US Policy in Somalia

Poster "The continuation of Washington’s current approach in Somalia would ensure that U.S. interests and those of other countries in the region remain dangerously vulnerable to terrorist attacks from this collapsed state. Continued fighting between Islamist elements and the U.S.-backed warlord alliance will breed resentment, attract recruits to the extremist cause and provide a training ground for new militants. The United States can no longer afford not to engage more deeply and directly in state reconstruction efforts in Somalia. It is in our national security interest to do so."  Prendergast


At the time that we intervened in Somalia for humanitarian reasons the American ambassador to Kenya wrote an op/ed piece in which he predicted that no good would come of intruding ourselves into the internal wars of a place as wild and fractious as Somalia.  He was right. What we did, and evidently continue to so was to disrupt whatever fragile bonds there were that held the Somali state together.  As Somalia disintegrated under the pressure of our aspirations for it, the component parts, focused on the US as the intruder and alienator.  What followed is well known.

We did much the same thing in Iraq, but by March, 2003 it had become clearer that for the Jacobin/neocon crowd chaos leading to revolutionary social change and westernization would suffice as a substitute for a smooth and peaceful transition to the same desired "end state."

We left Somalia in the aftermath of the Battle of Mogadishu.  We left it to disintegrate further, except that it seems that the "long warriors" have continued to meddle there. And what a splendid outcome they have now brought into being.  An Islamist militia has conquered the capital and may do well in the rest of the "country."

In response, the United States is toying with the idea of "dealing with" the Islamists there.  That would be logical.  Remember, our foreign policy crew has been playing "footsy" with "moderate" Islamists in Egypt for years now.

How about this idea?  We adopt a policy of just leaving the Somalis to work out their own problems.  How about that, Mr. Prendergast?

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12 Responses to US Policy in Somalia

  1. john pfeifler says:

    Oil and Ethiopia define policy in Somalia. Hunt Oil and Parsons have/had concessions/contracts in the Ogaden Basin which has been and continues to be a contested area between Ethiopia and Somalia (Ogaden War). The Ethiopian gas and oil export route needs ports. Thus, a good case for an independent Somaliland (de facto independence for 15 years)can be made. Those pesky unitary colonial creations keep getting in the way of business.
    The issue to me is not putting a failed state back together, it’s how best to exploit the oil. And, how to financially aid our new bestest friends in Ethiopia while keeping militant Islam in Somalia at a niusance level. But then I’m jaded. I think the only factor that trumps neoconservative ideology in the Bush administration is oil.

  2. jonst says:

    PL wrote: “How about this idea? We adopt a policy of just leaving the Somalis to work out their own problems. How about that, Mr. Prendergast?”
    Nah, we can’t make any money(or domestic political hay)that way Col.
    Come on, come on, take a sip of the pretty liquid and all will seem well.

  3. Babak Makkinejad says:

    My understanding was that the Somlian State had already disintegrated prior to the US-UN mission there.
    I also believe that the initial phase of operation; to make the place safe for UN food delivery, was quite successful and certainly quite laudable.
    It was the extension of that limited mission into taking sides in an ongoing civil war that was foolish, in my opinion. But by that time, there was a new government in US.

  4. john pfeifler says:

