Some thoughts on US relations with the governments of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and the Armenian genocide, in the context of NATO, military vision and religious freedom and pluralism

This is a piece reflecting some partly tongue-in-cheek musing on complex and deadly serious larger questions of “who we want to be” in the world, with specific immediate relevance to the Sudan crisis, Libya and Yemen, along with current issues with Iran that I touched on in my last post.
I decided to subordinate the title and add this preface to make sure that it was clear that I hoped to be taken “seriously but not literally”:

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If we replaced Turkey with Saudi Arabia in NATO could we acknowledge the Armenian genocide while cutting hypocrisy on current support for religious freedom versus security interests?

Update: “Erdogan dealt stunning blow as Istanbul elects rival candidate” Bloomberg, June 23.

There are a few moving pieces here, but stay with me.

First, we have longstanding unfinished business on simply acknowledging historic fact on the Armenian genocide.

This was a basic premise of the Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2008–the whole “hope and change” versus fear and loathing thing. The whole Samantha Power to lead our Mission to the UN thing. Unfortunately, it got Overcome By Events, along with the notion that Obama’s personal background, “story” and manner would allow him to be a sort of “Christian Islamist Whisperer” to realize the hopes reflected in his June 2009 Cairo “remarks to the Muslim world” from Al-Azhar.

Instead, we have let ourselves be embarrassingly bullied by Turkey. See “For Anniversary of Armenian Genocide Obama Calls It an ‘Atrocity’ Instead“, NYTimes, April 24, 2014: (“Although Mr. Obama called the acts against the Armenians genocide as a presidential candidate in 2008 and vowed to do so once he reached the White House, he again chose not to follow through on his promise for fear of offending Turkey, a NATO ally that denies that the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide. Instead, Mr. Obama implied that he still thought it was genocide even if he did not say so directly.”). To what benefit? While we have and will continue to have some interests in common with the regime in Turkey it is clear that Turkey continues to move away from democratic values, including respect for religious freedom and tolerance at the same time they have made it clear that the security relationship is very situational. What might have made sense during the Cold War when confronting the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact during Turkey’s years of secular authoritarianism make less sense under Turkish Islamism now that even Greece has democratized, the Russians dissolved direct control of the various European and Central Asian republics previously colonized and the Warsaw Pact disbanded in accordance with the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

Of the Islamist governments in the region, it is Saudi Arabia with whom we seem to be mutually committed rather than Turkey. Likewise, in the context of NATO if there is one Western government more committed to the Saudis than we are, it is the UK (London), the other party to our “special relationship”. Selling arms to the Saudis is a “national emergency” for the Trump Administration, and keeping the Saudis off the list of countries using child soldiers just now and earlier certifying that the Saudis were serious about trying to miss civilians in their Yemen bombings join our commitment to “knowing” as little as possible about the Khashoggi murder in demonstrating some extraordinary bond. Just as British “national security” trumped law enforcement by the UK on the BAE bribery in the al-Yamamah deals.

Our relationship with the Saudis predates the formation of NATO and a time of recognition of reality vis-a-vis Turkey may be the time to more formally recognize what the Saudi alliance has now come to be.

By recognizing the Armenian genocide while formally including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in mutual defense obligations, we can show that we disapprove historically of the purging of Christian and other minority religious populations while making clear that our own security as we see it in an immediate sense is our first and foremost priority and that we do not object to exclusivist and repressive Islamist governments that are willing to cooperate militarily and on national security. (And this could be another opportunity for President Trump to cooperate with Kim Kardashian on a policy initiative, as in some criminal justice reforms.)

For insight on a military view of the value of the alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I recommend this writing contest piece from special forces officer Scott Horr in Divergent Opinions: “Assessment of the Impacts of Saudi Arabia’s Vision2030 on U.S. Efforts to Confront Iran.”

