May 24, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, critiques current United States policy on Somalia.

On May 17, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice announced the appointment of a retired career diplomat, Ambassador John M. Yates, as special envoy to Somalia with a mandate to “represent the United States with the Transitional Federal Institutions” in order to “contribute to the peace and stability of the Horn of Africa.” Rice characterized the appointment as being in support of an effort by the people of Somalia to use the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) “as the vehicle to develop their national institutions and overcome the legacy of violence and disorder of the past.”

However, Dr. Pham observes, “Unfortunately, someone neglected to tell the warring Somali clans in Mogadishu: a car bomb killed four Ugandan soldiers taking part in the woefully undermanned African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) ‘peacekeeping’ operation just one day before Dr. Rice named her envoy and, at almost the very same time the appointment was being made in Washington, TFG ‘Prime Minister’ Ali Mohammed Ghedi narrowly escaped another bomb as he escorted the bodies of the Ugandans to the airport; a few days earlier, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes cut short his visit to the former Somali capital after yet another bomb went off 300 meters from the UN building, killing three Somalis.” He goes on to note:

The supreme irony of Secretary Rice in dispatching an envoy to the TFG on a permanent basis…is that, for all the Bush administration’s emphasis on democracy promotion and antiterrorism efforts, the TFG is…a motley collection of self-appointed warlords who enjoy little support and even less political legitimacy among their long-suffering countrymen—and that is putting it charitably. An article by a veteran U.S. diplomat published in the American Foreign Service Association’s influential Foreign Service Journal recently described the TFG in unusually candid terms as “impotent and corrupt.” The sending a retired ambassador to treat with the phantasmal TFG “government” in order to promote “peace and stability” crosses the line between the farcical and tragic, however, when it privileges a pointless mission while simultaneously perpetuating the Department of State’s pusillanimous non-engagement with the one part of the former Somalia which not has a democratically elected government but also a secular polity that is a beacon of stability in the region, the Republic of Somaliland, which even hailed in the title of aforementioned Foreign Service Journal article as a “democracy under threat.”

The article argues that “the only true national interest that the United States has in Somalia is ensuring that foreign non-state actors such as al-Qaeda as well as state sponsors of terrorism or other spoiler states such as Eritrea do not avail themselves of the carcass of the onetime state breed the maggots of their instability and radical Islamist ideology. While an effective Somali central government could potentially be a help in this regard, it is not a prerequisite. A policy of containment can achieve the same strategic effect by a continuing partnership with Ethiopia which has a strong vested interest in preventing spillover, a long-overdue recognition of the democratically elected and politically legitimate authorities in Somaliland, and a redeployment of AMISOM along the boundaries of the former Somali Democratic Republic while beefing up the African force’s capabilities. And the U.S. Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) based in nearby Djibouti should certainly continue and even expand its efforts to help build these local capacities even as it remains ready to take preemptive action against terrorist threats should our partners prove themselves unwilling or simply unable to do so.”

Dr. Pham concludes that this “offshore approach” is the only option that “would not only give Somalis the time and space within which to exercise their self-determination concerning the shape that their political future(s) ought to assume, but it would also more directly and realistically address the key interest of other countries, especially the neighboring states in the Horn of Africa, their concern about spreading insecurity.”

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Smokin’ on Somalia,” click here.