Ego and vanity can be corrosive to successful foreign policy. Against the backdrop of the Benghazi debacle, Secretary of State Hillary Clintonflailed for any success
to which she could stake her legacy. She found it in Somalia. Two decades after the Black Hawk Down debacle, the international community had created a framework for a new Somali government. The country was unprepared logistically and socially for one-man, one-person elections, so Clinton threw her support behind an appointed Transitional Federal Government.
A decade on, Clinton may be gone, but many of her top aides refuse to back down from blind support for a Mogadishu government that has repeatedly failed to govern responsibly.
While the unrecognized Somaliland state embraces one-man, one-vote elections, attracts international investment due to its anti-corruption efforts and business-friendly attitudes, and casts its lot unambiguously with Western democracies and Taiwan, Somalia does the opposite: It is among the world’s most corrupt states. Despite billions of dollars in U.S. support, it has failed to hold one-man, one-vote elections. Donald Yamamoto, the previous U.S. ambassador to Somalia, threatened to resign if the U.S. did not agree to waive Somalia’s $1.5 billion debt. Washington caved, but corruption, not development, resulted.
An amendment to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act called on the United States to develop relations with Somaliland. Behind the scenes, both the White House and State Department lobbied against the measure. Overruled, the State Department went to Plan B: Focus on Mogadishu both financially and rhetorically, while largely cutting off and criticizing democratic Somaliland. Talk to American diplomats, and they will lecture that such a policy rests in Washington’s long-standing “One Somalia” policy. Ask them to find any written or legal formulation of such policy and they cannot.
It is a mirage transformed into a mountain by generations of diplomats who confused false received wisdom by transitory colleagues with fact.
The situation blew up in December 2022 as fighting erupted in Laascaanood (Las Anod), the capital of Somaliland’s Sool district. The violence was not spontaneous but rather encouraged, if not pre-planned, by irredentists in Mogadishu and their allies in Beijing. Rather than acknowledge the right of countries to counter terrorists, the State Department sided blindly with Somalia against Somaliland. The fighting became a useful wedge to stop what Secretary of State Antony Blinken saw as congressional interference. Essentially, the Biden administration sided with China against Taiwan, and with Somalia against the region’s only democracy.
The fire, however, has now spread. Not only did the al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab pour into Laascaanood, but so too did U.S.-trained Danab commandos who joined forces with them. Insurgent spokesmen demanded their own state. The State Department treated the demand credibly, if only to delegitimize Somaliland and argue that its independence would unleash anarchy.
It was a cynical strategy as every U.N. Security Council member recognized Somaliland’s borders decades ago. Wildfires spread. While State Department inaction encouraged proponents of the so-called Khatumo State as a lever against both Somaliland and, by extension, Congress, they created a precedent that has now set other Somali regions aflame. It was not long before the governor of the southern Hiran district decided he too wanted to be leader of his own state. Violence also erupted in the Gedo region as local authorities decided they no longer wanted to be part of the Jubbaland state. Clashes also took place in Barawa, in the South West State. Meanwhile, fighting engulfed the normally peaceful Puntland capital of Garowe as militias unleashed by regional president Said Deni abandoned any pretense of democracy in favor of 1990s-style warlordism.
It is not too late for either Somalia or Somaliland, but forcing union and cynically fanning the flames of conflict condemns both. Rather, it is time Blinken and the architects of Clinton’s cynical Somalia embrace cast ego aside and instead approach the region through the lens of U.S. interests, rebuffing China, and consolidating and strengthening democracy where it actually exists.
Author: Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Source: Content first published on WE under the title: “Blinken’s legacy in Africa might be setting Somalia ablaze”