What’s the Point?

What’s the Point?

adangodaneAmerica has likely killed Ahmed Godane. Do you care?

Ahmed Godane, if dead, was the leader of al-Shabaab for four years. Al-Shabaab is al-Qaeda of sorts in Somalia, although like so many terrorist groups the affiliation is tentative at best.

But al-Shabaab is among the larger and more successful terrorist groups in the world, because it is what’s left of the council of warlords that had run Somalia for a decade or more before American and Kenyan military sent them running in October, 2011.

Godane replaced Adan Hashi Ayrow who was similarly killed in an American drone attack in 2008.

Whether true or not, Godane claimed responsibility for staging the two mass killings in Uganda and Kenya in 2010 and 2013 (Kampala bar of people watching the World Cup; and the Westgate Mall).

The missile attack certainly obliterated an awful lot, and if Godane was anywhere near this herculean attack, he’s certainly gone. Reuters called the attack “a hail of missiles.”

Locally Godane is presumed killed. The local Somali media picked up a tweet that seems legit: Shabaab announcing the “demise” of their leader.

The reasons Americans aren’t confirming the death is because there’s nothing left to check. The “hail of missiles” was so intense that there’s no evidence left.

Much of the good Somali media, the ones not affiliated to the warlords or terrorist groups, are hailing the American strike and predicting a “game changer.

But not necessarily for the better. These same Somali media are warning that Godane’s death will foment “potentially more dangerous splinter movements.”

This makes me dizzy. This is what we now propose to do to the leaders of ISIS. Taking out leaders doesn’t do anything. There are dozens in the next village waiting to assume control.

When our president is assassinated, as seems to happen at least once a generation or two, America doesn’t stop.

And it’s particularly true of the decentralized nature of terrorist groups, today. Unlike America, they are often composed of many smaller groups, each with equally competent and trained leaders.

So what’s the point?

Vengeance. That’s no strategy.

Right On, Alabama!

Right On, Alabama!

Tom HanksSomali piracy is at its lowest level in years and Tom Hanks helps show us why.

The Oscar-nominated “Captain Phillips” starring Tom Hanks depicts in terrific detail the hijacking of a giant container ship as it traveled through Somali waters in 2009. The film which has already won a screen writers award is up for six Oscar nominations.

Anyone watching the film right from the beginning is going to scream out, “Why doesn’t the crew have guns!?”

Well, most crews do now have guns. The Alabama was hijacked in 2009 when few merchant vessels from any country in the world were allowed to be armed.

That stemmed from a centuries long policy of governments worried that large vessels were capable of coups. Later in history rogue merchant vessels tried avoiding naval inspections as Britain and the U.S. started to police the high seas for contraband.

More recently the government of Egypt banned any type of armed vessel in the Suez canal, where most of the ships in Somali waters originate.

But after large naval task forces organized by the U.S. and European union were unable to stem increasing piracy by 2010 many countries including the U.S. began allowing on-board security. The U.S. remains the most restrictive, but many U.S. flag carriers can now carry weapons or commercial security.

In 2009 giant ships like the Alabama were completely unarmed. The movie details how the captain and crew had to behave without weapons. It shows how tiny little speedboats with a handful of men carrying old Uzis or AK47s could take over a ship 3 times the length of a football field, bigger than five 747s.

As a composite of the 500 ship hijackings that year, I believe the movie does a fabulous job. It may not have been so honest with regards to Capt. Phillips and the Maersk Alabama.

In fact quite to the contrary, the crew of the Alabama is suing the real Captain Phillips and his employer, Maersk, for more than $50 million for malfeasance.

“It is galling for them to see Captain Phillips set up as a hero,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer told the Guardian last October. “It is just horrendous, and they’re angry.”

The crew contends that Capt. Phillips should have done exactly what the film depicts Capt. Phillips doing! If the crew is telling the truth, it’s almost as if Columbia pictures read the litigants’ charges and wrote the screenplay from the depositions!

Water hose defense, engine room retreat, wave action, intentional power failures … all procedures the suit against Maersk contends Capt. Phillips refused to do or bungled.

The film does give one clue to Capt. Phillips’ culpability. U.S. recommendations which Maersk had adopted included keeping ships at least 300 miles and preferably 600 miles from the Somali coast. In the film the ship is about 200 miles from the coast when hijacked.

Because the litigation is current, neither Maersk or Captain Phillips will comment. At least until the Oscars are awarded, neither will Sony or Hanks.

The screenplay also dug into the reality of why there is piracy in the first place. I wish it had been developed more elaborately, but kudus to the writers for bringing up the subject of how the Somalis had been raped of their fisheries by multinational fishing companies.

Most pirates were once fishermen, or more correctly, would be fishermen if their industry hadn’t been plundered by multinationals taking advantage of the implosion of the Somali state.

In the movie there is a poignant scene where Capt. Phillips (Tom Hanks) challenges the chief pirate:

“You’re no fisherman!” Hanks charges and then asks the pirate why with his language skills and obvious other capabilities he doesn’t do something more legitimate.

“Maybe in America,” the pirate answers. “Not in Somalia.”

In 2009 when the Alabama was hijacked, there were nearly 500 hijackings annually. Last year it was about half that.

Piracy is down because of actions as depicted in the film by heroic crew, because of massive operations by European and American navies (including as masterfully shown in the film an exciting operation by Navy Seals), and probably most of all because of the pacification of Somalia itself.

Go see the flick! Hollywood finally gets it right.

Dropping The Tuna

Dropping The Tuna

somalifishingI don’t like it but it’s good news. Should a private foundation in Somalia be doing what really should be the responsibility of the U.S. government?

Developing Somalia’s fishing industry is critical to sustaining peace in the region. Piracy was expertly developed as al-Shabaab’s principal source of revenue by enlisting former fishermen who had been systematically raped of their livelihoods mostly by western fishing companies.

Fishing had been Somalia’s main industry prior to the state failing in the 1990s. Numerous studies documented major western fishing companies, the majority from Italy and France, taking advantage of Somalia’s implosion to rape the seas of the Gulf of Aden.

With all the money and effort western powers have spent trying to oust the terrorists from Somalia, I can’t understand why they won’t rebuild its fishing infrastructure. Somehow, I guess, it’s just not militaristic enough.

