, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Davidson College.

Ethiopia is currently scheduled to withdraw its forces from Somalia by the end of 2008 as part of the fragile U.N.-led Djibouti peace process. The two-year Ethiopian occupation of southern Somalia has been a magnet for violence and a growing insurgency in Somalia. By urging Ethiopia to maintain its presence in the capital, Mogadishu, the Bush administration is handing the shabaab a recruitment bonanza while undermining the credibility of moderate Somalis seeking to advance the Djibouti process.

And also from this release is a very concise summary of why simply pawning off the Somalia situation to UN Peacekeeping is unwise.

The Bush Administration is also pushing for a U.N. Security Council resolution to authorize a U.N. stabilization force for Somalia to replace departing Ethiopian troops. This is a bad idea on a number of fronts, and there is zero indication that the administration or the U.N. is serious about putting in place a genuinely credible force. There is no thirst among member states to contribute troops in Somalia at the current moment, and whatever U.N. forces could be scraped together would surely become the main target of insurgent attacks. In short, the Administration is pushing the United Nations to authorize a force that is designed to fail. This policy is the worst of both worlds: U.N. forces would be unlikely to create political or military stability in Somalia while giving shabaab militias a new foreign occupying force to attack.