As in many other places around the globe, the United States has a bad track record of propping up leaders and groups in Somalia, only to watch them crumble months or years later. Siad Barre, the ruthless military dictator of Somalia, was kept in power by the US until the Somali people rebelled in 1991. In 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) established a pseudo-government that has been credited with bringing order to Mogadishu that hadn’t been seen in years.
Beyond establishing a level of peace and security unknown to the region for more than fifteen years and winning wide support from the Somali public, the UIC had a “severe dampening effect on the activities of maritime piracy in the waters off the Somali coast,” according to a UN Monitoring Group report.
In addition to relative peace and quiet on land, the UIC was successful in reining in pirates that used Somalia as a launch pad. Piracy, especially off of the coast of Somalia, has been of huge concern to American officials because of the volume of oil passing through these waters. It is puzzling, then, that the goal of the US was to abolish the UIC that so successfully policed Somali pirates.
The Official reason for doing away with the UIC was to prevent the establishment of a terrorist safe haven for al Qaeda, al Shabaab and other such groups. There was never, however, any immediate threat of terrorism against the United States by groups in Somalia. Therein lies the source of our beloved officials cognitive dissonance: Somali piracy—a big threat to the global economic order estimated at $12 billion a year—was left nearly unchecked after the US did away with the UIC in order to annihilate a terrorist threat that hardly existed. Such behavior is indicative of paranoia rather than sensible policy making.
The UIC was ousted by American backed warlords and neighboring Ethiopia—a country fiercely hated by most Somalis. While the objective of the American proxy war was bringing stability to the East African country, it hardly did that. Jeremy Scahill explains:
Rather than working with the Somali government to address what Somalia experts considered a relatively minor threat, the United States turned to warlords like Qanyare, and went down a path that would lead to an almost unthinkable rise in the influence and power of Al Qaeda and the Shabab.
Such blowback has been experienced in Somalia before. During the humanitarian intervention in the early 1990’s, many Somalis quickly began to despise the US and UN forces thanks to what was seen as indiscriminate brutality.
By the time of the 3 October battle, literally every inhabitant of large areas of Mogadishu considered the UN and U.S. as enemies, and were ready to take up arms against them. People who ten months before had welcomed the U.S. Marines with open arms were now ready to risk death to drive them out.
American intervention has once again started in Somalia, but this time using drones and proxy forces. It is worth noting that the last Somali intervention was done towards the end of a devastating famine. Somalia is currently in the midst of one of the worst famines ever seen. It should also be remembered that Colin Powell said that the intervention was a “a paid political advertisement” for maintaining the current military budget. Perhaps the recession and growing non-interventionist sentiment in the US has sent Washington a powerful message that Somalia is too expensive to tinker with. This could explain Washington’s newfound love affair with drones instead of Black Hawks.