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.

Monday, January 15

Our Man in Africa

Our Man in Africa ... the Conqueror of the Horn of Africa ... or why sometimes the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.

(With great apologies to Patton).


We don't have the money to take the burden individually. The international community should provide funding.
Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's dictator

The Ethiopian government is among the most corrupt in the world.
Transparency International

Ethiopia is one of the United States’ most important partners because it shares and supports many of our strategic goals ... the United States remains deeply concerned about Ethiopia’s domestic political environment.
Donald Yamamoto, U.S. Ambassador elect

The aftermath of Ethiopia’s landmark May 2005 parliamentary elections has laid bare the deeply entrenched patterns of political repression, human rights abuse and impunity that characterize the day-to-day reality of governance in much of the country.
Human Rights Watch

Despite its serious internal flaws, the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi did civilization a great favor.
Ralph Peters, columnist

We must stop pretending that Ethiopia is run by a respectable government when in fact it has a murderous and oppressive regime.
Ana Gomes, E.U. Parliamentarian

He may be an SOB but he's our SOB.
President Franklin Roosevelt

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.
President George Bush

Ethiopia's human rights record is 'not a factor' in the bilateral relationship.
Senior U.S. State Department Official

Ethiopia is one of the ten worst violators of press freedom in the world.
Reporters Without Borders

We have now decided not to sell any more Humvees to the Ethiopian army.
Vicki Huddleston, charge d’affairs at the U.S. embassy


The quotes tell the whole story but there is more detail below:

Certainly, self interest guides the foreign policy of any responsible government but what should be done when America's African interests and Ethiopia's very life are in the hands of a dictatorship run on behalf of a tiny and greedy revolutionary feudal aristocracy?

One can assume that some variety of short sighted American interest is being pursued in American foreign policy in East Africa but no such assumption can be made about the behaviour of the Ethiopian regime. No matter how much anyone may want to see that finally at last some Ethiopian interest is being pursued by Meles - that assumption can not be made.

We figured that the Islamists would represent little of a military challenge for the Ethiopian Army and that Somalis weren't fond of them either. A few months ago no one had heard of them, then they were suddenly unbeatable and set to take over the world - now they are on the run in forests and deserts making for the Kenyan border or the Indian Ocean.

As easily as the appeared they disappeared ... and may appear again. After all who has ever been able to predict what happens in Somali politics? Somalia as a country was invented just in time for independence and nurtured on Ethiopia-hatred from birth. Ethiopia-hatred is the one certainty of Somali politics.

In fact, given the clan nature of Somali society there is no other unifying force there - beyond Islamism whose roots in Somalia seem to be shallow. Countless Ethiopian governments going back generations have had to deal with the coastal areas of the Horn of Africa because it has always been a source of trouble.

But - until now no one has ever invaded and occupied Somalia. It is easy to get carried away with a sense of nationalism and patriotism about war. It is seductive to at last imagine a glimmer of decency from the Ethiopian regime regarding the national interest.

But - remember what the Ethiopian regime is all about. How high did Ethiopia's interests rate when the current government from birth was dedicated to the dismemberment and hatred of Ethiopia?

In the concluding days of the war with the Dergue, the TPLF and the Dergue used Ethiopian themes with equal cynicism. During the 1998-2000 TPLF war of independence from the EPLF the same Ethiopian themes were returned too until the first victory at least.

None of them lasted when Meles & Co. were not in crisis. Meles, that eternal arada & ashattiregna (street smart intriguer) is in charge because of his mastery of manipulating and murdering his 'comrades' and fooling ferenjis while ruthlessly killing his opponents.

Who armed and enriched Eritrea against every Ethiopian interest before 1998 anyway? Why Meles of course. Who was feted and fed in Mogadishu for his Ethiopia-hatred in the 1980s? Why Meles of course. Who seeks to divide and rule Ethiopia today ... or who keeps Ethiopia as a massive prison ... and who keeps her economy as a personal bank account?

In every case above, Meles of course.

And suddenly he should be trusted with assumptions of good will about the national interest that he has shown no concern for since 1974? How about these questions - who eagerly embraced Ethiopia's status as a landlocked country in 1991 talks to the surprise of all observers and which leaderly of an invaded country after a bitter victory willingly submitted his land to arbitration by foreigners as though anyone in history has ever done that before?

Why Meles of course.

Beyond a general Marxist-Leninist view of the world finely tuned to getting and keeping absolute power, Meles believes in nothing but his own interests. As the only country on earth with constitutionally mandated tribal divide and rule politics and a false but deadly right to seccession, Ethiopia is by Melesian design being pushed eagerly into the kind of clan mentality that has destroyed Somalia.