Amidst the continuing turmoil and instability that touches many parts of the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) maintain a fierce rivalry vying for regional and Islamic dominance. Both countries factor prominently into U.S. regional goals and interests as Iran (since its Islamic Revolution in 1979) serves as the preeminent regional threat and adversary to the U.S. while the KSA, in many ways, serves as the centerpiece of U.S. efforts to counter and degrade Iranian influence in the region[1]. As the region’s premiere Islamic rivals, internal social, economic, and political movements within the KSA and the IRI inherently shape and inform U.S. actions and efforts aimed at undermining hostile (IRI) objectives while supporting friendly (KSA) initiatives. U.S. President Trump, for instance, was quick to voice support in early 2018 for protesters in Iran railing against (among other things) perceived regime inaction and contribution to the stagnant Iranian economy[2]. Alternatively, Trump preserved U.S. support to the KSA even after allegations of KSA government involvement in the killing of a prominent and outspoken journalist[3]. Such dynamics underscore how the inner-workings of regional rivals create venues and opportunities for the advancement of U.S. interests confronting regional threats by applying pressure and defining alliances using different elements of national power.

In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as “MBS,” unveiled an ambitious and grandiose plan for economic, cultural, and social change in the Kingdom. In response to a worldwide decline in oil prices that drastically shrunk Saudi cash reserves and simultaneously highlighted the precarious state of the Kingdom’s oil-dependent economy, MBS released “Vision2030”- a sweeping program of reform that aimed to create a vibrant society, build a thriving economy, and establish a culture of ambition within the Kingdom[4]. Motivating these ideas was a desire to increase the privatization of the economy and make Saudi society attractive to foreign investment to diversify the economy and decrease its dependence on oil[5]. Whether explicitly or implicitly, the mechanisms of change that drive the execution of MBS’ Vision2030 rest on the extent to which Western values (namely free-market principles and social liberalism) can be inculcated into a historically conservative and closed society. Given the magnitude of Vision2030’s scope, targeting all of Saudi society, the ideology involved in its execution (incorporating Western values), and the KSA’s geopolitical status as a key U.S. ally against Iranian foreign policy objectives, the implementation and execution of Vision2030 cannot fail but to have far-reaching impacts on both Middle Eastern regional stability in general and U.S. efforts confronting Iran in particular.

. . . .

For an appreciation of the extent to which things have fallen apart during the Bush, Obama and Trump Administrations, See Janine di Giovanni’s “The Vanishing: the plight of Christians in an age of intolerance” in the December Harpers on the impact of war and oppression in Iraq, Syria and Egypt. And then last month, Emma Green’s Atlantic piece, “The Impossible Future of Christians in the Middle East: An ancient faith is disappearing from the lands in which it first took root. At stake is not just a religious community, but the fate of pluralism in the region.”

In terms of aid, the Trump Administration deserves credit for stepping up some overdue help and attention to minority religious communities beleaguered in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the rise of al-Queda in Iraq/ISIS. At the same time, they have turned a harder, colder shoulder to accepting immigrants while embracing the exponents of Wahabist ideological expansionism who have done so much harm to pluralism and tolerance even in areas where it once thrived.

For a more divergent take suggesting that things have just not been adding up over the years, see retired career soldier and historian Andrew Bacevich’s “America’s War for the Greater Middle East“.

A U.S. war with Iran would be a big set back for longterm American interests and values in Africa as well as elsewhere

1. The basic rationale would be a version of the thinking in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2001-03: sanctions do not work forever, we have been in a low grade conflict mode for years against an intransigent regime that is not going to change its mind about willingness to use terror, a desire to threaten regional interests and aspirations for extended regional influence and a refusal to loosen domestic repression to allow any opportunity for “organic normalization”. Ultimately proliferation happens and the regime will get nuclear weapons in addition to the other WMDs it has had/is developing. At the same time, the repression assures a domestic mass constituency for liberalization.

