Commentary Magazine


Topic: African Union

Send in the Mercenaries

The New York Times reported last week in horrified tones about an apparent plan by Saracen International — a South African security firm — to offer its services to the government of Somalia. According to the Times, Erik Prince, the former SEAL who started Blackwater, is somehow involved in the deal, which is reportedly being financed by the United Arab Emirates.

There is more than a whiff of disapprobation about the entire article, with its mention of apartheid-era connections on the part of one of Saracen’s principals and of the scandals that have plagued Blackwater. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s good news.

Somalia, after all, is a country with hardly any functioning security force of its own. Its government is hanging on by its fingernails in the face of a concerted assault by the Islamist group known as the Shahab. An 8,000-strong African Union force has been bolstered the government only a little. Battles continue to rage daily in Mogadishu, often only a few hundred yards from the center of government. In those circumstances, what’s wrong with the Somali government looking for outside help? The U.S. and our European allies have no interest in sending in our own troops, so why not send in mercenaries?

In fact, as I’ve argued in the past,  the mercenary option can work when nothing else is viable. Blackwater and other contractors have caused their share of problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would undoubtedly have been better to have had their work performed by American troops. But there were not enough American troops to do all that was required. In Somalia, there are no American troops at all (aside from occasional forays by Special Operations Forces).

In this article in the American Interest, I pointed out the successes scored by the closely linked South African firms Executive Outcomes and Sandline:

[I]n their heyday in the 1990s they helped the governments of Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone, among others, to put down savage insurgencies at a time when the rest of the world stood idly by. In 1995–96, for instance, Executive Outcomes made short work of a rebel movement in Sierra Leone known as the Revolutionary United Front, which was notorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims. As a result, Sierra Leone was able to hold its first free election in decades. Another private firm, MPRI, helped to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatian offensive that stopped Serbian aggression. Today MPRI provides trainers who operate side by side with local poppy-eradication forces in Afghanistan—a mission that NATO refuses to take on.

Saracen International, as it happens, is the successor to Executive Outcomes.  According to the Times, it is already “training a 1,000-member antipiracy militia in Puntland, in northern Somalia, and plans a separate militia in Mogadishu.” Now, after the Times article, those plans may be endangered. A follow-up account in the Times quotes a Somali official saying, “We need help but we don’t want mercenaries.”

Who, then, is going to help Somalia? Those who sniff at this option should be required to come up with an alternative that could work half as well to prevent Somalia from falling into the clutches of radical Islamists.

The New York Times reported last week in horrified tones about an apparent plan by Saracen International — a South African security firm — to offer its services to the government of Somalia. According to the Times, Erik Prince, the former SEAL who started Blackwater, is somehow involved in the deal, which is reportedly being financed by the United Arab Emirates.

There is more than a whiff of disapprobation about the entire article, with its mention of apartheid-era connections on the part of one of Saracen’s principals and of the scandals that have plagued Blackwater. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s good news.

Somalia, after all, is a country with hardly any functioning security force of its own. Its government is hanging on by its fingernails in the face of a concerted assault by the Islamist group known as the Shahab. An 8,000-strong African Union force has been bolstered the government only a little. Battles continue to rage daily in Mogadishu, often only a few hundred yards from the center of government. In those circumstances, what’s wrong with the Somali government looking for outside help? The U.S. and our European allies have no interest in sending in our own troops, so why not send in mercenaries?

In fact, as I’ve argued in the past,  the mercenary option can work when nothing else is viable. Blackwater and other contractors have caused their share of problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would undoubtedly have been better to have had their work performed by American troops. But there were not enough American troops to do all that was required. In Somalia, there are no American troops at all (aside from occasional forays by Special Operations Forces).

In this article in the American Interest, I pointed out the successes scored by the closely linked South African firms Executive Outcomes and Sandline:

[I]n their heyday in the 1990s they helped the governments of Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Angola and Sierra Leone, among others, to put down savage insurgencies at a time when the rest of the world stood idly by. In 1995–96, for instance, Executive Outcomes made short work of a rebel movement in Sierra Leone known as the Revolutionary United Front, which was notorious for chopping off the limbs of its victims. As a result, Sierra Leone was able to hold its first free election in decades. Another private firm, MPRI, helped to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia in 1995 by organizing the Croatian offensive that stopped Serbian aggression. Today MPRI provides trainers who operate side by side with local poppy-eradication forces in Afghanistan—a mission that NATO refuses to take on.