So the job is being left to the private sector, which could be all well and good of course, but I fear without government to government involvement, here, a free-for-all is going to develop in these nutrient rich waters.

For several years now as the Somali war wound down, there have been reports of private companies violating fishing treaties and dumping toxic waste, in essence taking advantage of the lack of government (including multiple government, regional and UN) regulations.

The Oceans Beyond Piracy project brought together active western partners in Somalia at a Thursday conference in London which was striking for its positive outlook.

Led by a Danish NGO, Somali Fair Fishing, the conference wants to rebuild not only the infrastructure but the human capital of the Berbera port.

Berbera is Somaliland’s main port on the Gulf of Aden just before the Red Sea. Somaliland and Puntland are autonomous regions of Somalia that have been relatively peaceful for more than a decade.

Functioning as independent states, the two northern regions have seen realistic development over the last decade but been given little outside attention. World aid organizations, for example, are reluctant to promote what would become the fracturing of a former Somalia Republic.

New elections in Somaliland and new policy initiatives in Puntland announced this week, however, suggest that the two autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland are newly interested in reintegration.

It makes imminent sense for western powers and world aid organizations to go in full force to develop Somaliland’s Berbera. It’s wonderful what Oceans Beyond Piracy and other small NGOs are trying to do, but it’s just not enough.

There’s no point in developing a fishing industry if there’s no fish. Without reenforcement of existing world treaties about the Somali fishing harvests, and without worldwide enforcement to stop ships treating the Gulf of Aden as the world’s biggest public toilet, there won’t be any fish.

The foundation supporting the Oceans Beyond Piracy initiative is the One Earth Foundation of Colorado. The CEO, Marcel Arsenault, made his fortune anticipating the housing bust of 2008. As a new kid on the block of a growing number of private philanthropy organizations it doesn’t have a long enough track record for any critical appraisal.

But its mission looks good and I wish them success.

As always, though, I worry when private interests trump the responsibility of government institutions.

The Thursday conference attracted a number of giant players, like BP and Maersk. But these mega multinationals are not going to invest fully until western governments decide to invest as much in cranes and drones.

It’s an unending story of failed peace making. Nixon tried lamely to explain to a fatigued America that Vietnam could only be won by building factories, but it was an out of sync suggestion at the time it was made, way too late.

War is expensive. Fishing is much less expensive and far more productive.

Before we lose Somalia again, world powers should see what groups like One Earth and Fair Fishing are trying to do, and learn from them. USAid in Somalia should now be given as much support as AFRICOM.

Revealing the Terrible Truth

Revealing the Terrible Truth

ShabaabfightersThis past weekend’s Navy Seal operations in Libya and Somalia mark a turning point in the Obama Administration’s successes against terrorism in the U.S: the Somali raid in particular has made America more vulnerable now to terrorism.

I’ve not been a particular fan of the five years of growing American military involvement in Africa, but as I’ve written my judgment was suspended because it seemed to be working … for America. It was definitely not working for Africa.

The Westgate Mall attack, and a year before an even great attack on a bar in Kampala, were all announced revenge attacks for military successes ostensibly achieved by Kenya and Ugandan armies.

They were more fundamentally military actions by France and the United States, using Ugandans and Kenyans as their proxies. That fact alone is disturbing. It’s a bitter return to Cold War mentalities on how to resolve conflicts.

But the covert operations, in spite of lots of good professional journalism that unmasked the French and American involvement, seemed to be making America safer as Obama systematically took out his enemies one by one through drones and targeted battles.

But last weekend’s operations, intentionally or not, have been brought into the front of the public conscience, in both the U.S. and Somalia. Five years of covert action seem to be over. It’s now admitted and explained, with scant regards for the sovereignty of African nations.

The New York Times detailed explanation of the Barawe attack followed by the BBC report of the Liby capture mean that either the Obama Administration is no longer capable of keeping a secret, or that journalistic interest has just become too intense.

Either way, the cat is truly out of the bag, now. No longer covert, in my opinion, hardens the terrorists’ resolve and challenges them for a response.

It’s academic whether this change is a result of sequester stressed by a government shutdown, or more conspiratorially an attempt to deflect criticism of Obama in general at a critical time for American politics, or just plain journalism finally catching up with public interest.

You see I don’t believe terrorists are all that aware, so to speak. I don’t think they’re news junkies like us or have any more of a sense of geography of America than Americans do of Africa. I believe, for example, that the Nairobi airport fire was definitely an act of botched terrorism, and that likely most acts terrorists attempt are botched and never heard of.

In part this is because of the West’s increased security, but it’s also because the main terrorist organizations are falling apart.

There is little left of al-Qaeda or al-Shabaab. As we saw several weeks ago in Nairobi that doesn’t mean there won’t be more dramatic terrorist events. It just means that it’s less likely, and unlikely that such events will further the power goals of their organizers.

This will be particularly true if like the Kenyans it’s understood that a response of the sort American organized after 9/11 is counterproductive. And I think most of the world, maybe even America, gets that now.

Terrorists today are unorganized. We’ve learned how transnational they are. We’ve discovered that many are truly deranged and that political or religious aspirations are no longer their principal motivating forces.

That’s why I can’t understand the change from covert to overt action.

The terrorists and their local supporters were as shielded from the truth of American involvement as Americans were. There was less of a chance when operations remained covert that any response would be against America.

But we’ve taken off our boxing gloves and mask. We’ve invited them to fight.

I still think their remaining reach is far more limited than it was before 9/11, for many good and for many bad reasons. But my judgment is no longer suspended about America’s militaristic involvement. I don’t think there’s a possibility of a net good from the type of operations which concluded last weekend in Africa.

Weather Grounds Drones

Weather Grounds Drones

Predictions about African security linked to global warming have proved frighteningly correct. Does weather trump drones?

As the stubborn, not-too bright bully on the block, America has shifted to accepting global warming as human caused, but it took a few Katrinas and Sandys to tip the balance. And experts still spend inordinate amounts of time explaining the obvious to the recent convert:

“Global warming” or “climate change” or whatever you want to call it is manifest most dangerously in extremes, not just increasing temperatures. So terrible winters on top of terrible summers means we’ve screwed up nature. It’s our fault and we’ve altered nature.

