Monday, January 22

Collateral Damage

The War on Terror ... Meles the Superman who Swallows Gold and Spouts Junk ... and why the lamps are going out all over Ethiopia; we may not see them lit again in our lifetime.

(image via John Heartfield, quote from Sir Edward Grey)


We've received a few communications recently about our 'inconsistency' in supporting the American effort in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Israeli one against Hezbollah while opposing a very real part of the War On Terror taking place in the form of the invasion of Somalia. Those seeming inconsistencies are best defined by the term 'collateral damage'
a U.S. Military term for unintended or incidental damage during a military operation.
What is at stake in Ethiopia is the perception and reality of a deep American commitment to the survival of an Ethiopian dictatorship that has demonstrably never had the best interests of Ethiopians at heart in any way. Observers may assume that an alliance exists between Ethiopia and America but unlike the US government which can be assumed to speak for Americans, the Ethiopian government only speaks for itself.

This logical dissonance will have long term implications for everyone concerned far beyond the current battlefields and news reports of Southern Somalia.

From the American point of view, Somalia was and is another potential Terrorist Islamist Emirate like the rather nasty Afghanistan of Mullah Omar and Osama. In addition, perpetrators of the 1998 Embassy bombings had taken refuge in Somalia. In general it would not do to let anyone think that the US was willing to lose any battle in the War On Terror.

Using an Ethiopian proxy, American aims were achieved rather neatly and on the cheap. The financial costs and the investment of American prestige was remarkably low while the gains have been relatively high. Unlike the EU, America has notably never expected much from the Ethiopian government in the way of developing any form of a free society or free markets.

Those low expectations have allowed the US to keep its eye on the ball of geopolitics but have also transformed the US into the principal financial, military and moral supporter of one of the most murderous and most corrupt regimes on earth.

However, to borrow a phrase from one of America's Senators - the American effort in Iraq has been based on the 'audacity of hope.' The US could have overthrown Saddam in 2003 and then appointed a government of unelected subservient thugs to keep things under control while the US withdrew its forces in far less than a year.

The message would still have been a strong one - namely that dictators who went too far in offense against the most fundamental interests of the US had limits on their behavior. No weapons of mass destruction may have been found but Saddam certainly acted like he had something to hide didn't he? In fact, despite what anyone says now - everyone believed he had them - including and sometimes especially including opponents of the war.

However after the weapons issue and overall Iraqi troublemaking were dealt with, the US stuck around in Iraq on a very very expensive mission in terms of lives, national prestige and money - it may have cost the Administration and its allies on both sides of the political aisles their hold on power for years to come.

The US has made great sacrifices in Iraq to see elections held and has put itself in the middle of significant armed civil strife for a vision of long term American interest that is breathtaking in scope.

So there you have it - in Iraq, American policy has been based on the 'audacity of hope' that long term American interests would be served by the establishment of a democratic society in the middle of the Arab world.

In Ethiopia, American policy has been based on 'low expectations' that hold that 'sure Meles is an S.O.B but he is our S.O.B.' This has included US government representatives approaching opposition leaders in prison to drop their struggle for democracy in concern for events in Somali politics.

This is comparable to many other times in modern history where the blood of Ethiopians seemed cheap compared to those of others. Back in the same month in 1977 when Steve Biko was killed in South Africa, literally hundreds if not thousands of Ethiopian students were killed in every Ethiopian city by the Dergue.

Does anyone besides the living relatives of those Ethiopian victims know their names? Probably not. To take the South African example further, imagine if Ethiopia's current regime was made up of ferenjis.

The world would be angry about what was happening to those poor Ethiopians but since her tormentors look like their victims and since little is expected of Ethiopians anyway - none of it seems to matter very much.

Ethiopia is cursed with a government that has to be begged and threatened to treat its own people decently. The Ethiopian social contract is based upon the relationship between the regime and its foreign sponsors in a matter that holds Ethiopians in general as hostages to the generosity and fleeting interest of foreigners.

All foreign policy is based on self interest and it is foolish to expect different. The US government is looking after the interests of Americans. Ethiopia's problem is that it is not clear that their own government can not be trusted to be looking after the interests of Ethiopians except by coincidence.

The litany of bad, no vicious is the right word, behaviour from Meles Inc. regarding Ethiopia's most fundamental interests matters a great deal. In criminal cases in court, prior bad acts are certainly of interest in determining the guilt and sentencing of criminal defendents.

If a criminal has invariably hurt his neighbors for years, suddenly giving him the benefit of the doubt because of the seriousness of his latest venture he is accused of or because his neighbors totally depend on his good will, makes little sense. By that logic the more powerful a Mafia Don is the more reluctant the D.A. should be to go after him because of the chaos that may follow his fall.

That is why civilized governments have elections and orderly transfers of power - and for that matter why individuals in any sphere of life have resumes, references or worry about diplomas. Past behaviour is the best measure of future behaviour. We should all give folks chances to prove themselves but perhaps not when they have demonstrably made the lives of 70 million people worse for a decade and a half.