Saracen International, as it happens, is the successor to Executive Outcomes.  According to the Times, it is already “training a 1,000-member antipiracy militia in Puntland, in northern Somalia, and plans a separate militia in Mogadishu.” Now, after the Times article, those plans may be endangered. A follow-up account in the Times quotes a Somali official saying, “We need help but we don’t want mercenaries.”

Who, then, is going to help Somalia? Those who sniff at this option should be required to come up with an alternative that could work half as well to prevent Somalia from falling into the clutches of radical Islamists.

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Susan Rice Is Doing Something at the UN: Targeting Israel

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

It turns out Susan Rice is doing something as America’s UN ambassador after all. As Jennifer noted on Friday, she isn’t attending vital negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or protesting bizarre appointments, like Libya’s to the Human Rights Council and Iran’s to the Commission on the Status of Women.

But Haaretz reported yesterday that she has found time to do one crucial thing: lobby Barack Obama to put heavy pressure on Israel to agree to a UN probe of its May raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla. And today the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has indeed capitulated: Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that “in principle,” it’s willing to participate in the probe he is organizing.

One can only hope the Post is wrong, because this would be an atrocious precedent. As Haaretz noted, it would be the first time Israel has ever agreed to a UN probe of an Israel Defense Forces operation. As such, it would legitimize the UN’s insane obsession with Israel.

After all, I haven’t noticed Ban suggesting UN probes of any other country’s military operations — say, Turkish operations against the Kurds, Iran’s attacks on its own citizens, coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, or African Union forces in Somalia, to name just a few of the dozens of armies engaged in combat worldwide every single day. Many of these operations result in far more civilian casualties than Israel’s flotilla raid did — even if you deny the evidence provided by video footage of the raid and assume these casualties actually were civilians rather than combatants.

But aside from setting a terrible precedent, this probe clearly has one, and only one, purpose: to excoriate Israel. Ban’s proposed format is one representative each from Israel and Turkey, one from a traditional Israeli ally (the U.S.), and one from a country traditionally hostile to Israel (New Zealand), plus one UN representative. Since the UN representative will certainly be in the anti-Israel camp, Israel would be outnumbered even if the U.S. representative took its side.

But in reality, the U.S. representative will almost certainly join the anti-Israel camp — because Rice’s view, as reported by the unnamed senior diplomats Haaretz cited, is that facilitating Ban’s probe is “critical to U.S. interests at the UN.”

Granted, it’s hard to imagine what U.S. interest such a probe could possibly serve (Rice couldn’t protest Iran’s inclusion on the women’s commission without it?). But whatever this alleged interest is, if furthering it requires investigating Israel alone, of all the countries engaged in military activity worldwide, it clearly also requires the probe to conclude that Israel was guilty of some heinous crime. Any goal that requires singling Israel out as uniquely suspect clearly can’t be served by ultimately acquitting it.

This is first and foremost Israel’s problem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to develop a spine. But American supporters of Israel have a role to play as well. They must make it clear to Obama that putting Israel in the UN dock is a red line.

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Mia Farrow Speaks Up Again

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

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The U.S. and Somalia: Who, Us?

NATO and the EU are trying to make their own luck in the antipiracy operations off of Somalia. In late February, almost unnoticed by the global media, the EU’s members agreed to take the fight to the pirates’ lairs ashore with a new charter to control Somali ports and to join NATO in intercepting “mother ships” before they have a chance to begin launching attacks. The EU plan for exerting control over Somali ports won’t be seen until later this month. But Danish destroyer HDMS Absalon, flagship of the current NATO task force, struck the first blow in the “early intercept” effort on February 28 when it sank a pirate mother ship shortly after its departure from a pirate haven ashore.

The NATO press release doesn’t specify which port the scuttled mother ship came from, but that factor — which pirate ports the antipiracy coalition tries to control — will almost certainly bring coalition forces into contact, and even confrontation, with the warring factions ashore. The mother ship’s port was probably north of Mogadishu; perhaps Harardhere, a well-known pirate hideout. Surveillance of that port or of the pirate ports in the northeastern region of Puntland would keep coalition forces out of the way of the fighting in the south, at least for now. But Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab insurgency seized the southern port of Kismayo in October 2009, partly because its leaders understand that if any faction is to consolidate central-government power in Somalia, doing so will entail gaining control of the ports.

A pitched confrontation is thus one concern; another is that the coalition will position itself, intentionally or otherwise, as a potential partner in pacifying and unifying Somalia — by choosing which faction to secure the ports for. We would presume today that the recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG) would be favored in such a case. But the potential for open-ended mission creep is obvious and disquieting.