Make no mistake there is no Somali government today either that does not serve at the pleasure of Meles and the world knows it. A few weeks ago it almost collapsed even from its position in internal exile guaranteed only by Ethiopian threats. Today that 'government' is in Mogadishu behind Ethiopian threats backed up by Ethiopian guns.

There is no other interpretation of the current situation but that Ethiopia has, for the first time in history, invaded and occupied a neighbor and that she has done so to only the provacation of threats. There is almost no way to see where this will lead in the future but don't expect it to be good. Meles didn't even wait for his secret police agents to stage a terrorist incident before invading.

Ethiopia certainly can't afford this occupation itself and unable to fight an American style anti-insurgent campaign will resort to naked and frequent brutality. Somalis may need little new reason to hate Ethiopia but Meles will do his best to give them yet more reasons and to perhaps unite them for the first time in their history.

The greatest terrorist threat in Ethiopia has been Meles Inc which owns the entire economy, controls all of the livelihoods of her people and strives to occupy the very minds of 70 million Ethiopians. A threat of any type from Somalia has always been assumed in the past as a standard bit of Ethiopian reality - noting that fact is as remarkable as noting snow in Iceland.

Is Al Quaeda a new factor in Somalia? Well, it certainly may be now - but maybe not. Seriously, are we to believe that Somalis or their friends who hate Ethiopia never REALLY tried to hurt Ethiopia before? Historically invading Mahdis and nationalists from Somalia have been just as threatening and always effectively dealt with without a step into the unknown such as invasion and occupation.

From the American point of view this is win-win. Meles is our SOB for now, kicking ass & taking names while the rest of the War on Terror proves to be more frustrating than predicted. For Republicans and Democrats that remains true. The administration wants a clear win somewhere, anywhere and the new Congressional leadership doesn't want to rock the boat lest they do something that actually has ultimate electoral responsibility associated with it.

In a very real sense this was THE BIG GAME that the US has been coaching Meles for since the early 1990s. Meles is as much a creature of Clinton-Blair-Bush as Mengistu was a creature of Brezhnev. Ultimately Meles fooled none of his sponsors in the end about his free market or democratic credentials but they always banked on his willingness to do what he just did in Somalia.

That is what this invasion and occupation are all about. Somali politics has became the ultimate excuse for ignoring human rights in Ethiopia - for who knows how long it will remain so?

Young American men and women are risking and tragically too often losing their lives in Iraq today because the world tolerated a brutal dictator in Saddam Hussein for decades. All the world players big and small figured they could deal with him until it was too late.

Meles is no different except that his threat, while just as lethal, is more local in scale because of Ethiopia's lack of oil money. Indeed, the poorer, weaker and more involved in national and international strife Ethiopia is - the better for Meles because he is like a parasite in search of a weak host.

Because of his relative weakness Meles also knows how to make ferenjis happy by telling them what they want to hear and being for them the very African that they always dreamed of meeting - 'finally an African we can deal with' - or really 'Our Man in Africa'.

Easy victories will turn into a dangerous & gleeful soft contempt for Somalis in the minds of far too many vicariously thrilled armchair victors. To state as we have above that Somalis are divided is a matter of reality. To assume that Somalis will always be weak and divided or that Ethiopian arms will always be victorious or that the Meles or any government will rule Mogadishu or even that the U.S. will support Ethiopian is however, dangerous nonsense.

This was no 'police action' or 'hot pursuit' or 'cross border raiding' - this is all about invasion and occupation. The reason that no one else invaded and occupied Somalia in Ethiopian history was not that it was thought hard to do so but was that eternal question - "what happens next".

'Next' can be played out over days, weeks, months and years (even decades) while the financial burden, the cost in blood, the deaths, the lost limbs and the hatred multiplies. Folks are very hesitant to start wars because it is impossible to tell how they will end.

That is especially true when wars are initiated by governments that have to begged and threatened to treat their own people with decency. What can possibly hurt Meles whatever happens? Nothing really.

The Meles endgame in Somalia as in Ethiopia, is eternal rule, riches and that dubious position of international respect that thugs get for killing their way to the top of their personal heap of bodies. However, Ethiopia is now in a war now with no endgame in sight or even planned for besides more political support and cash in the pipeline for its dictatorship.

Remember, don't believe the hype and remember that there is no Somali government which Meles does not absolutely control. In fact, Meles Inc. owns Somalia for now just as it has temporary custody of 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.