Winter and summer are naturally the opponents in a ping pong game. If one hits harder, it sets up the rebound to be harder as well.

And while it’s been predicted for some time that the short-term global effects of climate change could actually benefit America, because America reigns as the world’s principal power, there’s no way we’ll avoid the much more terrible negative effects:

“The U.S…. may benefit from increased crop yields, [but] its military may be stretched dealing with global “humanitarian emergencies,” Scientific American reported five years ago.

The rest of the world has more or less recognized this for a long time, so there are plenty of studies to refer back to. As America’s conversion into reality became policy when the Obama administration came into power, America began to participate in the global studies.

Africa has the largest percentage of unstable societies in the world, and what early climate change studies show is that these misfortunes were mostly predictable, founded mostly if not exclusively on climate change.

Because Africa is the only continent to stretch so far into both hemispheres, it is unfortunately placed to feel the greatest effects of climate change.

Jihad, civil war, violence after contested elections – even the reemergence of debates about social issues like female circumcision – all seem to ebb and flow with the weather. They are all symptoms of climate change.

John Vidal writing last month in London’s Guardian cited a variety of studies showing that the Arab spring had less to do with human rights than food insecurity:

While the self immolation of the Tunisian street vendor “was in protest at heavy-handed treatment and harassment in the province where he lived… a host of new studies suggest that a major factor in the subsequent uprisings … was food insecurity.”

When the rains returned to drought-stricken Somalia, was it only coincidence that the Kenyan army occupied then pacified the country? Or more likely was the Kenyan army decision triggered by an easier time supplying its troops with food?

And now that drought has turned to floods, pacified Somalia is growing restive, again, and this instability is even spilling into neighboring Kenya.

Even in Namibia, among the least densely populated countries on earth, growing instability from climate change motivated the president to declare a state of emergency on Friday.

Record floods in 2011 have now been replaced by record droughts.

The frequency of climate disaster in Africa is increasing so fast that even statistics are lagging. PreventionWeb is a UN agency that simply documents human disasters. From 1980 – 2008, the ten greatest disasters in Africa were all due to drought.

We expect, now, that the top ten disasters when compiled for 2008-2013 will be from flooding.

It seems pretty simple. Forget about proselytizing or promoting democracy and free trade, cut carbon emissions.

Surge Then Peace?

Surge Then Peace?

When’s the last time the U.S. fought a war in a foreign land that ended with a better society and government for those people and greater peace for all the world?

Yesterday.

But before that, you have to go back to World War II. But yesterday the U.S. officially recognized the existing Somalia government after 21 years of on-and-off direct conflict.

Although far from tranquil or totally stable there is today a globally recognized Somali government for the first time since 1991, piracy is ending, farmers are planting, schools are open and the economy is growing. None of this since 1991. All this precisely because Obama “surged” our militarism there for the last two years.

He surged a war and won.

Applause?

Them’s the facts, Ma’am. The catastrophe began with Bill Clinton’s cowardly response to Blackhawk Down and then a few years later, the Rwandan Genocide. Clinton escaped a couple close calls with oblivion as President, and I for one think he’s culpable for the last several decades of terrorism in the world. (With a good measure of French obstructionism as well.)

A sweet irony that his wife yesterday was the person in the spotlight recognizing Somali peace.

But Clinton and French responsibility for igniting global jihad had a significant catalyst with the end of the Cold War.

So many African countries were nothing but pawns in the Cold War. They were treated like ivory pieces on a chessboard, spit-polished when they advanced one sides game and ignored to the point of being sacrificed when they didn’t. The frontline battle was in Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia for 20 years before Blackhawk Down.

The U.S. and westerners pulled the puppet strings on Somalia, and Russia with occasional Chinese lace pulled the strings in Ethiopia.

Tens of thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands of people died in regular old tank wars on deserts with no more value than the sand that defines an egg timer. So for 40 years “Somali society” if it still exists was pulled and shoved and bombed and tortured as some unexplained pendulum flinging between good and bad.

The epoch Americans remember most is the one just ended: the epoch of terror when Obama’s surge in Afghanistan forced al-Qaeda principals to flee to Africa. After a short stint in Yemen they went to Somali where their much greater skills and far superior dedication to ideology gave them the tools to conquer the rat pack of warlords that had controlled what had been Somalia with the residue of weaponry left by the end of the Cold War.

The prize in that stealthy battle was the port city of Kismayo, the throne of the pirates, and the loot this provided al-Qaeda rebirthed them with new weapons, new roads, new infrastructure and alas was born, al-Shabaab.

Obama gives no quarter to his enemies. But he doesn’t like public wars. So with more equipment and better technology and not a few real American boots on the ground, America began battling al-Shabaab.

It was just the continuation of the Texas Ranger pulling up his red bandana to disguise his face and sticking his badge in his pocket so he can hunt down the Dallas bank robber who fled into Arkansas. But when it became clear that this clandestine operation wasn’t enough, well, he hired Kenya.

The Kenyan Army invaded Somalia in October, 2011.

Well, that did the trick!

So now the al-Qaeda principals – what’s left of them – have fled into the interior and north of Africa. But don’t worry. The French talk better than we do in that part of the continent, so they’re taking control, now.

I’m of two minds about all this. The world – the whole wide world, including shipping and fishing lanes and air space – it’s all much, much more safe and peaceful today because of Obama’s surge against terror.

But my second mind is whiplashed by the memories of the Cold War, and how we used African societies as pawns in a game that was cruel and devastating to them.

It all remains to be seen. And perhaps my sarcasm is little more than spite of days gone bye.

Perhaps today is better.

#1 & #2: Whites Fight on Black Soil

#1 & #2: Whites Fight on Black Soil

2012 goes down in history as the first time a modern African military defeated then occupied a terrorist state. Somalia fell to Kenyan soldiers. Except that there’s a lot more to it than that.

My #1 top story for 2012 in Africa is the “pacification” of Somalia by the Kenyan armed forces, and #2 is the less obvious reason why. To see a list of all The Top Ten, click here.

The #2 story, the “less obvious reason why” the Kenyans conquered Somalia is the enormous covert military operations by the west, particularly the U.S. and France.