Moving the antipiracy fight ashore was always going to present these potential pitfalls. It would be very encouraging to see signs of a comprehensive plan in Washington for dealing with consequences and “next steps,” particularly with Iran supplying insurgents in both Somalia and nearby Yemen. Unfortunately, what emerged instead last week was another instance of the Obama administration’s peculiar haplessness.

In response to reports from the New York Times and other sources, and to seeming confirmation by Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the State Department gave a special briefing on Friday to counter rumors that the U.S. is aiding the TFG in a prospective military campaign to retake the areas of Mogadishu controlled  by al-Shabaab. This could have been done without appearing to overemphasize — to a bizarre degree — how minor is the U.S. role in Somalia. But the State Department’s spokesmen earnestly disavowed, more than once, any intention to “Americanize the conflict”; swore to account for and audit all military assistance provided — indirectly, through the African Union peacekeeping force — to the TFG; and pointed out how very small, at $12 million, is the U.S. support to the TFG itself anyway.

It was a notably defensive performance. Fox’s Catherine Herridge tried to raise the issue of U.S. security interests in the region, given the ties between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in Yemen, but her question provoked only a reiteration of the intention not to “Americanize the conflict.”

The conflict, however, is already “Americanized,” in the sense of being a major factor in keeping U.S. military forces tied to the region. The chaos in Somalia is already the reason why piracy off its coast has become such a problem for global shipping. U.S. forces will be participating in the new, more preemptive operating profile of the coalition navies. And Somalia’s internal strife is a key vulnerability of our growing footprint in Yemen.

None of this implies that America must be secretly advising the TFG on military operations; but the disclaimers proffered by the State Department come off as reactionary and even perhaps a bit disingenuous. The Friday briefing was certainly a missed opportunity. Setting the record straight should involve more than a statement of what multinational processes we support: it should include a statement about the primacy of our own national interest in a unified Somalia that is not a haven for either pirates or terrorists.

The briefing did, however, send a signal about our posture. The Obama administration is so worried that people might think we’re actively involved in the problem and trying to apply leadership to it that its spokesmen seek to downplay our role. This cannot turn out well for a superpower — even a fading one. With our naval forces embarked on a preemptive antipiracy approach that will move the whole coalition a step closer to engagement ashore, that’s something we should have a very bad feeling about.

NATO and the EU are trying to make their own luck in the antipiracy operations off of Somalia. In late February, almost unnoticed by the global media, the EU’s members agreed to take the fight to the pirates’ lairs ashore with a new charter to control Somali ports and to join NATO in intercepting “mother ships” before they have a chance to begin launching attacks. The EU plan for exerting control over Somali ports won’t be seen until later this month. But Danish destroyer HDMS Absalon, flagship of the current NATO task force, struck the first blow in the “early intercept” effort on February 28 when it sank a pirate mother ship shortly after its departure from a pirate haven ashore.

The NATO press release doesn’t specify which port the scuttled mother ship came from, but that factor — which pirate ports the antipiracy coalition tries to control — will almost certainly bring coalition forces into contact, and even confrontation, with the warring factions ashore. The mother ship’s port was probably north of Mogadishu; perhaps Harardhere, a well-known pirate hideout. Surveillance of that port or of the pirate ports in the northeastern region of Puntland would keep coalition forces out of the way of the fighting in the south, at least for now. But Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab insurgency seized the southern port of Kismayo in October 2009, partly because its leaders understand that if any faction is to consolidate central-government power in Somalia, doing so will entail gaining control of the ports.

A pitched confrontation is thus one concern; another is that the coalition will position itself, intentionally or otherwise, as a potential partner in pacifying and unifying Somalia — by choosing which faction to secure the ports for. We would presume today that the recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG) would be favored in such a case. But the potential for open-ended mission creep is obvious and disquieting.

Moving the antipiracy fight ashore was always going to present these potential pitfalls. It would be very encouraging to see signs of a comprehensive plan in Washington for dealing with consequences and “next steps,” particularly with Iran supplying insurgents in both Somalia and nearby Yemen. Unfortunately, what emerged instead last week was another instance of the Obama administration’s peculiar haplessness.

In response to reports from the New York Times and other sources, and to seeming confirmation by Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the State Department gave a special briefing on Friday to counter rumors that the U.S. is aiding the TFG in a prospective military campaign to retake the areas of Mogadishu controlled  by al-Shabaab. This could have been done without appearing to overemphasize — to a bizarre degree — how minor is the U.S. role in Somalia. But the State Department’s spokesmen earnestly disavowed, more than once, any intention to “Americanize the conflict”; swore to account for and audit all military assistance provided — indirectly, through the African Union peacekeeping force — to the TFG; and pointed out how very small, at $12 million, is the U.S. support to the TFG itself anyway.