2. In my perch in the defense industry in 2003 (working on Navy shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast) I was unpersuaded personally that the Bush Administration had made its case for the Iraq invasion. It seemed to me that we did not know enough about the situation to know what would happen next after we invaded, especially in the context of the Sunni/Shiite and other divisions within the country. It seemed too risky, too much of a “Hail Mary” so to speak, given what was argued by the Administration’s public diplomacy such as the Colin Powell speech at the UN and domestic speeches in the US, Congressional debates and such about the alleged threat.

3. At that time I was a lifelong Republican, and was by reputation somewhat connected in the Party, although I was not active in partisan politics while I was a lawyer in the shipyard (starting in 2000) because it seemed unrealistic to participate as a citizen “free agent” while being a lawyer with the dominant local industry as opposed to my previous work as a student and lawyer in private practice. I had voted for George W. Bush as the Republican nominee in 2000 although he was not a top choice for the nomination because I thought he was thin on experience and got the top of the field through preemptive fundraising clout rather than comparative merit. Ironically I had been reassured about Bush’s limited experience by Cheney’s performance in the campaign, even though I was unenthused about having essentially an all-Dallas ticket and Cheney’s role in asserting himself as running mate. I did not have an understanding of how contradictory Cheney’s own views were from the messages Bush presented in the campaign. All this is to say that I was not going to automatically support a war because Bush was proposing it–the most salient reason in Washington–but I should have been highly susceptible to being persuaded and they did not succeed in persuading me.

4. I will also note that there were countervailing influences over a period of time. Several years before the start of Fox News I got married and became active again in church having drifted during school years and then we had our first child. Even during the Bill Clinton/Ken Starr years I probably spent more time in church than with cable television, a major fork in the road and ultimately countercultural. The al Qaeda USS Cole bombing hit shortly after I started in shipbuilding and the Cole was brought to our yard for the repair/reconstruction so I was very aware of al Qaeda before being in Washington on business on 9-11. Then I went home and carried on. Yes, things had “changed” but the basic issues, challenges and choices remained.

5. As an orthodox non-fundamentalist Protestant who was not a daily consumer of Fox News, I did not feel a call to cast aside my formative moral orientation of restraint for peace and embrace some new doctrine of “pre-emptive war”.

6. Nonetheless, in the run up to Iraq I continued to read and study and learn but did not actually do anything to act on my lack of persuasion that we should invade.

7. While I was not in a position of influence, ultimately I have concluded that we went to war because hundreds or thousands of people in or around Washington who did know or should have known better went along with it anyway. And in doing so we made collectively as a country a most consequential foreign policy mistake and a moral misjudgment.

8. So now today I want to warn that going to war with Iran as a preemptive policy choice rather than a bona fide necessity would gravely set back our recovery from the 2003 miscalculation in Iraq and jeopardize the hopes of Iraqis for a better future. It would potentially arrogate to ourselves a role and responsibility in Iran that we simply are not prepared for, morally or otherwise. It would potentially kill who knows how many people not given a choice in the matter. And it would sap hope of standing up to outside counter-democratic forces (Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Egypt, Russia and China) in the immediate Sudan crisis which presents an important positive longterm opportunity for us to be who we say we want to be. It would have related impact in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa and to an unpredictable extent well beyond on the Continent. We already lack adequate diplomatic bandwidth to do as much as what we could with our “Prosper Africa” policy and are notionally planning military drawdowns even though AFRICOM has seen substantial degradation in overall security versus Islamist terrorist groups during its ten year existence. AFRICOM has yet to become the “different type of combatant command” that it was planned to be in substantial part because of the inevitable institutional inertia associated with a “permanent war” footing in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise war with Iran could increase Iranian-supported terrorist activity in East and West Africa. And we all know that Donald Trump does not have the experience or moral gravitas to take these decisions.

U.S. Coast Guard support for maritime security in Africa; looking for news on Kenyan Coast Guard Service

U.S. Coast Guard’s Mission to Africa from U.S. Naval Institute Press, by

Thetis departed Key West for Africa in late February, making it the first Coast Guard cutter to deploy in support of U.S Africa Command since 2012 and the first to participate in an African maritime exercise since 2011, according to Coast Guard news releases. Thetis participated in exercise Obangame Express and made port calls in Nigeria, São Tome and Principe and Cote d’Ivoire, among other work during the deployment.