From the Ogaden issue to port access to arming Eritrea to owning the entire economy to killing and imprisoning tens of thousands of opponents onto tribal divide and rule, Meles has a CV that is not encouraging in terms of Ethiopian interests.

Giving Meles the benefit of the doubt regarding Somalia can be done with the same form of twisted logic that the Dergue and Mengistu asked for when they were fighting the TPLF and EPLF and they realized that they couldn't kill or intimidate EVERYONE in the end.

Because the issue of Islamism in Somalia is of importance to Ethiopia it does not follow logically that the seriousness of the Somalia issue will suddenly bring about a conversion in Meles to consider Ethiopia's interests more seriously than his own.

One can also expect Meles to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. At a cost of billions in dollars and tens of thousands of lives Eritrea was defeated in 2000 only for Ethiopia to become the only country in history that was a victim of aggression to submit its land to arbitration.

When considering just about every other country on earth the above statement would be considered ridiculous. How about this next one? Could the endgame of the current Ethiopian victory in Somalia be a loss for overall Ethiopian interests so that Meles can seem like a statesmen before foreign reporters and money men? What could possibly stop him?

Ethiopia's fundamental interests are in opposition to Islamism and square quite neatly with those of the US in the War On Terror. No one knows this better than Ethiopians of every religion over centuries now, after all quasi - religious - political - military threats out of Somalia are as familiar to Ethiopians as the fact that they have to take care of themselves in the end.

The problem now is that Ethiopia has a government that won't let Ethiopians take care of themselves and that listens only to foreigners as its constituency. As card carrying members of the civilized world we are delighted to see the Islamists defeated in Somalia and we are certain that such a mission serves the interests of both Ethiopia and the US.

We are also certain that every other interest of 70 million Ethiopians will suffer because of this Somali war. When the US Marines raised the American flag above Mt. Surubachi in 1945, one observer noted the sacrifice and the nobility of the warriors involved and said that flag raising meant "a Marine Corps for the next 500 years."

Because of the limited vision of American policy on the Horn of Africa and the demonstrated insidious hostility of Ethiopia's government to its own people we fear that the Ethiopian invasion and occupation of Somalia will mean "Meles Inc. for another generation." There may not be an Ethiopia around by that time.

This is because this war may have resulted in the removal of all constraints on the behaviour of the Ethiopian regime towards Ethiopians. Such is the nature of our world and its complexity and the lack of easy answers out here.

For Americans, Somalia is a dirty little war where American interests are served as soldiers and diplomats hold their noses in the presence of their murderous new allies in Meles Inc. Ethiopians have been placed in the horrible position where the fate of their nation is in the hands of their very own despised government which is as determined to do them as much harm them as the Islamists are.


A Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Meles Inc.

Before the crisis of the past few months it was easy to be ignorant of the current Somali government. After all it had no influence outside of a small strip of land between Baidoia and the Ethiopian border. It seems that the African Union, U.N. and the Arab League may have recognized or supported this Somali Government in Internal Exile (SGIE).

But so what? After all the Assad regime in Syria has good relations with the A.U., holds seats in the U.N. and in the Arab League - so that is no great reccomendation. The SGIE mattered little outside of its usefulness to the Ethiopian goverment - sort of an investment for the future and a potential propaganda use too.

It is amazing how reporters refer to 'Somali government forces' in recent news reports. Where were those forces a few months ago if they matter so much now? Recent events in Somalia are a matter of Ethiopian military invasion.

Some elements of the press are more realistic. The Indian Ocean Newsletter puts it this way
It was the superior force of the Ethiopian army rather than the effectiveness of the Somalian Transitional Federal Government (TFG) services that upset militias of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in record time.
The Economist mentions Somalia's new ministers "recieving instructions from the Ethiopian Foreign Minister". The SGIE has little backing on the ground in Somalia outside of the reach of Ethiopian weapons, even among the clan of its leader.

This type of chaos is nothing new. The Islamists were similiarly despised and supported in Somalia as conditions changed from day to day. The warlords were just the same. The SGIE may be Somalia's last best chance for stability but any reality is illusory in Somalia.

We have no real idea what will happen next. The claims of the Ethiopian government to be withdrawing are nonsense in our opinion and nothing more than a P.R. effort to make the SGIE seem independent, to make the invasion seem more palatable to certain neighbors in the region and to try to squeeze other 'peacemakers' and bundles of cash from the rest of the world.

If Ethiopian forces withdraw, the SGIE will collapse in days and either warlords or the Islamists will rule again. That may be a policy option for Meles but not a serious one. The A.U. is supposed to have passed a resolution or whatever calling for African participation in taming Somalia.

We all know how well A.U. forces have worked out in keeping victims of the Sudanese government alive in Darfur so don't expect too much from the A.U. in Somalia - especially since the Sudanese government is supposed to be cooperating. Indeed, we will go out on a limb here and say that beyond headlines no nation on earth will do more than provide token forces to any Somali effort.

If the U.S. had a rough time of it in the early 1990s trying to handle Somalia what motivation does Mbeki or Susseveni or anyone else have for putting lives and wealth on the line?