It was a notably defensive performance. Fox’s Catherine Herridge tried to raise the issue of U.S. security interests in the region, given the ties between al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in Yemen, but her question provoked only a reiteration of the intention not to “Americanize the conflict.”

The conflict, however, is already “Americanized,” in the sense of being a major factor in keeping U.S. military forces tied to the region. The chaos in Somalia is already the reason why piracy off its coast has become such a problem for global shipping. U.S. forces will be participating in the new, more preemptive operating profile of the coalition navies. And Somalia’s internal strife is a key vulnerability of our growing footprint in Yemen.

None of this implies that America must be secretly advising the TFG on military operations; but the disclaimers proffered by the State Department come off as reactionary and even perhaps a bit disingenuous. The Friday briefing was certainly a missed opportunity. Setting the record straight should involve more than a statement of what multinational processes we support: it should include a statement about the primacy of our own national interest in a unified Somalia that is not a haven for either pirates or terrorists.

The briefing did, however, send a signal about our posture. The Obama administration is so worried that people might think we’re actively involved in the problem and trying to apply leadership to it that its spokesmen seek to downplay our role. This cannot turn out well for a superpower — even a fading one. With our naval forces embarked on a preemptive antipiracy approach that will move the whole coalition a step closer to engagement ashore, that’s something we should have a very bad feeling about.

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Re: Clinton, McCain, and Obama: “We Stand United”

As Gordon has noted, today’s joint statement on Darfur, by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, places pressure on the next president to address the ongoing slaughter in Darfur come January. Let’s hope the conflict remains a “Day 1 issue”. For as Gordon also pointed out, nowhere in today’s statement, do the candidates refer to a specific plan to end the violence.

They used the term “unstinting resolve,” which would be assuring if countless issued statements on Darfur were not already riddled with such diplospeak. This August 2007 joint statement on Darfur from Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy called for “quick and decisive action.” This January 2007 joint statement issued by the World Health Organization and various UN departments speaks of “solid guarantees.” This joint statement on Darfur from back in 2004 signed by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer and his New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff calls on governments to act “immediately and effectively.” This 2006 joint statement from Tony Blair and Chair of the African Union, Alpha Konare “strongly urge[d]” militias to stop fighting.

Yet, despite all these pleas, the UN has continued to defer to China, while the U.S. has continued to comply with the world’s request for multilateralism. Which means that nothing has been done. So it’s important to remember that, once upon a time, a genuine Darfur proposal was on the table: Senators John McCain and Bob Dole laid out a six-step course of action in 2006, including the establishment of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone.

Since then, global inaction has led to the slaying of untold numbers of innocents. We know that John McCain has long felt the urgent need to be forceful and decisive about the massacre in Darfur. It remains to be seen if Hillary and Obama feel the same, or are content to pen scathing reviews of the Sudanese government, its Chinese and Russian sponsors, and the Janjaweed militias.

As Gordon has noted, today’s joint statement on Darfur, by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, places pressure on the next president to address the ongoing slaughter in Darfur come January. Let’s hope the conflict remains a “Day 1 issue”. For as Gordon also pointed out, nowhere in today’s statement, do the candidates refer to a specific plan to end the violence.

They used the term “unstinting resolve,” which would be assuring if countless issued statements on Darfur were not already riddled with such diplospeak. This August 2007 joint statement on Darfur from Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy called for “quick and decisive action.” This January 2007 joint statement issued by the World Health Organization and various UN departments speaks of “solid guarantees.” This joint statement on Darfur from back in 2004 signed by former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer and his New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff calls on governments to act “immediately and effectively.” This 2006 joint statement from Tony Blair and Chair of the African Union, Alpha Konare “strongly urge[d]” militias to stop fighting.

Yet, despite all these pleas, the UN has continued to defer to China, while the U.S. has continued to comply with the world’s request for multilateralism. Which means that nothing has been done. So it’s important to remember that, once upon a time, a genuine Darfur proposal was on the table: Senators John McCain and Bob Dole laid out a six-step course of action in 2006, including the establishment of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone.

Since then, global inaction has led to the slaying of untold numbers of innocents. We know that John McCain has long felt the urgent need to be forceful and decisive about the massacre in Darfur. It remains to be seen if Hillary and Obama feel the same, or are content to pen scathing reviews of the Sudanese government, its Chinese and Russian sponsors, and the Janjaweed militias.