That assistance actually does include boots on the ground, but the Green Berets and French Foreign Legion are stealthy. They’re only rarely seen.

And while their presence has been most notable in the Somali war, they’ve been seen elsewhere, especially in central Africa in The Congo. About a 100 U.S. forces arrived publicly in Uganda for that effort. The French have a lot more in northern Africa.

These two top significant events on the continent last year have enormous implications globally but of course even greater ramifications locally. But I’d suggest that in a worldwide context they are among the top events of the year.

Somalia has been an anarchic geopolitical unit for 20 years. The implosion began when Bill Cinton abandoned a United Nations effort to hold the country together in 1993, what is commonly known in America as “Blackhawk Down.”

The country quickly broke apart into ethnic and clan-based tiny warlord states originally fueled by the weaponry left by Blackhawk Down. That later was sustained by piracy and other black-marketteering. Although two northern parts, Puntland and Somaliland, managed to organize themselves into something more stable and less onerous than the old Taliban Afghanistan, the majority of the country remained ruled by local warlords.

The Russians left Afghanistan in 1989 and shortly thereafter the country was ruled by the Taliban which welcomed the gang of Thugs led by bin Laden. This was a turning point in global power, a specific outcome of the end of the Cold War.

Perhaps the world was so tired of conflict that the west in particular grew inward desperate for periods of no war. Be that as it may, no president in the history of the U.S. has so dropped the ball on world peace like Clinton did, then.

His early nineties retreat from Africa caused all sorts of mayhem, from the Rwandan war to the Nairobi and Dar embassy bombings. He has since apologized, and some of his advisers at the time say he had been distracted from the growing turbulence in Africa by the Monica Lewinsky affair and subsequent impeachment.

I believe that radicals like bin Laden were emboldened by the subsequent mayhem. The Rwandan holocaust preceded by the implosion of Somalia was a calling card to bin Laden. A few years later, he blew up the American embassies in East Africa.

A few years later, he blew up the Twin Towers.

Terrorism reigned.

And so it has ever since. And America’s extraordinary response, the military involvement in Afghanistan and Iran hasn’t worked. Obama knows this. Like suburbs hiring trained snipers to kill deer eating their city park roses, Bush tried to eradicate terrorism with firepower.

All it did was blast it to the sides: Africa. Deer aren’t as dumb as you think. They sense the sniper’s limits and move out. For a while the city park’s roses bloom magnificently, but roses on the periphery don’t do so well.

For example, Somalia. Bush shotgunned Afghanistan, then Iraq, and many of bin Laden’s thugs were routed elsewhere. Not too many years later they ended up in Somalia after a short stint in Yemen. The al-Qaeda became al-Shabaab and conquered the warlord states of southern Somalia. What had been Afghanistan under the Taliban was now Somalia under al-Shabaab.

One and the same.

So Kenya especially began to suffer the same way all the countries bordering Afghanistan suffered. It starts with refugees. That is a problem of enormous magnitude, aggravated in Kenya’s case because the camps were located in its far and remote northeastern frontier.

And quite apart from the strain of such a responsibility economically and socially, the camps become conduits for terrorists to enter Kenya. Shortly Kenyan bus stops and churches were being blown up by suicide bombers.

So a little more than a year ago Kenya announced it would mount a military operation into Somalia. George Bush failed getting Pakistan to do the same in Afghanistan. Obama succeeded with Kenya. At first we all laughed out loud. But we were wrong.

At first the Number One News that Kenya has pacified Somalia seems so good. Part of it is. A multiple generational war is ending. Good, right? Yes, of course when any conflict ends.

Mop up continues, but when the Kenyan army captured the town of Afmadow we knew it would only be days before Kismayo fell to the courageous Kenyans. As it turned out it was months but it did finally fall and today Kenya occupies most of what only a year ago was troubled Somalia.

Today, Somalia has an effective government and the capital of Mogadishu – while not exactly a tourist haven yet – is peaceful. Kenya, on the other hand, is increasingly troubled.

I believe Kenya is too advanced and mature a society to succomb the same way Afghanistan/Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia did. Yes, folks, Kenya is more socially atune and politically savvy than Pakistan. I’m hopeful that the current bombings and other violence will slowly end as the new constitution is cemented with elections in March.

But this is deja-vu squared, no matter how you cut it. We routed world terrorists out of Afghanistan and they feld to Yemen. We routed world terrorists out of Yemen and they went to, and settled in for a quite a while, Somalia. Now that they’re routed out of Somalia?

The unpleasant conclusion is that for the time being, they’re in Kenya, and so Kenya is not a good place right now to visit.

Obama and Hollande seem to think the terrorist can just be chased into oblivion, and oblivion to them is currently beyond Kenya somewhere else in Africa. Are you following what’s happening in Central Africa, today? Or Mali? Or Nigeria?

I’ve been very skeptical about this policy. I’m not sure the west has enough resources to chase every terrorist into oblivion. I wonder if it’s time to let up.

But I’m uncertain. As uncertain as Clinton and Mitterand in 1994 must have been before a million people were slaughtered in Rwanda.

Time to Go Home Now

Time to Go Home Now

Hey chums, time to end the war on terror! We successfully pushed it into Africa! And they’ll do much better once we get the boots out.

The modern war on terror is like suburbanites trying to eradicate deer and geese. Few homeowners are ever hurt by deer and certainly not by geese, but their gardens are eaten and zoysia lawns defaced.

And “everyone knows” of the dog that was bitten by a stag, or the young oak trees eaten to the ground in the precious county forest, or the toddler nipped nearly to death by the hen’s beak, and – horror of horrors – something so truly horrible it must be given an anagram: CWD.

It is precisely the juggernaut of thought about CWD that tips the balance in the county finance committee to hire that sniper to go into the lagoon and start shooting. After all, CWD does exactly what the suburban homeowner wants it to do: kills the deer.

But fashioning goodness from simple reactive evil, the homeowner begins to feel sorry for the poor wasting away antelope. Euthanasia is wrong, but execution is right.

This is so similar to terrorism.

Nine-Eleven did ultimate harm to 3000+ people, but at the time there were more than 300 million living in the U.S., another billion or so in the countries represented in that awful carnage. So the vast, vast majority of human beings were not effected … except by terror.

