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Commentary

The United States Has Made Its Bed in Somalia and Libya


     
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Most of the media coverage of the twin U.S. capture-or-kill missions in Libya and Somalia has been focused on the immediate “success” (in Libya) or “failure” (in Somalia) of the efforts. Far less attention has been focused on the dangerous backlash in both countries that could occur from the raids. And almost absent from the public discussion is how these two countries became a breeding ground for potentially anti-American terrorists.

Even if such missions are a tactical success, as the capture of an al Qaeda terrorist planner in Libya appears to be, the question—as it has been in the U.S. drone war in Pakistan or American military operations in Yemen—should always be whether the furor over U.S. operations would motivate militants who focus their efforts locally to begin attacking U.S. targets. For example, drone attacks against a group that attacks the Pakistani government, the Pakistani Taliban, led it to attempt a retaliatory bombing in New York’s Times Square. In addition, U.S. attacks on a regional affiliate of al Qaeda in Yemen have led to multiple retaliatory attempts to attack American targets.

Libya is a chaotic mess, with the interim government there so weak that it is losing control of the country to multiple armed militias. The recent U.S. snatch-and-grab mission in Libya, which snared an al Qaeda planner, could make many more enemies there and result in a spike in anti-American attacks there—just like the one last year on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three others. Even the failed mission against a Shabab attack planner in Somalia could make a group largely focused on regional goals begin to attack U.S. targets.

Even more important, the American media seem dismayed at the continuing violent bedlam in Libya and Somalia, criticizing those governments’ inability to control their territories and round up terrorists. Ignored is the U.S. government’s role in creating the anarchic conditions in those two countries to begin with. In Somalia, radical Islamists never had much popular support until the CIA began supporting corrupt warlords there. After the U.S. supported an invasion by the neighboring Ethiopian military to oust the Islamic militants, who by then had taken over the country, the most radical of the militants formed the Shabab. So after each U.S. intervention, the Islamists became more extreme. After the latest failed U.S. snatch-and-grab on Somali soil, the Shabab could begin attacking U.S. targets outside Somalia, as it did recently on the home soil of the latest U.S.-supported invaders of Somalia—the Kenyans.

As for Libya, the American media report with a straight face that the U.S. raid was triggered by American officials’ impatience with a weak Libyan government that allowed terrorists to live openly on its streets. The U.S. press fails to mention, or perhaps has conveniently forgotten, that two short years ago, a U.S.-led Western coalition overthrew the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, who previously had given up his nuclear weapons program, had been trying to make nice with the West for a decade, and had made some progress in doing so. Predictably, Libya, a country with multiple tribal loyalties, could not be held together without a strong leader like Gaddafi. (Similarly, it was also predictable that the U.S. ousting of dictator Saddam Hussein in an Iraq divided by ethno-sectarian fissures would lead to civil war and violent anarchy.) Gaddafi’s vast stockpiles of arms fell to the tribal militias that now roam the country and to Islamist militants who took over northern Mali until ousted by a French military intervention.

Most Americans focus only on what their home media provide them—spectacular terrorist violence or swashbuckling U.S. military responses to it—without any historical context and little relation of current events to past happenings, even those occurring only a short time ago. Thus, Americans see only piles of rubble from terrorist and guerrilla attacks but are oblivious to their own government’s profligate interventions in faraway lands that have contributed mightily to such resulting mayhem. Such unneeded meddling is always costly in dollars and usually costly in human life, both among Americans and indigenous peoples in foreign lands. In a republic, it is not unpatriotic for the citizens to examine the root causes of foreign violence and even reach the unnerving conclusion that it might be the actions of their own government more often than not.


Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.

New from Ivan Eland!
NO WAR FOR OIL: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East

The grab for oil resources has been a major factor behind many conflicts and military deployments because of its perception as a strategic commodity. This book debunks the notion that oil is strategic and argues that war for oil is not necessary to secure the flow of petroleum. Learn More »»






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