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Bring Back Observers

A young army officer of my acquaintance has recently made a terrific suggestion on the Warlord Loop (an online forum for the discussion of military affairs), which he has agreed to let me pass along to a wider audience. He proposes to resurrect the practice of sending American officers to observe other conflicts around the world first hand.

This used to be quite common. For instance, a young Jack Pershing traveled with the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. And in the 1930s and early 1940s the U.S. Marine Corps sent officers to China to observe the fighting against Japan; they spent time with both Nationalist and Communist forces and learned some valuable lessons that were applied in the island-hopping campaign. But the U.S. military no longer sends its officers to watch foreign conflicts; too many of them are stuck instead in paper-pushing jobs at the Pentagon or on other staffs around the world.

This young officer writes:

I firmly believe that a cadre of mid-level and senior leaders who had, among other things, witnessed first hand Africa’s world war and other conflicts of the 1990s would have avoided many of the missteps of both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Military observers have as long and storied (and, admittedly, troubled) history as military advisors.  Perhaps serving as a military observer as a senior NCO or field grade would be a good pre-requisite for ongoing service in a MAAG [Military Assistance Advisory Group] or its newfangled equivalent.

A contemporary military observer might not only be limited to observing for one armed force or another.  A number of inter-governmental organizations (particularly the UN) and possibly NGOs if done out of uniform could possibly be a platform (I realize how sticky, although certainly not impossible, the latter might be). The peace-keeping mission by the AU [African Union] in Darfur also might present opportunities to observe from a “neutral status.”

Classical country intelligence and relationship building would be an adjunct to two other key results of reinstating military observers:

1) increasing the breadth of experience of field grade officers
2) increasing understanding throughout the military of the evolving nature of conflict through their contributions to journals, etc.

While I think we do an excellent job with the FAO [Foreign Area Officer] program, we also commit FAOs to that line of work almost indefinitely.  Military observers should return to jobs as infantrymen, in intelligence, civil affairs, information operations, armor, etc. rather than remain in a FAO field.

I heartily agree.

A young army officer of my acquaintance has recently made a terrific suggestion on the Warlord Loop (an online forum for the discussion of military affairs), which he has agreed to let me pass along to a wider audience. He proposes to resurrect the practice of sending American officers to observe other conflicts around the world first hand.

This used to be quite common. For instance, a young Jack Pershing traveled with the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. And in the 1930s and early 1940s the U.S. Marine Corps sent officers to China to observe the fighting against Japan; they spent time with both Nationalist and Communist forces and learned some valuable lessons that were applied in the island-hopping campaign. But the U.S. military no longer sends its officers to watch foreign conflicts; too many of them are stuck instead in paper-pushing jobs at the Pentagon or on other staffs around the world.

This young officer writes:

I firmly believe that a cadre of mid-level and senior leaders who had, among other things, witnessed first hand Africa’s world war and other conflicts of the 1990s would have avoided many of the missteps of both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Military observers have as long and storied (and, admittedly, troubled) history as military advisors.  Perhaps serving as a military observer as a senior NCO or field grade would be a good pre-requisite for ongoing service in a MAAG [Military Assistance Advisory Group] or its newfangled equivalent.

A contemporary military observer might not only be limited to observing for one armed force or another.  A number of inter-governmental organizations (particularly the UN) and possibly NGOs if done out of uniform could possibly be a platform (I realize how sticky, although certainly not impossible, the latter might be). The peace-keeping mission by the AU [African Union] in Darfur also might present opportunities to observe from a “neutral status.”

Classical country intelligence and relationship building would be an adjunct to two other key results of reinstating military observers:

1) increasing the breadth of experience of field grade officers
2) increasing understanding throughout the military of the evolving nature of conflict through their contributions to journals, etc.

While I think we do an excellent job with the FAO [Foreign Area Officer] program, we also commit FAOs to that line of work almost indefinitely.  Military observers should return to jobs as infantrymen, in intelligence, civil affairs, information operations, armor, etc. rather than remain in a FAO field.

I heartily agree.

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British Backbone

The feckless response of the British government to the barbaric treatment of one of its citizens, Gillian Gibbons—imprisoned by the Sudanese government for allowing her classroom of seven-year-olds to name a stuffed animal “Muhammed”—is not the type of “diplomacy” that ought become a matter of course when dealing with religious fascists and tyrants. To its credit, the British government is acting quite differently—under great pressure from its craven, European allies—in response to the scheduled appearance of Robert Mugabe at an upcoming European/African Union summit in Lisbon which starts this Saturday.