By the fear it would, somehow someday, happen to them or those close to them.

The war on terror, though, has much realer consequences for all of us. It’s costly, it allows invasions of our privacies not otherwise possible, and it allows a small handful of people – mostly the president – to assassinate foreigners at will.

The last removed power that the war on terror conveys actually effects us directly. Our own behavior changes when our leader can murder at will.

When you think about, it’s worse than horrible. We have grown complacent about murder.

Numerous analysts last week suggested it’s time for America to end the war on terror. It makes a wondrous peace headline just before the holidays but it carries powerful implications for American policy.

Journalists like Rachel Maddow and Fareed Zakaria have been joined by experts close to the government.

The reason for this is pretty simple: the assault on terrorism carried out especially by Obama has succeeded. Like with deer chomping roses, we have exported the problem to our periphery.

Culling deer or blasting away geese has never successfully reduced either an existing regional population or any population trends. But it does move the problem away – to the edges of your existence.

Culling deer in the Chicago suburb of Skokie moves the problem further out from the city into more rural areas, complicating life there a little bit more as a result.

Obama has successfully routed al-Qaeda and with the weekend’s drone assassination of Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti in Pakistan, the last of Osama’s Old Boys Network is gone.

With the effective fall of the town of Jowhar in Somali last week, al-Shabaab is nearly gone, too. Somalia, which became the dustbin of terrorists worldwide as Obama’s wars in the Afghan region intensified, is essentially now no longer under terrorist control.

It is under the fragile control of countries like Kenya and Ethiopia, that are now carrying the burden of the war on terror.

Even much smaller and more regional groups like the Lords Resistance Army are on the run, presumably from U.S. Special Forces in the deepest central African jungles.

America’s War on Terror – at least as regards America’s land itself – is over.

The strongest argument against ending the war on terror, is that it isn’t eradicated worldwide, and worse, where it still flourishes (in Africa) the powers there are much weaker than us. I.E.: They Don’t Have Drones.

True TDHD but they will be much more successful wiping up the residue than we were. The so-called terrorists are much closer to them ethnically and historically. There is a much greater need to pacify militants and integrate them into society.

Right now you might think that doesn’t look real good: Terrorists hold half of Mali, most of the CAR and are detonating bombs in Nairobi at the rate of about one per month.

But it’s nowhere near the confusion and destruction that Afghanistan was less than ten years ago, or even that parts of Pakistan are today. Nairobi today is probably nicer than Belfast 20 years ago: Africa will take care of itself, much better and quicker if we withdraw.

That leaves … Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s been more than a year since we announced we will be out of Afghanistan in little more than another year. Theoretically we never invaded Pakistan. I’m no expert on the region, but I wonder if eliminating drone assassinations would not actually have a positive effect on our security. When we take our boots out, drones will be all that’s left.

So happy holidays, all. Peace is near at hand?

Mission Accomplished Now What

Mission Accomplished Now What

Twelve months ago Kenya invaded Somalia with the expressed goal of taking the city of Kismayu. This past weekend Kismayu fell but there are no celebrations, no parades.

The fall of Kismayu will go down in history as the defeat of al-Qaeda’s first organized state. Until al-Shabaab took Kismayu after the failed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2007, no terrorist organization had a fully fledged government in place.

Over the next five years, Shabaab exerted full administrative control on Somali’s largest port city, estimated at around 200,000 with many modern facilities including a functioning harbor and university. The group imposed Sharia law and imposed a strict if oppressive peace.

Kismayu is the center of pirate activity in the Arabian Gulf and with the fixed taxes Shabaab imposed on the pirates and a burgeoning trade in concrete and fish, and an increasing trade in illicit drunks and weapons, Kismayu became the quintessential Joker’s capital.

It had never happened before. Terrorists had always been in hiding or on the run. By 2009 Shabaab had extended its full authority over at least a third of southern Somali and along all of the Kenyan border. It was now a country only slightly smaller than Britain.

Kenya announced its invasion of Somalia as a response to mounting attacks inside its territory near the shared border, but more because of the growing strain on Kenyan society of the huge Dadaab refugee camp.

The camp is now the largest in the world, and while funded principally by the United Nations, it is a massive and threatening city in the Kenyan desert, larger than all but four of Kenya’s other metropolitan areas. Although there is an undeniable economic benefit to the enormous resources being passed through the country by the United Nations, the net result is probably negative.

When the invasion happened on October 18, 2011, I predicted only bad news. I was wrong. There is much bad news, but there is also some good news.

The Kenyans have suffered many fewer casualties than I expected, principally because their army moved so slowly and carefully, avoiding huge clashes. In fact with time I began to wonder if Kenya had the right formula for modern warfare, actually trumping big powers like us.

But a year ago it was not clear – as it is today – how much the western world, particularly France and the U.S., have been involved. U.S. drones, French warships and even reports of actual special services embedded with the Kenyan troops suggest a massive clandestine effort by the west to assure Kenya’s success.

We know that the Obama administration has deployed special services throughout east and central Africa so it’s likely there are Americans on the ground in Somalia helping the Kenyans. Together with our drones, we’ve probably been involved from the get go.

Such proxy warring is disturbing. It’s unsettling to me, because in theory it means Kenyans are dying to protect me, an American. It’s unsettling because we as Americans (and French, etc.) can now play with fire and not get burned.

The Kenyan mission was very slow and marginally successful day-by-day. African Union Forces which had been deployed in Mogadishu since the earth was created had been totally useless before Kenya began making inroads in the south.

Today, AUF control Mogadishu and a relative peace pervades the city for the first time in a generation. There is no doubt that Kenya’s courage in the south provided peace further north.

There is a new Somalia president, a respected university academic. Aid organizations are returning, and the news Kenya most wants to hear, that soon refugees might be repatriated, is all a collection of very positive news.

But as Jeffrey Gettleman has pointed out again and again, Kismayu freed is the worst Pandora’s Box in Africa.

The warlord society of Somali, empowered by funds and weapons scattered by America’s mousey retreat from Blackhawk Down in 1993, is rivaled only in Afghanistan. These are not people who take kindly to city council zoning rules. There is now a real concern that even the combined military of Kenya, the AUF and newly inaugurated Somali Defense Forces can hold in place what Shabaab did with nothing less than abject terror.