U.S. military engagement with African nations is critical to protecting U.S. interests and helping stabilize governments on the continent, Adm. James Foggo, the commander of U.S. Forces Africa, explained during a recent edition of his podcast.

Having the U.S. Coast Guard deploy to Africa is useful, Foggo said, because the U.S. Coast Guard’s maritime law enforcement mission aligns with what he said African nations frequently cite as their most significant needs: enhancing their maritime security operations to protect fishing rights, stop smuggling and interdict human and drug trafficking.

For many of the nations, Chong said their navies perform missions similar to those of the U.S. Coast Guard. For the most part, the African navies and coast guards protect their fisheries resources from illegal fishing, search for smugglers and and combat the region’s ongoing piracy problems.

In many cases, the African nations use equipment very similar to what the U.S. Coast Guard employs. Smaller nations have patrol boats similar to those used by the U.S. Coast Guard, Chong said. Larger nations have frigates which are the same size as the U.S. Coast Guard’s national security cutters.

“The technology is very comparable to us as far as doing those type of boardings off a smaller platform or off a frigate,” Chong said.

In the case of Nigeria, Chong said Thetis operated with a former U.S. Coast Guard cutter. Current Nigerian navy frigate NNS Thunder (F90) is the former Hamilton-class high endurance cutter USCGC Chase(WHEC-718). Chase was transferred to Nigeria after being decommissioned in 2011.

“We’re helping a lot of these countries and their navies and coast guards to do boarding and security type functions,” Chong told USNI News. “We’re working with them jointly in their own maritime security zones.”

The US Coast Guard has been providing joint training for six Kenyan agencies involved in maritime/waterfront security for some years, and Kenya announced that was forming its own Coast Guard back in 1999, but did not pass legislation to do so until 2018. The Kenya Coast Guard Service was then “launched by the President last November in Mombasa:

Based at the Liwatoni Fisheries Complex in Mombasa, where the ceremony was held [commissioning of Offshore Patrol Vessel purchased from Bangladeshi shipyard as first vessel], the KCGS is tasked with protecting fisheries, enforcing maritime security and safety, preventing smuggling, protecting the maritime ecosystems, search and rescue, and supporting the military in times of war.

See the Ministry of Defense announcement here.

The Kenya Coast Guard Service was established under the Kenya Coast Guard Service Act 2018 and was operationalized on 22 October 2018. The Service, which will be commanded by a Director General, a position currently held by Kenya Navy’s Brigadier Vincent Loonena, has a role of ensuring safety in Kenya’s territorial waters, safeguarding Kenya’s ports and prevention of dumping of harmful wastes and pollutants in Kenya’s waters. It will also offer search and rescue services and prevent illegal commercial activities like fishing on Kenya’s waters. The service shall have its headquarter at Liwatoni, Mombasa and will operate mainly in Mombasa, Kisumu and Lamu.

The launch takes place only a week before the first Global Blue Economy Conference to be held in Nairobi in which over 8000 participants are expected to turn up.

News has been scarce since the Commissioning so I would be pleased to hear from anyone with an update.

Ten years into the major multinational counter piracy missions off the Horn of Africa, are China and India paying their fair share?

Operation Atalanta of the European Union (EUNAVFOR) commenced in December 2008 and was joined by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Combined Task Force for counter piracy force (CTF-151) in 2009.

The Combined Maritime Forces are a multinational security venture based in Bahrain, with U.S. and U.K. top command.

  • 33 member nations: Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, The Netherlands,  New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, The Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, United States and Yemen.

China and India do send ships independently to cooperate in the CTF-151 mission. But given the volume of Chinese and Indian trade and shipping at this point, are they bearing their fair share of the cost?