Mrs. Gibbons has become a literal hostage of the Sudanese regime; her very life is in the hands of Islamist tyrants. Likewise the European Union has become, (wittingly, to its shame) the hostage of the African Union, many of whose member states—namely those belonging to the Southern African Development Community regional group—are making their presence at this weekend’s conference conditional upon Mugabe’s presence. Not only are SADC’s members threatening to boycott the conference if Mugabe is not invited, they are simultaneously demanding that the Zimbabwe crisis itself not be on the conference agenda. The Executive Secretary of SADC stated that “SADC will not go to Lisbon to discuss Zimbabwe because the summit is not about Zimbabwe, but about relations between the EU and Africa,” he said. Mugabe has duly thanked the members of SADC, telling a crowd in Harare last week, “I want to express our gratitude to our fellow members of SADC for their support of Zimbabwe in its assertion to defend its sovereignty against the onslaught that has come from Britain and its allies.”

“Relations between the EU and Africa,” however, have everything to do with Zimbabwe. Considering the billions of dollars in aid money that Western governments give annually to African ones, the governance of African states is certainly pertinent to the nations forking over so much dough, indeed, “governance and human rights” are one of 5 topics that are on the conference agenda. So if the SADC states see fit to prop up, exalt, and equip a murderous dictator whose economic policies have gravely affected European businesses and who has violated the human rights of thousands of British subjects–to say nothing of those policies which have led to the deaths of untold thousands of Mugabe’s own people and created one of the largest refugee crises in the world–it’s difficult to see how this situation does not fit under the purview of the European Union’s relations with its African allies.

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown showed some spine and stated that he would not attend the summit if Mugabe were to be there. Mugabe has confirmed his attendance for the weekend, and the European Union—by indulging the petty whims of African states—has demonstrated its favoritism for a tyrant over the leader of one of the world’s great democracies. Thus far, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Topolanek, is the only other European leader to follow Brown’s example. This is an encouraging sign, however minor, that at least some Europeans understand the importance of not caving into the demands of tyrants, or their enablers.

Update: Gibbons has been pardoned. Three cheers for that.

The feckless response of the British government to the barbaric treatment of one of its citizens, Gillian Gibbons—imprisoned by the Sudanese government for allowing her classroom of seven-year-olds to name a stuffed animal “Muhammed”—is not the type of “diplomacy” that ought become a matter of course when dealing with religious fascists and tyrants. To its credit, the British government is acting quite differently—under great pressure from its craven, European allies—in response to the scheduled appearance of Robert Mugabe at an upcoming European/African Union summit in Lisbon which starts this Saturday.

Mrs. Gibbons has become a literal hostage of the Sudanese regime; her very life is in the hands of Islamist tyrants. Likewise the European Union has become, (wittingly, to its shame) the hostage of the African Union, many of whose member states—namely those belonging to the Southern African Development Community regional group—are making their presence at this weekend’s conference conditional upon Mugabe’s presence. Not only are SADC’s members threatening to boycott the conference if Mugabe is not invited, they are simultaneously demanding that the Zimbabwe crisis itself not be on the conference agenda. The Executive Secretary of SADC stated that “SADC will not go to Lisbon to discuss Zimbabwe because the summit is not about Zimbabwe, but about relations between the EU and Africa,” he said. Mugabe has duly thanked the members of SADC, telling a crowd in Harare last week, “I want to express our gratitude to our fellow members of SADC for their support of Zimbabwe in its assertion to defend its sovereignty against the onslaught that has come from Britain and its allies.”

“Relations between the EU and Africa,” however, have everything to do with Zimbabwe. Considering the billions of dollars in aid money that Western governments give annually to African ones, the governance of African states is certainly pertinent to the nations forking over so much dough, indeed, “governance and human rights” are one of 5 topics that are on the conference agenda. So if the SADC states see fit to prop up, exalt, and equip a murderous dictator whose economic policies have gravely affected European businesses and who has violated the human rights of thousands of British subjects–to say nothing of those policies which have led to the deaths of untold thousands of Mugabe’s own people and created one of the largest refugee crises in the world–it’s difficult to see how this situation does not fit under the purview of the European Union’s relations with its African allies.

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown showed some spine and stated that he would not attend the summit if Mugabe were to be there. Mugabe has confirmed his attendance for the weekend, and the European Union—by indulging the petty whims of African states—has demonstrated its favoritism for a tyrant over the leader of one of the world’s great democracies. Thus far, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Topolanek, is the only other European leader to follow Brown’s example. This is an encouraging sign, however minor, that at least some Europeans understand the importance of not caving into the demands of tyrants, or their enablers.