    Somalia was a casualty of the Cold War and colonialism. Under the leadership of Siad Barre, Somalia was a Soviet client because Ethiopia, under Emperor Haile Sellasie, was a U.S. client. Once Ethiopia disintegrated and the smoke cleared, it too became a Soviet client. One might think that would be a good position for the Soviet Union, two client regimes in the Horn of Africa hemming in the Bab al-Mendab. However, Somalia and Ethiopia contested the Ogaden region and went to war in the late 1970s. The Soviets abandoned Somalia and supported communist Ethiopia–the more promising client. Of course once the USSR declared for Mengistu the U.S. declared for Barre (
    Meanwhile, the U.S. had facilities in Ethiopia under Sellasie and the new Mengistu regimes. Ethiopia kicked the U.S. out saving foreign policy makers from their ethical dilemma of supporting a communist regime. Over in Somalia, four major U.S. oil companies (Conoco, Amoco, Chevron, and Philips, ) had negotiated concessions from the Barre regime to explore for oil. The Ogaden War between Somalia and Ethiopia weakened and eventually led to the fall of the Barre regime and the country’s subsequent descent into factions along clan lines. Conoco provided facilities in Mogadishu for U.S. government personnel as the situation deteriorated in the early 1990s ( The worsening humanitarian crisis resulted in U.S.-U.N. UNOSOM-Operation Restore Hope missions. The history of the U.S. mission is pretty well documented. Humanitarian missions are feel-good endeavors until they go south. Operation Restore Hope went south. Very unfortunate for Somalis. As you indicate, perhaps the decision to actively intervene in the inter-clan warfare was foolish.
    Mixed in with this mess was the Eritrea People’s Liberation Front, now the government of independent Eritrea (a former Italian and Ethiopian colony), and the freedom movement that overthrew Mengistu in Ethiopia. Once friends, Eritrean President Afwerke and Ethiopian President Melees are bitter enemies now (border war 1999). The Ogaden region is still contested and thought to have commercial quantities of gas and oil. Also fighting for control over the area is the Ogaden National Liberation Front. Needless to say, throughout this region are religious, ethnic, and clan tensions.
    Somalia was cobbled together from Italian and British Somalilands after WWII. French Somaliland became Djibouti. The former British Somaliland declared independence after Somalia imploded and has yet to receive international recognition. It has the ports Ethiopia needs to export Ogaden oil and has been relatively stable for the past 15 years. So, what to do about the wild formerly Italian Somaliland appears to be the issue Mr. Pendergast raises. How he expects to reconcile the clans and sub-clans in order to put Somalia back together in a democracy is a good question. I think pl has the right answer, let the Somalis figure it out.
    Kind of a quick tour, hope it helps. You have to go back to the interwar years when the colonizers were active in the region to get a flavor for the mess.

  5. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I now remembered that I had not titled this. pl

  6. Babak Makkinejad says:

    john pfeifler:
    Thanks! I recall some of that. I do not understand why the Northern Somli Repbulic cannot be recognized; there are many Arab countries; why can’t there be more than one Somali state?

  7. john pfeifler says:

    The short answer is that Somaliland rejected the ARTA process for Somalia and the Transitional National Government. Also, Somaliland is having border problems with Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in Northeast Somalia. The has a pretty good synopsis of some of the difficulties confronting Somaliland.

  8. john pfeifler says:

    Sorry, didn’t notice the web address was clipped. The end should be 1129littlecountry.htm

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    As to the precise date of the demise of what might be called a “state” in Somalia, that could be argued endlessly and is largely semantic in nature and pointless in fact.
    “I also believe that the initial phase of operation; to make the place safe for UN food delivery, was quite successful and certainly quite laudable.”
    I was always against this “laudable” project believing that it would inevitably seduce America into a deeper involvement. pl

  10. john pfeifler says:

    The post-Desert Storm euphoria was difficult for President GHW Bush to resist. Of course as the mission crept on and on, the dimensions of Somali politics became clearer.
    “Deeper involvement” constitutes a major plank for U.S. foreign policy. It is a consistent policy of act first and think later.

  11. Curious says:

    Let’s keep the score card here:
    Places that Al qaeda is making significant progress/winning. (transforming weak/corrupt states and reducing it into chaos and establishing taliban like regime)
    1. southern afghanistan
    2. Somalia
    3. Nigeria
    4. Iraq
    They lost:
    1. Indonesia
    2. Saudi
    3. Uzbek
    The geniuses at Pentagon are thinking about helping al qaeda in Lebanon, Iran and Syria. Somebody better tell them about that “nation building part”, cause destroying a state is easy, in fact it’s the part Al qaeda need us to do. It’s the next phase that won’t look pretty.

  12. said farah says:

    It is sad to say that somaliland is having problems with puntland. The reality is, most Somaliland people believe Somalian unity. There are large tribes who’s living the borders between Somaliland and Puntland and they reject any division of their country. That is were the war is going on now. Lasanod city was captured by Somaliland meleshia two months ago, thousands of people mostly children and women were displaced, and hundreds were die or killed by the Somaliland meleshia. Dhulbahante clan, Warsangeli clan, Habar yoonis clan which are the major tribes in so called Somaliland state had rejected the ideology of Hargaisa guys who are trying to prolong their ruling time because for them even they know there will be no two Somalian Countries.

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