“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” President Donald Trump declared in his State of the Union address, even as he redoubled his commitment to “focus on counterterrorism”.
While many commentators describe Afghanistan—the war against which Trump railed—as America’s longest war, the battle against terrorists and warlords in Somalia has now run even longer.
Alas, even as Trump talks about scaling back the U.S. military footprint abroad, his willingness to follow the State Department’s lead in Somalia threatens to embolden radicalism and revive piracy in the Horn of Africa.
At issue is Somalia, where the State Department’s embrace of false unities and antipathy toward change has led it to double down on its support for Somalia’s symbolic government in Mogadishu.
At first glance, Trump’s cynicism looks warranted. After years of civil war, Somalia has a provisional constitution and a government. Elders have appointed a parliament, which in turn has elected a president. But the federal government’s control is largely illusionary.
Most diplomats and non-governmental organizations are sequestered inside the international airport, which makes Baghdad’s old Green Zone look permissive.
The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), encompassing troops from five African countries and police from an additional three, provides basic security.
The president holds little sway outside his palace and a few square blocks around his palace, while Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, continues to strike in the city and across the country. Fictions are expensive.
The United Nations and aid organizations are seeking upwards of $1 billion in aid this year just to provide immediate relief, and that figure is even greater when the price tag for AMISOM is factored in. Much of the aid, however, never reaches Somalis; Transparency International now ranks Somalia as the world’s most corrupt country.
Rather than help Somalis, donations to Mogadishu often fuel factional fighting and drive Somalis into the arms of radicals and yet, despite his promise to turn Washington’s old ways on their head, the Trump administration policy in effect remains to throw good money after bad. In effect, Somalia has joined Pakistan and Egypt in an extortion racket whereby it demands endless aid to fight radicalism, but never defeats it for fear of losing an annual windfall which elites siphon for personal interests.
Not all of Somalia, however, embraces this cycle. As Somalia descended into civil war in 1991, Somaliland, ground zero for Somali dictator Siad Barre’s reign of terror, declared itself independent.
Its claim was solid: during the colonial era, it was a British protectorate, distinct from the rest of Somalia, with internationally-recognized borders. All five UN Security Council members recognized its 1960 independence.
To Somalilanders, its subsequent union with Somalia was voluntary, as was its exit against the backdrop of Somalia’s descent into chaos.
Residents of the region also point out that the State Department’s traditional antipathy toward border changes rings hollow given Washington’s, the African Union’s and the broader international community’s recognition of South Sudan and Eritrea.
True, neither of these countries is a success, but Somaliland already promises to be.
Source: The National Interest