Over the last year terrorist attacks on Kenyan soil have increased exponentially. Tourists have been killed, kidnaped, and grenade attacks on Christian churches have taken hundreds of Kenyan lives, and even Nairobi city has experienced a half dozen terrorist attacks.

None of these were as grand or apparently as carefully planned as the Shabaab attack in Kampala in July, 2010. That attack was specific retribution by al-Shabaab against the Ugandan military, which had been the lead force in the AUF for several years. Kenya was understandably worried it would suffer the same.

It didn’t. Yet the aggregate misery, deaths, injuries and destruction of all the little attacks now exceeds by far the single grand attack in Kampala.

So there are no parades or other celebrations. A milestone, yes, but the story is far from over.

Kenya Great But Don’t Go

Kenya Great But Don’t Go

Good news in Kenya is causing extreme turbulence and many countries are cautioning their citizens about traveling there, now.

It’s heart-wrenching, because Kenya depends so much on tourism. It’s complicated, because the potential for disrupting foreign vacations comes specifically from a series of successes in Kenya’s military operation in Somalia and its growing role in the global war against terror.

Britain, France, Australia and Canada among several dozen other countries all issued new advisories to their citizens this week, indicating that travel to Kenya has become increasingly problematic. (The U.S. did not, and that oversight continues a long history of poor and misleading travel advice coming out of Washington.)

All countries said the same thing: don’t go to any part of the northern coast of Kenya including Kismayu and Lamu, and if you travel to Nairobi city, avoid a number of the poorer areas, specifically named.

The reasons for this stem from two major events this week:

A radical cleric in Mombasa was assassinated in a drive-by shooting. As I wrote at the time Sheik Aboud Rogo was a well-known supporter of al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in Somali, and one the remaining likely fugitives of a number of high-profile terrorist events.

As I said I believe the shooting was done by the very people Sheik Rogo supports as an attempt to incite violence and disrupt Kenya. It worked. Kenya’s second largest town and only port exploded in violence earlier this week.

Secondly, after nearly a year, the Kenyan military is about to invade Kismayo, the final stronghold of al-Shabaab. It’s Somalia’s modern port, largest organized city and the capital of pirates and terrorists the world over. The economy of Kismayo alone is estimated at ten times that of the rest of Somalia.

This week the Kenyan navy continued an unending bombardment of the port, taking out its airport and confirming the death of at least two major al-Shabaab leaders. The Kenyan air force has been dropping leaflets on the town explaining to citizens where and how to flee once the ground fight begins.

After Kismayo falls, al-Shabaab has nothing left but disparate mostly now ungoverned guerilla fighters, and clearly what they will do is attempt strategic acts of terrorism. The Kenyan coast – where 50% of all its tourist revenues are generated – is within day’s walk of Somalia.

And the poor neighborhoods of sprawling, gigantic Nairobi are perfect hideouts for fugitives. This year a number of grenade attacks have already occurred there that were linked to al-Shabaab.

But if you’re a Kenyan, and despite a lot of civil and political turbulence right now (including several major public sector strikes), you’re incredibly hopeful and aggressively behind the government. The march to the historic spring elections under a new and brilliant constitution will become a model for much of Africa.

But fate has dealt Kenya, with its geography and its rapid development, a terrible roll in the world’s struggle to end terror. It’s stepped up to it, and I think it will prevail.

But as much as I support Kenya and hope for its ultimate success and glory, I cannot do anything other than advise potential travelers not to go there, now.

Sheik Aside

Sheik Aside

Tuesday’s drive-by killing of the jihadist cleric Aboud Rogo in Kenya marks a small if hopeful turning point in the troubled East African coast.

Real evidence will never emerge so we are left to speculation, but blogs, rumors and common sense seem to converge this time: the murder was specifically intended to stoke religious and ethnic violence.

It did at first, but only at first, and the city did not even fire up like Watts in 1965 or Tottenham only a year ago.

This doesn’t mean that the embers remaining aren’t nuclear. But to me it seems a clear indication that Kenya’s invasion of Somalia, the global “War Against Terror,” and Christian/Islamic confrontation has peaked. In a weak and uncertain way, logic tells me things are going better.

Sheik Rogo was a fiery and provocative cleric, openly recruiting young Muslims in his Mombasa madrassa for al-Shabaab. For years he’s been associated with a number of jihadist attacks in East Africa, including the bombing of the American embassy and several high profile attacks on the coast, including the terrible bombing of an Israeli resort.

He was killed Tuesday in a carefully planned and masterful drive-by attack. The attack car which has not been found, the lack of any leads by police, the particular place the shooting actually began, and the high caliber bullets found at the site and not easily available in Kenya, all point to a very carefully organized murder.

The sheik has been confined to the Mombasa area virtually since 2002 when he surrendered his passport to Kenyan authorities. He remained charged with numerous counts of terrorism, and his legal battles in Kenya are legendary.

But he has never actually been brought to trial, and Kenya has resisted extraditing him to the U.S. for instance, for fear such action would provoke Mombasa’s radicals. So instead Kenya did what a western country can’t discipline itself to do: nothing.

African patience was winning out. The sheik’s prominence peaked. His support was waning. In the most virulent political battle on the coast going on right now, a move by a new but powerful Islamic political party to secede from Kenya, the sheik had no involvement. In fact, it appeared he’d been excluded.

Western detractors tried to pin the assassination on America or the Kenyan police, claiming each was no longer tolerant of the protracted legal battles against the sheik. I seriously doubt this. Obama’s War on Terror is going just fine, in part because people like Rogo have been marginalized. Better to have him contained in Mombasa than Guantanamo.

It’s much more likely that the dying powers in Somalia saw the sheik as a sacrificial lamb. Recruits from his madrassa to al-Shabaab are less important, now that al-Shabaab is being routed.

I think the sheik was killed by a sheik. Disquieting, yes, but when the fighting turns inwards the battlefield grows smaller.

Good News Somalia

Good News Somalia

Puntland is a part of northern Somalia which celebrated 14 years of stability and largely peace on August 1 with parades in the capital of Garowe.
Yesterday clan leaders from around Somalia adopted the first truly national constitution in 40 years. All we need now is an end to the global recession.

