The horrible carnage inflicted by the Somali Al-Shabab Islamist group on a Kenyan shopping mall should cause the U.S. government to reassess its foreign policy of profligate worldwide intervention. Like most other reporting on terrorist attacks, the American and, to a lesser extent, foreign media seem to treat this incident a senseless attack by Islamist crazies that came out of the blue, with its causation muddled at best. The U.S. media did focus on the FBIs investigation into the groups claim that some of its fighters are Americanswith the implied threat that they could take their martial training and easy access to the United States to return and cause the same pointless mayhem herewithout any analysis about why an obscure Somali group would want to threaten a faraway superpower. A little history is very instructive.
After corrupt, secular Somali warlords began to challenge Somali sharia-based Islamic judicial institutions, the Islamist Islamic Courts Union (ICU) paramilitary forces were created in 2005 to defend them. The ICU didnt have that much popular support among Somalis until the CIA began funding the secular warlords in 2006. Experts cite CIA meddling as a factor in the resurgence of Islamist militias in Somalia, motivating them to launch successful pre-emptive strikes on the warlords. After what was called the second battle of Mogadishu in 2006 (the first resulted in U.S. forces being expelled from Somalia in 1993 by Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid), the Islamist ICU grabbed control of Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia.
An invasion by neighboring Ethiopia in late 2006, with foreign support including that of the U.S. government, overthrew the ICU. The most radical portion of the ICU became the Shabab. As Somalis became angry at the harsh urban tactics used by the Ethiopians, who were perceived as crusading Christian invaders, the numbers of Shabab multiplied. The Shabab then conquered a large part of Somalia, but were then forced by other foreign invadersthe African Union and Kenyato relinquish Somali cities. But although Western major media outlets have claimed that Shabab is on the ropes, with the loss of much territory, they dont understand guerrilla warfare. In the face of superior opposing forces, a smart guerrilla army will rapidly retreat, giving up territory and even fighters in exchange for time. All indications are that the Shabab retreated quickly and preserved their forces to fight another day.
Unfortunately, that day recently arrived in the Kenyan Westgate shopping mall, and prior to that in Uganda in 2010 with a Shabab bombing of soccer fans that killed 76 (in retaliation for Ugandas participation in the African Union invasion force). Thus, the group is resorting to increased indirect attacks in Somalia and abroad.
And why Shababs implicit threats to the United States? The United States backed the Kenyan invasion of Somalia, has a large CIA station in Kenya, and has ramped up cooperation with the Kenyan military, especially in counterterrorism operations. Even before the Kenyan mall attack, there have been media reports on Somali-Americans going to Somalia to fight with Shabab. If these reports are correct, such fighters might get into the United States and launch retaliatory terrorist strikes here in response to U.S. intervention, as did al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula of Yemen (allied with Shabab and responsible for the underwear bombing attempts) and the Pakistani Taliban (responsible for the attempted Times Square bombing).
No one can excuse terrorist attacks on innocent civilianswhether in Kenya, Uganda, or in the United States, catastrophically, on 9/11but the citizens of these target countries have been put at risk by their own governments. Their governments have meddled in the affairs of other nations.
Americans have been especially oblivious to their governments rampant and needless intervention into the affairs of other countries and the fact that it causes heinous blowback terrorismnot only against American facilities, businesses, and people overseas but right here at home. After 9/11, Americans understandably wanted revenge but were blinded to what actually caused the attacksand most Islamist terrorist attacks. Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Pakistani Taliban, Shabab, and other Islamist terrorist groups have all been motivated to retaliate against what they perceive as foreign meddlingespecially non-Islamicintervention in their homelands.
The American public needs to wake up and pressure its government (as do probably Kenyans and Ugandans their governments) to stop intervention in Somalia. After all, the CIA intervention in the country in 2006 caused the resurgence of Islamic militias there, and continued American meddling may be leading the Shabab from pursuing only local objectives into waging global jihad. In addition, Americans need to force their government to stop needless interventions in other parts of the world, especially in Islamic countries. Americans would then be safer and save a little money too.
|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.|