Piracy has been radically reduced in recent years off Somalia and in the bab-el-Mandeb, Gulf of Aden region patrolled by CTF-151.

For the United States to solve the “free rider” problem for trade competitors, especially the PRC, the best approach it seems to me is to increase our own trade and investment in East Africa, as well as globally where we have facilitated the rise of the PRC as a trading power through free global maritime security, direct and indirect foreign investment, lax cybersecurity and intellectual property protections, etc.

While it has been our policy since my childhood to facilitate the rise of China, although under slightly varying rationales at different times over the years, President Trump has sometimes, along with a few of his advisors, expressed a desire to change this policy and our formal National Security Policy calls for recognition of “great power competition” as the superseding longterm priority to the ongoing war with al-Queda and progeny or similar groups.

National Security Advisor Bolton announced a “New Africa Policy” suggesting some rethinking back in December, but it seems to have been largely overcome by events since then. Bolton’s “back to the 80’s” focus on Cuba and Nicaragua to add to the standoff involving Venezuela, along with primary redirection of focus to the permanent “shadow war” with Iran, takes bandwidth, already constrained, away from African issues. Meanwhile rapidly unfolding events in Sudan, Algeria, Libya and Egypt at a time of increased uncertainty in much of Central Africa with limited clear U.S. engagement suggest that we are very much in flux about whether we are serious about recalibrating our overall reticence to compete in Africa.

Powerful forces of bureaucratic inertia and domestic American politics suggest that we are likely to continue deficit spending to help secure Chinese trade with Africa without get much further toward making it pay for itself at least through the 2020 election.

As of 2017, US exports to Sub-Saharan Africa were $ 11.7B., or somewhat less than the cost of an aircraft carrier or two amphibious assault carriers, with a trade deficit of $3B. Chinese exports were $37.4B with imports of $18.5B. (India had exports of $13.1B and imports of $19.7B.) The Chinese trade surplus with Sub-Saharan Africa approximately equals the annual U.S. Navy Shipbuilding and Conversion budget.

Helpful reading on why al-Shabaab has gained support in Kenya – and remembering Garissa University attack (updated)

UPDATE April 4: A timely new report came out today on this topic from the International Crisis Group, “The Hidden Cost of al-Shabaab’s Campaign in North-eastern Kenya.”

To follow up on my last post addressing U.S. strategy in the war with al-Shabaab in Somalia, here is a helpful March article from TRT World magazine on “Why is al-Shabaab making inroads in Kenya?

Also recommended is a January report to the UK Parliament “The Threat of al-Shabaab in Kenya: the Kenyan Government’s Counterterrorism Approach“.

And a January overview from Ilya Gridneff in World Politics Review, Despite Reforms Across the Horn of Africa, al-Shabab Continues a Deadly Campaign“.

And relatedly, today Nairobi’s Star features a Central Bank of Kenya report that “51% of Kenyans Live Hand-to-Mouth” (up from 34.3% in 2016).

The attack on Garissa University killing 147 Kenyans, primarily Christian students, was four years ago this week. It is sad to recognize the degree to which this type of threat may have grown in some important respects rather than reduced since that time.

Ramping up air strikes after 12 years, does the Trump Administration have a new strategy for the war in Somalia or is this escalation “mission creep”?

Kenyans going for water in Eastern Province with jerry cans on red dirt

The Trump Administration’s escalation of the air power part of the war in Somalia in recent months has caught the attention of American journalists. See recent reporting in The New York Times and Amanda Sperber’s investigative reporting in The Nation. A recent Amnesty International report that U.S. air strikes have caused 14 civilian casualties since 2017 had enough salience now to draw a formal AFRICOM denial in response. Al-Shabaab has maintained a recent high rate of suicide bombings causing mass civilian casualties as well as targeting government officials.

[Update 2: On April 5, AFRICOM released this statement regarding civilian air strike casualties, indicating that records had been discovered showing two civilians killed in April 2018 with further review to be conducted.]