Update: Gibbons has been pardoned. Three cheers for that.

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Wardrobe Malfunction

Unsurprisingly, the Vice President of Zimbabwe has publicly endorsed the proposition that his boss, Robert Mugabe, become President for life. This would not be the sort of statement permissible in any sort of democracy, no matter how rootless its institutions, and of course, Zimbabwe has never been a democracy, not when it was Rhodesia, and certainly not for any duration of time under the leadership of Robert Mugabe. What’s troubling, however, is that international observers—particularly neighboring South Africa—are treating the upcoming March 2008 election with a degree of seriousness that lends it undeserved legitimacy.

South Africa and the African Union are building up the region’s hopes for a democratic ballot, when what will transpire will be anything but free and fair. That the country’s Vice President feels emboldened enough to declare that a man who has ruled uninterrupted for nearly three decades should continue to hold power until he dies indicates a political atmosphere that allows for such brazen endorsements of totalitarianism without fear of any repercussion.

In any event, the Vice President in question, Joseph Masika, had this to say, according to the Sunday Mail, a state newspaper:

“We do not change leaders as fast as we change our shirts.”

Twenty-seven years to change a shirt? Hard to fathom . . .

Unsurprisingly, the Vice President of Zimbabwe has publicly endorsed the proposition that his boss, Robert Mugabe, become President for life. This would not be the sort of statement permissible in any sort of democracy, no matter how rootless its institutions, and of course, Zimbabwe has never been a democracy, not when it was Rhodesia, and certainly not for any duration of time under the leadership of Robert Mugabe. What’s troubling, however, is that international observers—particularly neighboring South Africa—are treating the upcoming March 2008 election with a degree of seriousness that lends it undeserved legitimacy.

South Africa and the African Union are building up the region’s hopes for a democratic ballot, when what will transpire will be anything but free and fair. That the country’s Vice President feels emboldened enough to declare that a man who has ruled uninterrupted for nearly three decades should continue to hold power until he dies indicates a political atmosphere that allows for such brazen endorsements of totalitarianism without fear of any repercussion.

In any event, the Vice President in question, Joseph Masika, had this to say, according to the Sunday Mail, a state newspaper:

“We do not change leaders as fast as we change our shirts.”

Twenty-seven years to change a shirt? Hard to fathom . . .

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Send in the Mercenaries

Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post has an interesting and instructive article on the U.S. failure to do something meaningful about the genocide in Darfur. The gist of the piece is that, while President Bush personally is committed to action, he has not been able or willing to mobilize the government to get tough with the murderous Janjaweed militia and their sponsors in Khartoum who have been responsible for an estimated 200,000 deaths since 2003.

The article is full of damning quotes such as this one:

“Bush probably does want something done, but the lack of hands-on follow-up from this White House allowed this to drift,” said one former State Department official involved in Darfur who did not want to be quoted by name criticizing the president. “If he says, ‘There is not going to be genocide on my watch,’ and then two and a half years later we are just getting tough action, what gives? He has made statements, but his administration has not given meaning to those statements.”

This is symptomatic of a larger problem with this administration, which too often has coupled stirring rhetoric about defeating terrorists, promoting democracy, and curbing human rights abuses with sadly inadequate or incoherent action. In the case of Darfur, Abramowitz aptly sums up the failure:

While almost everyone involved in Darfur policy agrees that an African Union peacekeeping force of just 7,000 troops is not up to the task, the United States has refused to send troops and, despite promises of reinforcements, has yet to secure many additional troops from other countries. At the same time, it has been unable to broker a diplomatic resolution that might ease the violence.

As I’ve been arguing for some time, there is a simple solution that is hiding in plain sight: send in the mercenaries. If we’re not willing to put our own troops into Darfur—and there are good reasons why we’re not—why not hire private security companies like Blackwater to aid the African Union peacekeepers in their assigned mission? Executive Outcomes, a now-defunct South African firm, worked wonders in stopping a civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. Similar firms could be equally effective in Darfur today.

But this solution is too politically incorrect to contemplate. Much better, it seems, simply to let the killing continue unabated.

Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post has an interesting and instructive article on the U.S. failure to do something meaningful about the genocide in Darfur. The gist of the piece is that, while President Bush personally is committed to action, he has not been able or willing to mobilize the government to get tough with the murderous Janjaweed militia and their sponsors in Khartoum who have been responsible for an estimated 200,000 deaths since 2003.

