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U.S. Security Policy and Interventions in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Angola

Sunday, May 29, 2011

U.S. Security Policy and Interventions in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Angola

The United States was criticized, both at home and abroad, for not intervening in Rwanda, an extremely poor and landlocked nation with almost no strategic importance to Washington. It is possible that had America intervened, it would have been condemned for interfering in other nations’ internal affairs. Such was the case in Somalia just a few months earlier, when U.S. attempts to provide humanitarian assistance so inflamed resentment that even after the terrorist attacks of September, 2001, Muslim critics of U.S. policy would cite Somalia as an example of American imperialism.

Located on the horn of Africa, Somalia also achieved its independence in 1960, and also succumbed to dictatorship, in this case under Major General Mohamed Siad Barre. After overthrowing the government in 1969, Siad Barre launched the country on a disastrous experiment in Soviet-style socialism, complete with posters in the capital city of Mogadishu that featured his face alongside those of Karl Marx and V. I. Lenin. In a country where the principal form of organization is by clan, modern political forms of any kind were foreign, and it would have been difficult to find a more inadequate prescription for Somalia’s challenges than Siad Barre’s Marxist Leninism.
Ironically, the takeover of neighboring Ethiopia by Communists in 1974 proved Siad Barre’s undoing.
In the chaos that befell Ethiopia after the downfall of longtime emperor Haile Selassie, Somalia went to war with its neighbor over the Ogaden Desert, and by September, 1977, had all but won. At that point, however, the Soviets switched their allegiance to Ethiopia’s Marxist government.

The Soviets’ change of allegiance created a strange alliance between Siad Barre and the United States. The proxy war in the Horn of Africa nearly became an entanglement involving U.S. troops, as Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor under President James E. Carter, briefly considered deploying the U.S. carrier Kitty Hawk to the region in March 1978. The United States and Somalia concluded military agreements in 1980 that allowed U.S. access to naval ports at Mogadishu and other cities.
The military alliance with the United States did not result in any meaningful changes in Siad Barre’s style of rule, and over the next decade, his influence slowly declined until he was ousted in 1991. By then, with the Cold War all but finished, the United States—which had strategic naval bases farther south in Kenya—had no particular interest in preventing Somalia from sliding toward anarchy.

Then, in 1992, during the last weeks of his administration, President George H. W. Bush committed 25,000 U.S. troops to a UN force involved in distributing famine relief supplies.
Bush was influenced by the fact that the UN had performed well during the crises surrounding the Persian Gulf War of 1990–91, but the experience in Somalia was not to be as successful. By 1993, U.S. forces had become caught in the middle of conflicts between local warlords, and on October 3, 18 U.S. Rangers were killed in a firefight on the streets of Mogadishu. Prior to this debacle, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin had outlined an agenda of “nation-building” in a nation that had no true government, and in the aftermath of the Mogadishu disaster, Aspin resigned.
Ethiopia and Somalia were just a few of the nations that attempted to apply the Marxist formula to their problems during the 1970s. Numerous other nations aligned with Moscow, but few did so as openly as the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique.

The United States provided help to the rebels fighting in both countries, though aid to Angola was much greater. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan, under pressure from both the Department of Defense and the CIA, transferred some $15 million in antiaircraft and antitank missiles to the rebel movement.
The United States commitment to Angola was in part a response to the fact the Soviets and Cubans had become heavily involved on the side of the government, but it was also a product of the magnetism exerted by the rebels’ charismatic leader, Jonas Savimbi. In 1966, Savimbi had formed the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, known by the initials of its name in Portuguese, UNITA.

First he fought against the Portuguese, then against the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) when it took control of the government after the Portuguese left.
Because the MPLA was aligned with Moscow, Savimbi gained support from a wide array of nations opposed to the Soviet Union: the United States, China, and South Africa. Savimbi managed to convince American conservatives that he was an anti-communist, just as he presented himself to the Chinese as a Maoist.
To the regime that maintained the system of apartheid in South Africa, Savimbi’s victory would help keep blacks from getting the idea that they should gain a share of whites’ wealth.
In reality, the war was not about ideology, but about control of the nation’s diamond resources and other natural wealth. The Communist regime of José Eduardo dos
Santos was corrupt and cruel, but Savimbi matched its record. In 1989, even Mobutu tried to step in and pressure him to accept a ceasefire. In 1992, with the Cold War over, Savimbi lost U.S. funding. He spent the remainder of his life fighting the government and opposition in his party, looting the populace, and resisting efforts toward peace.
Six weeks after his death in February, 2002, the two sides signed a ceasefire agreement.


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