[Update: See April 3 from the Council on Foreign Relations, “Controversy over U.S. Strikes in Somalia“,]

Meanwhile, Kenyan forces under AMISOM are reportedly continuing to pull back into more defensive position and thus leaving previously secured villages.

In a nutshell, the current chapter of war in Somalia has been underway since December 2006 with the Ethiopian invasion to restore the Transitional Federal Government which had been forced out of Mogadishu and was under threat of complete collapse in the face of fighters supporting the Islamic Courts Unions. There is a fair bit of fog on the details of the U.S. role. Secretary Condoleezza Rice wrote in one of her memoirs, No Higher Honor, that Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, already having expressed concern about spillover effects in Ethiopia from an extremist takeover in Somalia, called her on December 29 to let her know that his military was going in and, “Frankly, I did not try to dissuade him”. While there seems to be no surfaced evidence that we initiated the idea and some Americans involved in dealing with the Ethiopians could have been more discouraging at some prior point–clarity will await the historians–we nonetheless got directly involved without any public debate or disclosure to the American public. By the “go date” –just prior to December 29–we ended up providing air support and special forces hunting terrorists, at least, as well as coordinating with Kenya in the south as reported.

See “David Axe on ‘America’s Somalia Experiment’ provides a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08“.

Rice’s memoir indicates she had no high regard or expectation regarding the TFG. She also writes that the Ethiopians were supposedly intending to be quickly in and out. Given these two factors, it is hard to understand exactly what was hoped for or expected (one has to be at least reminded of Libya or Afghanistan or Iraq where we were supposedly intervening militarily to prevent bad behavior without having a clear plan for the aftermath).

There has been some argument from commentators that we opposed the Islamic Courts Union because it was “Islamist”. The United States has close and supportive relations with a variety of Islamist governments, most conspicuously of course the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself which has had such a big ideological footprint in re-shaping education and worship among Muslims in Kenya, Somalia and throughout East Africa (and globally) so it does not make any sense to think that the U.S. supported a military ouster of the ICU just because they were Islamist rather than either tolerant or secular.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia had become a military ally of perceived importance and the invasion made sense for Meles Zenawi as head of a EPRDF regime that had its own reasons be concerned about a consolidating Islamist government regime next door, in an environment in which it had cracked down on political expression following a strong opposition showing and protests from the May 2005 election. For the U.S. I suspect that the motivator, in addition to supporting Meles, was the notion of the ICU as providing a “safe haven” for al Qaeda figures, including especially suspects in the Kenya and Tanzanian Embassy bombings, rather than issues more specific to the civil war or otherwise of internal governance. Al-Shabab has a long history with al Qaeda connected foreign fighters in leadership, and al Qaeda’s involvement in Somalia predated the ICUs by many years, although al-Shabaab it did not publicly and formally declare allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and become an open affiliate until 2012.

In 2002 the United States Central Command had established its base in Djibouti for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.  In December 2006 the new “Africa Command”–AFRICOM–had been announced but did not become operational and take over the Somalia war in its Area of Responsibility until late 2008, or almost two years into the war. AFRICOM has continued to be headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany for ten years now and relies on the CJTF-HOA as its only formal “base” on the continent, although in layman’s terms it has many small “base-like facilities” with various “MILSPEAK” labels across the north and central parts of the continent. Journalist Nick Turse in particular has identified facilities for American readers who do not have the opportunity to see these locations for themselves by seeking records and public sources, while sparring with the AFRICOM public affairs function who seem to have orders to make sure only skeptics will report most of what AFRICOM does. Several of these facilities, such as Camp Simba at Manda Bay near the Somali border in Kenya, are particularly relevant to the warfighting in Somalia. See “Africa is a Command: from Bush to Obama to Trump“.