Just as in Darfur but even less so everyone will say all of the right things when pressed, but the war in Somalia will remain a matter of Ethiopian occupation of an increasingly hostile population which will not consider what will happen if the Ethiopians leave.

For the short term interests of the US things could not have gone better. Beyond diplomatic efforts and financial ones through the IMF and the World Bank to keep cash flowing into the coffers of Meles Inc. the US, CENTCOM has had plans for this kind of action in the works for years.

Things have also gone very well from the point of view of the Ethiopian government. War is expensive but foreigners and Ethiopian serfs are paying the costs, so cost does not matter especially when events guarantee indefinite support from the world's most powerful nation.

One artillery bombardment, one convoy with a few trucks struck by RPGs or one bombing mission by a fighter plane costs in the very high tens of thousands of dollars each and every time. Multiply those amounts several times a day over months and imagine what it all adds up to. The dollar cost of fuel used to ship fuel and munitions to the military machine in the Ogaden and Somalia is incredibly expensive all by itself.

Watch for any 'civilian' contractors that receive money from the government or aid agencies conncected to helping the military effort or easing civilian suffering to be subsidiaries of TPLF companies or to be crony companies or government monopolies.

We don't believe reports that Ethiopia's helicopters are being used to evacuate wounded. They are far too expensive for that - try and imagine that a government as murderous as Meles Inc. is going to risk a multi-million dollar helicopter so Ethiopian soldiers can get to medical care more quickly. Yeah right.

The world watched in horror in the 1980s when young Iranians were given plastic keys and sent to run over Iraqi minefields to clear the way in offensives. Such a bloody minded calculus has been a staple of the Dergue and Meles Inc. wars.

As long as there are enough young men around in decent physical shape it only costs a few hundred dollars to give them a uniform and a rifle and to feed them until they go to war. There is no concept of veteran's or survivor's benefits to be worried about so for a dictatorship, armed forces actually depreciate without use.

The past year since the fake election of 2005, the Ethiopian armed forces have been riven by defections at every level from privates to generals to pilots. Extreme political control does not usually go well with military efficiency and effectiveness but we must remember that in Somalia there was no foreign military or organized insurgency being fought but a simple rabble.

It seems that the spearhead of forces that actually went into Somalia first were not cannon fodder in that same way and represented a more professional element of the Ethiopian armed forces or one that appeared so under little resistance. However, the ones doing the occupying and patrolling in Somalia for the future will be cannon fodder.

Never trust Meles Inc. to be truthful about casualty figures - and ultimately it doesn't matter to them anyway. They have no democratic accountability for anything they do. When soldiers get killed in ambushes Meles will resort to draconian measures and to group punishment just like Mengistu did.

What will happen regarding Northern Somalia where Somaliland and Puntland have enjoyed stability and a measure of relative prosperity as the South wallowed in chaos? The SGIE has splits based on dealings with the warlords and the Islamists and no one has considered the North.

Will Somali unity be decided based on negotiations which will of course go nowhere fast? After all - who will want to be joined to the South? Will the SGIE adopt a policy of conquest towards the North in that case? Why shouldn't the SGIE eventually claim the Ogaden 'back' if it is ever independent of Meles Inc.? Has anyone thought of these things?

In dealing with the certainty of Somali resistance on every scale there will then be a choice between tolerating a certain degree of chaos which will encourage opposition or striking down hard which will also encourage opposition. These decisions will be made by Meles, with an eye on the West and the Arab world for reactions, and not by the SGIE - and certainly not by anyone with Ethiopian interests at heart.

The Somali government is a wholly owned subsidiary of Meles Inc. The Ethiopian invasion and occupation of Somalia will have far reaching complications attendant to it that we can scarcely imagine now.

Expect about as much Meles Inc. sense of responsibility for the interests of Somalis as it has for the interests of Ethiopians despite its controlling relationship with the SGIE. Meles Inc. has become as much a creation of Clinton-Bush as Mengistu was of Brezhnev-Gorbachev.

Colin Powell asserted a 'Pottery Barn' rule of international politics going into Iraq. Basically, "if you broke it you bought it" or something like that, whose basic message was that the US was assuming responsibility for Iraq.

Using Meles Inc. as a surrogate in an already 'broken' Somalia means that no responsibility by any civilized actor on the world stage will be taken for the future breakdown of Ethiopia at the hands of her government.


Islamism is a mortal threat to civilization. However, the way that Islamism is being dealt with in the Horn of Africa will do lasting harm to Ethiopians and ultimately to American interests. Not because the military option was used - sometimes that is the only option.

The harm will come from the mortal threat to Ethiopia of continuing and worsening Meles Inc. rule that such shortsighted American support guarantees. Sometimes there are no simple answers.

So ... are we inconsistent? Perhaps but we know that consistency kept as a fetish can become 'the hobgoblin of little minds.' The kind of national leadership that can deal with such uncertainty and inconsistency is not forthcoming in Ethiopia.


Here are some links to our other posts on the subject: World War IV, Washington's Lethal Delusions of Stability, Meles Love You Long Time, it is well that war is so terrible ..., Technically At War, Meles's Not So Excellent Adventure, and Our Man in Africa.

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