Piracy and Washington: The Somalia Crossroads

Tue, 2009-07-14 17:10 by admin

Written by William Minter and Daniel Volman
Monday, 13 July 2009
Source: In These Times

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In October 2008, Human Rights Watch rated Somalia the most ignored tragedy in the world. Almost 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced, and an additional half million are refugees. Two decades of instability, including a U.S.-backed intervention by Ethiopian troops in December 2006, have failed to put Somalia on the map.

If the American public has thought about Somalia at all this decade, it was as the setting of the popular 2001 movie Blackhawk Down, based on the October 1993 battle in Mogadishu between U.S. troops and Somali militia, rather than as a real place where Washington’s policies were fueling conflict and prolonging suffering.

It took the drama of high seas piracy to bring Somalia back into the media spotlight. The hijacking of a Saudi supertanker in November was followed by the capture and sensational rescue of U.S. merchant ship Captain Richard Phillips in April.

“Kill the Pirates,” screamed a Washington Post op-ed by Reagan-era hawk Fred C. Iklé. On Fox News, George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, called for attacking the pirates’ bases on land to “really end this problem once and for all.”

After Navy sharpshooters rescued Captain Phillips, killing three pirates in the action, the media clamor abated. Once again, the debate on Somalia retreated to inside-the-beltway obscurity. (You can view the spike in public attention by searching for “Somalia” on Google Trends at www.google.com/trends.)

But for Somalis, the crisis continues. So does the danger that Washington may be tempted into military intervention that would be damaging for Somalis, for U.S. relations with Africa and for U.S. security. That risk exists, despite commendable caution thus far by Obama administration policymakers, who are aware of the potential for military actions to backfire.

The pirate problem

Piracy …

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