Following the Ethiopian action, in early 2007 the African Union AMISOM “peacekeeping” force was established to continue to defend the restored TFG and it’s internationally sponsored “transition”, with the EU funding the AU to pay for troops from Burundi, Uganda and other providers.  In October 2011 Kenya entered the war with a land invasion from the south and roughly nine months later in June 2012 formally enrolled their Kenya Defense Forces fighters in the AMISOM mission for reimbursement. In September of 2012 Kenya AMISIM conducted a successful amphibious landing and joint attack with the Somali National Army and local militia, taking over the lucrative port at Kismayo, a regional charcoal and sugar smuggling venue that was controlled by al Shabaab and had been their key urban center since they were replaced from Mogadishu in 2011. Kismayo is capital of the Jubaland region that Kenya has long seen as a potential buffer beyond its own underdeveloped and ethnic Somali frontier. At present, Jubaland’s nascent regional government, led by former local warlord, is negotiating the possibility of resuming cooperation with the nascent Somali Federal Government, successor to the TFG, and is to hold a presidential election in August. Kenyan forces over the years have suffered significant, but officially obscured, losses in major attacks on two of their positions, but have generally avoided any sustained pace of conflict in supporting the regional Jubaland administration. Smuggling reportedly continues to be lucrative and shared by the KDF with al-Shabaab and non-al-Shabaab Jubaland Somalis. Kenyans at home have suffered high profile terrorist attacks from al-Shabaab and its supporters from both countries and the Kenyan “frontier region” seems to be more contested than at any time in the last 40 years, although political devolution seems to provide some examples of integration-supportive development progress. See “Now to that next step: evaluating the Kenya Defense Forces role in Somalia and Kenya’s security needs“.

Over the years since 2007 the war has ebbed and flowed on a seemingly sustainable, semi-permanent footing.  Both the recognized government and al-Shabaab have territory and funding and some resilient will even if leadership seem frequently fluid. AMISOM expert and George Washington University Professor Paul Williams has suggested that AMISOM could reasonably hope to pass off to a Somali defense in as little as ten more years, which would mean we are slightly more than half-way through a 22-year mission.

For some reason, there seem to be disruptive elements in recent months aside from the continued high number of suicide bombings and the major January terror attack in Nairobi’s Westlands. First, there seems to be the strange notion that AMISOM should draw down troop numbers now because someone years ago guessed that something more like ten years rather than twenty would be adequate.  This strikes me as quite irresponsible.  Inertia is not a substitute for a strategy and tactics that adjust to interim successes and failures.

Second, the big increase in air strikes. The strikes are not explained other than announcements after each in which al-Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed and that the strikes were in support of operations of the Somali National Army and/or AMISOM or protecting our troops supporting same.  Reportedly we only have around 500 “warfighters” of our own deployed so it is the volume of air strikes rather than personnel that represent a significant change and raise the question why?

Sometimes, the question of the deployment of 500 American warfighters can achieve major political resonance with the United States–such as the recent back and forth within the Administrations about residual deployment numbers for eastern Syria.  Others, as in the case of Somalia seem nearly invisible.

Reading through the AFRICOM public communications, one gets the impression that the Command has a concern to re-assure our African “partners” (“partner” in this context means any government in the Area of Responsibility that is not off limits for reason of some egregious human rights situation or other policy matter that will agree to let us help them with training and capacity building in return for access and cooperation) that we are not going to abandon them to their “violent extremists” as we are calling the various Islamist guerrilla forces that use terrorism among their insurgency toolkits. 

The Trump Administration has announced that it is re-orienting American National Defense Strategy toward defending against major power competitors (i.e. Russia and China) rather than the “violent extremists”.  The timing may seem worrying to African defense leaders since the “violent extremist” problem is significantly worse in many areas now than when AFRICOM started in 2008, just as a recent CSIS report has documented what we all know casually: the situation has worsened globally (“Despite nearly two decades of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations, there are nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants today as there were on September 11, 2001.“)

In the case of AFRICOM, the official “MILSPEAK” term for a ten percent drawdown in American forces in Africa associated with the new National Defense Strategy is “Optimization”.  (One could suggest that this is the defense assistance analog to USAID’s “Self Reliance” focus coinciding with the Trump Administrations budget proposals to dramatically cut assistance budgets while increasing overall defense spending.)  Of course we are all in favor of being optimal, and self-reliant, just like we all want to be best, but these kind of words mean different things to different people, especially when used as public diplomacy labels to win support for changes in policy.

