If you liked War on Terror® '06, you're gonna love the '07 model! Contrary to the advice of nearly everyone who knows anything about Iraq, counterterrorism or the capabilities of the U.S. military, President Bush is set to increase the number of U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq.
In the meantime, the Bush administration appears to be prepping for a military strike against Iraq's bigger, more powerful neighbor, Iran.
The American and British navies are positioning additional warships off Iran's southern coast, including a U.S. aircraft carrier capable of launching air strikes against Iranian land targets. The Brits say that the build-up is an effort to "maintain familiarity with the challenges of mine hunting in warm water conditions." Of course. And I downed several shots of tequila on New Year's Eve to maintain familiarity with Mexican agribusiness.
The most dramatic new development in the War on Terror® happened last month, when soldiers from Ethiopia launched a full-on invasion of neighboring Somalia.
For much of 2006, Ethiopian forces have been active in Somalia in support of Somalia's transitional government. Somalia's transitional government (often referred to as Transitional Federal Institutions, or TFI) is backed by the international community (whatever the hell that is), but it has little support or power to speak of in Somalia.
Ethiopia's opponents in Somalia are an Islamic fundamentalist coalition known as the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).
The UIC was on a bit of a roll for most of 2006. Despite its sadism and flat-out weirdness (among other things, the UIC reportedly executed a man and a small girl last summer for the crime of wanting to watch World Cup soccer on TV), it is viewed by many Somalis as the most authentic, patriotic and Islamically correct group vying for power in the country right now.
The UIC's patriotic street cred was boosted considerably last year by a bungled effort by the CIA. I know it's hard to believe that an intelligence agency controlled by the Bush administration would screw something up, but it's true. The CIA funded and armed brutal local warlords who opposed the UIC. When word of the CIA's efforts got out, Somali support for the UIC swelled. It seems that many Somalis were impressed with the UIC just because the CIA was trying to stop them. Good work, boys.
Last summer, UIC forces captured Somalia's largest city, Mogadishu. UIC forces also advanced to Baidoa, an inland city where Somalia's transitional government is headquartered and protected by Ethiopian troops.
Throughout the second half of 2006, UIC forces clashed with Ethiopian forces and tensions escalated. Last month, Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia along a 250-mile front. On Dec. 28, Ethiopian forces, along with elements from Somalia's transitional government, took Mogadishu from the fleeing UIC.
So what does any of that have to do with the War on Terror®? Ethiopia's military is funded and trained by the United States. General John Abizaid, who is in charge of the military's War on Terror® operations in East Africa, visited Ethiopia's dictator and prime minister Meles Zenawi in the weeks preceding the invasion. While denying direct involvement, the U.S. government has already expressed its official approval of the operation.
Why does the United States care what happens in Somalia? Because Somalia is a haven for al Qaida operatives working throughout east Africa. And because Somalia's coastline overlooks the shipping lanes through which much of the Middle East's oil passes on its way to Europe and the United States.
Ethiopia's government brutalizes its people and spends lavishly on its military while ignoring the needs of its citizens (food and water, for example), but the Bush administration supports it because its interests coincide with ours. We want a Somalia that isn't ruled by the UIC and isn't a haven for Islamic fundamentalists who threaten U.S. oil interests or engage in international terrorism. Ethiopia wants to keep Somalia's Islamists weak so that they cannot foment unrest within Ethiopia nor act as a proxy fighting force in Ethiopia's ongoing border dispute with neighboring Eritrea.
The one country that none of the major actors in Somalia's current war care about is Somalia. The U.N. reports that the current war has "severely undermined" humanitarian operations helping 2 million Somalis. If Somalis hate us for helping to start this war, who could blame them?
The Byrne Report will return next week.