Monday, May 29, 2006

Cold War Redux in Somalia

Recent press coverage has highlighted an open secret in the regional politics of Eastern Africa: the renewed involvement of the U.S. in the civil conflict in Somalia. Fighting now rages in the capital city of Mogadishu between Islamist militias and a coalition of warlords calling itself the "Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism." This latter "Alliance" contains many of the same elements that were responsible for the killing of US soldiers during the "Black Hawk Down" incident of 1993. Ironically there is strong evidence to suggest that the current "Alliance" is formed and backed covertly by the US and its CIA.

The motivation of the Bush administration to undertake such a policy is clear- they are concerned about the growing influence of Al Qaeda among the Islamic militias fighting to control Mogadishu. This is indeed a troubling reality, but it does not warrant a tactic so callous and short-sighted as the backing of a warlord "Alliance." Despite being the regime to usher the US into the 21st century, the Bush administration does not seem able to get past the stale, calcified strategic and political doctrines of the Cold War. The Bush White House seems to feel that the "war on terror" may be conducted in the same manner as the Cold War, wherever Al Qaeda's influence is perceived the US may enlist proxy agents to contend against it, irrespective of the larger political, diplomatic, or moral context.

Such a strategy is doubly foolish in that it never served well even during the Cold War. Innumerable US policies would have been better conducted if American leaders had had the imagination and insight to treat local conflicts as unique events rather than jamming them into the "one size fits all" mold of US-Soviet geopolitics. This truth applies even more urgently to the current case of the struggle against Al Qaeda. Political Islam is an even more variable and diverse phenomenon than global Communism was, it will be even more counterproductive and self-injurious to adopt a rigid and doctrinaire approach toward fighting it on an international scale.

Supporting a warlord "Alliance" in Mogadishu is exactly the kind of penny-wise and pound-foolish policy that helped exacerbate the problem of Al Qaeda as the 20th century drew to a close. Yes, the warlords may help staunch the influence of Al Qaeda somewhat in the short term. But in the long view Al Qaeda will emerge stronger from such a conflict and the warlord "Alliance" itself will mushroom into a force with destructive potential that far outweighs the immediate "benefits" they provide now. Just as the US must regret enlisting Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as proxies against the Soviets in Afghanistan, America will surely regret having armed and funded the Somali "Alliance to Promote Peace and Counterterrorism."

The Bush administration is no doubt resorting to this expediency because the interim government in Somalia is too weak to counter the influence of Al Qaeda on its own. This is not only rank hypocrisy, however, but is also poor strategy. If the threat of Al Qaeda is so grave as to justify any alliance of convenience why depose Saddam Hussein rather than fund and arm him against Bin Laden? Any hope of success in the "war on terror" does not lie in short-sighted tactics as are being pursued in Mogadishu. If the government of Somalia is too weak to resist Al Qaeda the US must commit to a long, hard project of economic, social, and military "nation-building" (hopefully in coalition with many international partners) in order to lay the foundations of peace, prosperity and order. In Mogadishu the Bush regime is diplaying the impatience and contempt for the task of "nation building" that Bush himself expressed in his first election campaign and which has hampered reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The US needs leaders with real vision who have the courage to make hard choices and pursue long-term policies, even if they are unpopular in the political short-term.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Darfur, Genocide, and Terrorism

Today a US Deputy Secretary of State arrives in Nigeria to press for a resolution to peace talks that will enable a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur. Any government action is of course an improvement upon the passivity that has marked the international response to Sudan's crisis. Even so, there is reason to fear that the current proactive response, tentative and hesitant as it is, is moving in the wrong direction. Darfur has become a moral tragedy of epic proportions. It is thus urgent that the world not only act immediately, but do so in a way that lays the groundwork for global policies and protocols that preclude such monstrosities in the future.

The UN is following longstanding institutional imperatives in requiring a peace settlement before launching a peacekeeping mission in the Sudan. The fact that there are "two" combatant sides in Darfur, however masks the true character of the crime being committed as the world watches. Rebel groups have committed attacks in the name of the non-Arab minorities of Darfur who have been the object of genocidal slaughter. However, the indiscriminate murder of 200,000 individuals that has occasioned the moral horror of the world is almost exclusively the work of Arab "janjaweed" militias funded and encouraged by the government in Khartoum.

Though the UN cannot be blamed for following its chartered principles in seeking a peace settlement before intervention, such a course runs the risk of sanctioning genocide as a tactic in political negotiations. Darfur rebels have come under criticism for being unwilling to sign the peace agreement that might set a peacekeeping mission in motion and stop the slaughter of Darfur's people, but does not such criticism tacitly ascribe legitimacy to genocide as a means to political ends? If the Darfur rebels are forced to capitulate to a political settlement with which they do not agree (rightly or wrongly), what other lesson can the repressive governments of the world take away but that committing genocide is the surest way to marshal the international community to put pressure on their opponents?