The article is full of damning quotes such as this one:

“Bush probably does want something done, but the lack of hands-on follow-up from this White House allowed this to drift,” said one former State Department official involved in Darfur who did not want to be quoted by name criticizing the president. “If he says, ‘There is not going to be genocide on my watch,’ and then two and a half years later we are just getting tough action, what gives? He has made statements, but his administration has not given meaning to those statements.”

This is symptomatic of a larger problem with this administration, which too often has coupled stirring rhetoric about defeating terrorists, promoting democracy, and curbing human rights abuses with sadly inadequate or incoherent action. In the case of Darfur, Abramowitz aptly sums up the failure:

While almost everyone involved in Darfur policy agrees that an African Union peacekeeping force of just 7,000 troops is not up to the task, the United States has refused to send troops and, despite promises of reinforcements, has yet to secure many additional troops from other countries. At the same time, it has been unable to broker a diplomatic resolution that might ease the violence.

As I’ve been arguing for some time, there is a simple solution that is hiding in plain sight: send in the mercenaries. If we’re not willing to put our own troops into Darfur—and there are good reasons why we’re not—why not hire private security companies like Blackwater to aid the African Union peacekeepers in their assigned mission? Executive Outcomes, a now-defunct South African firm, worked wonders in stopping a civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. Similar firms could be equally effective in Darfur today.

But this solution is too politically incorrect to contemplate. Much better, it seems, simply to let the killing continue unabated.

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Bin Laden’s All-Out War

Osama bin Laden released a message Tuesday, calling on jihadists to attack “the Crusader invaders,” not just in Iraq, but also in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Bin Laden must have a rather expansive understanding of who constitutes “Crusader Invaders.” After all, the only peacekeepers in Darfur right now belong to a 7,000-strong force from African Union member states. Come January, this force will be reconstituted as a 31,000-man United Nations peacekeeping deployment known as the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), authorized by the Security Council in July. It will be headed by a Nigerian commander with a Rwandan Deputy Commander. Yesterday, Rwanda dispatched 800 soldiers to Darfur (with the help of U.S. transport planes; to bin Laden this must make them collaborators with the Great Satan). But there has been no serious proposal to send American troops to Darfur, nor is there likely to be. As it is currently constituted, UNAMID will comprise forces mainly from African countries, with 95 percent of the infantry African. The only Western countries to provide significant levels of support are Norway and Sweden, which have collectively offered 400 military engineers.

So it is not just the American military that bin Laden considers an infidel army that must be fought anywhere and everywhere, but also apparently the rag-tag African soldiers sent on humanitarian peacekeeping missions and the Norwegians and the Swedes. So much for the contention that it is only those countries in Iraq that elicit the jihadist anger.

Islamic militants like bin Laden pride themselves on their contention that Islam is universal, that it ignores racial, ethnic and national differences in its ability to unite all believers under a caliphate, the dar al-Islam (land of Islam). Yet with this latest pronouncement, bin Laden has revealed his Arab supremacist roots: shilling for an Arab Muslim regime killing black Muslims.

Osama bin Laden released a message Tuesday, calling on jihadists to attack “the Crusader invaders,” not just in Iraq, but also in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Bin Laden must have a rather expansive understanding of who constitutes “Crusader Invaders.” After all, the only peacekeepers in Darfur right now belong to a 7,000-strong force from African Union member states. Come January, this force will be reconstituted as a 31,000-man United Nations peacekeeping deployment known as the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), authorized by the Security Council in July. It will be headed by a Nigerian commander with a Rwandan Deputy Commander. Yesterday, Rwanda dispatched 800 soldiers to Darfur (with the help of U.S. transport planes; to bin Laden this must make them collaborators with the Great Satan). But there has been no serious proposal to send American troops to Darfur, nor is there likely to be. As it is currently constituted, UNAMID will comprise forces mainly from African countries, with 95 percent of the infantry African. The only Western countries to provide significant levels of support are Norway and Sweden, which have collectively offered 400 military engineers.

So it is not just the American military that bin Laden considers an infidel army that must be fought anywhere and everywhere, but also apparently the rag-tag African soldiers sent on humanitarian peacekeeping missions and the Norwegians and the Swedes. So much for the contention that it is only those countries in Iraq that elicit the jihadist anger.

Islamic militants like bin Laden pride themselves on their contention that Islam is universal, that it ignores racial, ethnic and national differences in its ability to unite all believers under a caliphate, the dar al-Islam (land of Islam). Yet with this latest pronouncement, bin Laden has revealed his Arab supremacist roots: shilling for an Arab Muslim regime killing black Muslims.

Read Less




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