There is a lot of trouble in Africa right now, and a lot of it is in Somalia. While the 825 delegates prepared to adopt its historic first constitution in 40 years, two suicide bombers were “detonated” by security forces just outside the building in which the clan leaders were deliberating.

A respected Kenyan journalist quipped, “The Somalia constitutional conference ended with a bang!” His column was a very positive and very optimistic view of the situation in Somalia.

In fact, Onyango-Obbo suggested Somalia may be on a path to a representative democracy far superior to the majority of the soldiers in the African Union’s peace-keeping force in Mogadischu who come mostly from Ethiopia and Uganda:

“History is capricious and has a cynical sense of humour. If the constitution, referendum and subsequent election are pulled off, Somalia might have a freer election than either …Uganda or Ethiopia…”

Africa has a way of fooling us about its future, and Onyango-Obbo might be onto something although I think his characterization of a “cynical sense of humor” might just be plan old irony.

The Somali constitution is strictly Sharia-based, and of course that’s not going to go down well with America’s right. But get this. The constitution also allows abortion and bans female circumcision.

There is nothing specific in the Koran, or the Bible, which forbids either abortion or female circumcision. Clerics over the centuries, and the Catholic Church in particular, have added dogma to the original poetry. It is the interpretation not the literal text that is so contentious, today.

What the Somalis may have demonstrated is that you can take almost any ancient code of behavior and reduce it to is most basic moral principles and still create a modern, contemporary society.

So whether it is a Christian society or one based on Sharia law, it’s quite possible to arrive at similar governments in a modern society.

The reluctance to do this, by Al-Qaeda on the one hand or Christian evangelicals at home on the other, is what causes conflict and belies superficial morality as something usually much simpler like racism.

A peaceful and successful Somali nation has a long list of necessary predicates well beyond just stopping suicide bombers from killing legislators. The Kenyan army has yet to displace the pirate kings of Kismayo. There are nearly a million refugees living just outside the political borders in Kenya. And global warming couldn’t have a more dire effect on the people on planet earth than Somalia.

And this cauldron of political, social and even geological and meteorological turbulence seems these last few months to be spreading across much of the continent, after just a few years of such positive progress.

And that’s why I mention the need for the end of the global recession. Everything it seems in the world is economically based. When economies are improving, so do the politics and societies in general. In fact, with improving economies, strategies to deal with global warming emerge more easily.

So read Onyango-Obbo’s positive take on Somali. Cross your fingers for an European stimulus and re-elect Obama. There are a few other things to do, too.

But then in a few years, Somalia in the lead, Africa will turn better.

Peaceful Somalia or Warring Kenya?

Peaceful Somalia or Warring Kenya?

Has Kenya accomplished what the world’s great powers have been unable to do for the last generation: Is Somalia really headed towards peace?

Last week, Kenya successfully routed the insurgents from Afmadow, the last insurgent front before the rebel coastal capital of Kismayo. Today, Kenya’s major newspaper reported that “Al-Shabaab leaders are reported to be fleeing Kismayo, heading back to Puntland or leaving the country for Yemen.”

And all sarcasm aside, America’s NPR asked in a quick headline this morning “Has peace really come to the Somali capital of Mogadishu?” and implied yes, because a new dry cleaning service just opened up there this week.

Before this little business opened up, NPR went on to explain, businesspeople had to get their suits cleaned in Nairobi!

I was very skeptical of “Linda Nchi” the name Kenya has given for the operation, which roughly translates as “Protect the Nation.” Click on the Somali link to the right to read my pessimistic report after report. Will the occupation of Kismayo by the Kenyans – now widely expected – prove me wrong and Kenya right?

Before any mea verbum I have to increase my potential humiliation by also pointing out that America seems to be the principal paymaster (if not quarter master as well), info supplier and stealth assassin of top al-Qaeda and -Shabaab leaders.

Without U.S. assistance, money and assassinations, Kenya probably would have been dead in the mud last fall.

Does this make Kenya the lackey of the U.S.?

Many have argued this since this beginning. But that rude presumption I discount out of hand. One of the greatest motivations for war, or no war, around the world is the incredible cost of the host country’s dealing with refugees from a neighboring country’s violence.

It’s why South Africa continues to prop up Zimbabwe, why China continues to pander to North Korea and why Turkey is so aggressive in its stance against Assad’s Syrian regime. And there is no stronger example than the nearly million Somali refugees that have been taxing the Kenyan government for several years.

And much of this time has been exacerbated by drought.

Without America’s help, I think Kenya would have made the move.

So we won’t call Kenya America’s lackey. But I will insist that America is Kenya’s paymaster, info supplier and stealth assassin. And I don’t think there’s any question that without this assistance that Linda Nchi would not be the success it is, today.

As an American, I’m not necessarily proud of this. As a self-adopted Kenyan, I’m thrilled and scared.

Guantanamo is still open; Afghanistan still bleeds profusely and any day, now, we’re going to see a drone over Syria.

I don’t like war. And let me be practically immoral: I don’t like wars we can’t win.

And the reason America has lost or bungled so many wars, is because the people it fights are locals who have gone to the ballot box with their lives. What right do we have to impose our ideas on others? Human rights? Is our definition of individual human rights, or the UN’s, sacrosanct? Absolute enough to kill someone local who believes otherwise?

No. We are learning better than ever right now that democracy is terribly flawed. What’s the point in democracy if you can be swindled to vote against your true self-interest? It’s so easy it’s criminal. The right wing in America is the most successful brainwasher since Mao.

But it isn’t easy to lay down your life for what you believe.

Josef Kony’s child soldiers were brainwashed, and when they laid down their lives it was a tragedy, not a heroic statement of their beliefs. But the vast majority of al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab fighters are not brainwashed. They may be economically subverted, but I have little doubt that their reasoned beliefs carry them to war.

When they blow up the Twin Towers, we should retaliate, and we did. Because the Golden Rule Analog prevails: If we let you alone, you let us alone.

But the extent that we then go to insure it against happening again, is as insane as the amount of money an American must spend for medical insurance.