The principle must be established that genocide is a totally illegitimate and irredeemable breach of international law and ethics, and that recourse to genocide forfeits any consideration of the perpetrators' political interests in negotiations with the global community at large. Thus in the case of the Darfur an immediate military incursion should be undertaken to stop the killing of non-Arab Sudanese, the janjaweed should be forcibly ejected from Darfur and the Sudanese military should be prohibited from operating within its precincts. Once that is achieved it may serve as a new baseline from which negotiations between the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels may proceed. This will obviously place the Sudanese government at an artificial disadvantage, but it would serve to establish that there is a price for sanctioning or encouraging a policy of genocide. To do otherwise lays down a very dangerous precedent that is sure to have severe repercussions in the future.

It is immediately obvious that the kind of action I have proposed is beyond the scope of the UN mandate and operational doctrine. This should not induce the conclusion that effective action in Sudan is impossible. Rather, until such a time as the UN is reformed to effectively address such contingencies, counter-genocide missions must be undertaken by organizations that enjoy greater latitude and flexibility of response- the EU, NATO, or the United States government acting unilaterally. This last might seem a hopelessly idealistic proposition, but not much reflection is required to understand that this impression is false. The question of Darfur is not merely one of moral principle, but embodies a broader underlying problem that clearly threatens the pragmatic security interests of the United States and its allies.

Genocide has become more frequent in the post-Cold War era due to the same forces that have amplified the danger and prevalence of terrorism. Absent the surpressing influence of the stand-off between the Cold War's two opposed superpowers local conflicts have tended toward ever-increasingly violent expression. Terrorism (as it is conventionally understood- the somewhat random targetting of civilians) is the frequent recourse of the "deficit" side of assymetrical conflicts, those disaffected groups who do not control the machinery of state and face institutionally well-established opponents. This tactic is primitive but effective and intensely difficult to counter militarily. Effectively targetting a terrorist or insurgent group among a civilian population of any size is the most intractable strategic problem facing a state engaged in counterinsurgency, a fact which generally forces states facing a determined opponent to seek political resolution of assymetrical conflicts. In increasingly more cases, however, post-Cold War states have foregone such political solutions in favor of genocide. They end-run the strategic problem of targetting insurgents among a civilian population by undertaking to wipe out the civilian population in toto. Like terrorism, then, genocide is a deliberate tactic adopted by political actors enmeshed in assymetrical conflicts that have erupted into violence in the wake of the Cold War. Genocide is, in effect, terrorism's more malevolent twin (or perhaps, terrorism writ large- the targetting of civilians on an absolute rather than a limited scale).

What does this imply for the US? In the wake of 9/11 the US has rightly undertaken a mission to reduce or eliminate global terrorism. The hard reality that Darfur points to is that waging a "war on terror" is pointless unless it is undertaken in tandem with a "war on genocide." Neither terrorism or genocide are ideologies, they are political-military tactics, albeit ones that embody the unscrupulousness of their perpetrators. No limited struggle against any particular instance or perpetrator of these tactics will ever ultimately succeed. The only meaningful policy that can effectively counter these forces and the destruction they portend is a deliberate, principled, and aggressive campaign to reduce the brutality of international politics as a whole. Until the world intervenes to dismantle the vicious terrorism/genocide complex that has grown up in the wake of the Cold War we will be consigned to an endless repeating parade of Darfurs, Rwandas, Beslans, and 9/11s.

Is the current US strategic and diplomatic doctrine effectively configured to deal with this threat? Clearly, it is not. The Bush administration's aggressive posture of internationalism and unilateralism perhaps embodies the correct disposition for the current crisis, but its specific policy initiatives have been misguided. Unilateral action in Darfur would be/will be costly in both blood and treasure, but it surely would not exceed the cost that continues to mount in Iraq and would yield more immediate and enduring benefits to the US, its allies, and the world at large. The kind of resolve and audacity the Bush administration has shown in Iraq would serve well in Sudan and other places where genocide threatens global peace and stability. What the current situation requires is that the US follow the Clinton administration's policy of undertaking peace-enforcing actions in places (like Somalia, Kosovo) where no immediate US economic interests are at stake with the same tenacity and commitment the Bush administration has displayed in Iraq. If the US government and military would change their strategic doctrine from regime change and democracy-promotion to a determined policy of countergenocide/counterterrorism it might show the world the way forward into a sustainable post-Cold War order in which political progress would be possible on many fronts.