America is obsessed with everything being black or white, Left or Right, Progressive or Conservative, and compromise in my generation has become a naughty word. This obsession has led to an inability to discern the truth, a paranoia of failure, a self-cycling decline in happiness. It has taken America to war too many times.

And from my point of view, Obama has not changed that. He has been coopted by America’s obsession with war.

But Kenya, sweet Kenya? Are you really accomplishing what America never could? Have you been crafty enough to use America’s obsession for a war so that you can really win one?

Oh I so hope so. But it isn’t over until the Fat Lady Sings. And as far as I know, the work hasn’t yet begun on the opera house in Kismayo.

Somalia & Peace?

Somalia & Peace?

Painting by Abushariaa.
My text.
Peace may be coming to Somalia. If so, kindly note carefully that the country of Kenya is the first country in a half century to unilaterally establish peace with war.

I seem to remember another country that tried: in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and oh, in Nicaragua. And her adversaries tried in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary; and other adversaries in Tibet.

None of those worked very well. What’s critically important this time, is that the big failures don’t derail the little success. Listen, please, to Kenya.

Thursday’s peace conference in London is being reported by the western media almost like composers gathering to write a funeral dirge. At first I just couldn’t understand this.

Then it hit me: peace is coming to Somali, not through the bigwigs and their F16s and drones and special operations and decades of failed warring, but because of a slow and methodical and most importantly, little military operation by Kenya that began last October.

Some argue that incessant droughts, western European poaching of its rich fisheries, and the west’s systematic routing of al-Qaeda are the main reasons, but I disagree. They are all important, of course, but the main reason is that a neighbor on its own volition stepped in less as the Terminator and more as the School Mom with a big stick.

None were more skeptical than me. The notion of getting “bogged down” grew literal with early, heavy rains. And it was only reasonable to suppose that no major putsch was possible with such a little force.

But what appears to be the new working military formula, is that putsch is old school. Perhaps necessity structured the Kenyan campaign, so be it. Civilian losses, mostly in terrorist revenge attacks near the border, are subsiding and “pacification” by Kenyan troops as the inch themselves towards the sea seems to be working.

Somalia was too far from Europe to be a cultural center like Alexandria. There were no Lawrence Durrell’s writing about its ancient spirits. But Somalia in the old days was very much of a Mediterranean-like African country: pretty if lazy, modern if low-key, and increasingly self-sufficient.

Above all they were seamen, accomplished fishermen and navigators. As world wars loomed at the end of the 19th century, Britain used the pretext of suppressing a popular local ruler, Abdullah Hassan, to gain control of critical ports accessing the Red Sea.

Similar to earlier jihadists like Sudan’s Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad, Hassan could easily organize the enormous local antipathy to modern western ideas like school for women. The “modern world” was thrust on much of Arabic Africa far too quickly.

After the world wars it was only natural that the former colony would choose the other side of the Cold War, and Somali became a Soviet ally. Even so it prospered nearly as much as neighbors like Kenya who had chosen the West, and education, especially exploded throughout the population.

The end of the Cold War left Somali without a patron. And ideologues like Reagan thought no further than ending the reign of an adversary. A huge vacuum was left in the societies which for a generation had depended upon the Soviets and Chinese.

It was like a calendar flipping backwards in time.

Mogadishu imploded in 1991. Black Hawk Down ended in catastrophe in 1993, and Somali was apportioned by warlords who had been the benefactors of a quarter century of arms buildup by proxy adversaries a half a planet apart.

One can read the history of 1990s Somalia very similarly to General Gordon’s battles in Khartoum in 1884. A century apart, the killing and fighting is placed conveniently far away from the main protagonist, a distant super power trying to impose an alien culture on a local people.

But such analogies probably have little significance, today. Historical imperatives might just have evaporated in the last quarter century. The world is too closely connected, now. Hiphop is just as popular in Mogadishu and Nairobi as in London.

And I am surprised by the Kenyan success. Fighting which brings peace. I hope I am not surprised once again that I was surprised.

War Week 6

War Week 6

Very little of anything happened last week with Kenya’s invasion of Somalia. Some are beginning to see it as an occupation rather than a specific campaign. Kenyan forces continue to decline engaging al-Shabaab in their fortified towns of Afmadow and Kisamyo.

Kenyans at home who have until now been unwavering in their support are beginning to falter: “In the wake of Operation Linda Nchi, there has been anxiety that there is little action in Somalia… If you are excited by war, the one in Somalia has been disappointing,” a leading Kenyan journalist wrote Sunday.

The 5th week of the war included a flurry of diplomatic activity as well as the invasion of Somali by Ethiopia. I had thought these both positive developments. But many African analysts see it differently.

Tanzanian Evarist Kagaruki of Dar’s main newspaper, The Citizen, claims “there are no signs yet to show that support for Kenya was forthcoming. The whole burden has been left to the Kenyan army [and African Union troops that have been there for a number of years as peacekeepers].”

Kagaruki concludes that the Ethiopian invasion won’t help the Kenyan effort, either. He says that “Ethiopia is not the right “partner” in the adventure” because Somali/Ethiopian enmity is centuries deep. He points out that it was in the wake of the last Ethiopian invasion that al-Shabaab gained so much power.

“It is time Kenya wrapped up the campaign before war fatigue sets in,” was the lead editorial in Sunday’s East African newspaper.

But the military insists the campaign is going as planned. Apparently siege rather that engagement is that plan. Friday military commanders claimed that the last five ships that were at the port of Kismayo had departed, and that the Kenyan air force and Navy would now not allow any others to enter.

Other reports said the Kenyan air force was successfully aggressively bombing al-Shabaab positions.

There have been no more terrorist or revenge attacks in Nairobi, but that isn’t true near the Somali/Kenya border, where multiple attacks and skirmishes have left a number of civilian casualties.

This is clear evidence of the strategy al-Shabaab is employing, a guerilla campaign that is quite content to withdraw from the line of battle into the bushes and hills.

And while increased security in Nairobi and Kenya’s main cities may being helped by many arrests of suspected al-Shabaab sympathizers, the military nature of their detainment is not going over well with the Kenyan population, and certainly not with the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Somali living in Nairobi.

So last week’s glimmer of hopeful excitement is gone.