Could increasing air strikes seem to someone in the process in Washington a way to “show commitment” to fighting al-Shabaab even as our global posture shifts?  Could they indicate concerns of more al-Queda related transnational terrorists coming in with the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria or otherwise?  Or if AMISOM is going to be allowed to draw down is there a desire to substitute air strikes or expedite the pace of fighting to keep al-Shabaab from waiting out AMISOM before the Somalia National Army is capable?  These are all just hypotheticals for me as an American not employed or contracted by my government to be personally involved beyond paying the taxes and preparing my children for the debt load.

Part of the challenge with Somalia is that we are not ready, at least yet, to acknowledge being “at war” even though there is not any serious factual debate about the fact that we are and have been.  The fact that we are fighting is not officially secret, but neither are we open about it.  We are not seeking public support in either the United States or in East Africa for what we are doing since we are willing to talk about it only in a way that is patently condescending rather than inviting engagement.

I have always wondered to what extent the war effort on Somalia, and the decision not to talk about it, hamstrung Ambassador Ranneberger and others who were supervising our democracy assistance and election preparation in Kenya. And once I eventually saw recently through FOIA that by April 2017 the Ambassador was describing a new approach of “building capital” with Kibaki rather than pushing reforms as per the older USAID program I would inherit within a few weeks, I am left with the heightened collaboration with Kenya during those initial months after the Ethiopian invasion as the most obvious change in facts that could explain the Kenya policy change. Was our failure in election assistance in Kenya with its devastating consequences facilitated by an unwillingness to discuss and account for Ethiopia and Somalia policy overlaps? If so, are we facing this kind of risk again as we escalate an air campaign without discussing why?

I am hoping that somewhere in my Government someone has come up with a new strategy for this war and that it went up the military and ultimately civilian chain-of-command before we started this escalated air campaign. The other possibility is pure self-perpetuating institutional “mission creep” which would be disturbing and irresponsible:

The escalation of airstrikes, as well as the introduction of manned gunships, has transformed the Defense Department’s Africa Command, based in Germany, into a war-fighting element akin to Central Command, which directs the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Africa Command, which was created only in 2007, has stressed that its role on the continent is to focus on training and equipping allied troops on the continent, but the rise in strikes points to a change in both posture and mission. Current and former American officials previously told The Times that there wasn’t one clear reason for the increase, but they noted that the drawdown of American military operations elsewhere in the world has given Africa Command more drones and gunships to use in Somalia. The loosening of regulations under the Trump administration on using force in the country has also contributed to the rise.

See “At War: This New Generation of Weapons Could Mean More Covert Airstikes Around the World”, March 27, 2017, NY Times Magazine.

 See “Somalia and the Limits of U.S. Bombing“, a prescient warning from Jon Temin, now of Freedom House, early in the Trump administration.

For the KDF role, see “Why an open-ended military campaign in Somalia may prove to be very expensive“, Andrew J. Franklin, Business Daily Africa, Dec. 7, 2011.

For background please start with Kenyan writer Rasna Warah’s “War Crimes: How Warlords, Politicians, Foreign Governments and Aid Agencies Conspired to Create a Failed State in Somalia” and the recent “Inside al-Shabaab; The Secret History of Al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally” by Haron Maruf and Dan Joseph, reviewed here in Hiiran Online.

USIP issues special report on “Community Policing and Violent Extremism in Tanzania”

Excerpts From Lillian Dang, “Community Policing and Violent Extremisn in Tanzania” USIP Special Report no. 442, March 2019

ASSESSMENT OF COMMUNITY POLICING IN PRACTICE

The strengths include the expansion of police presence in local communities, the establishment of regular communication channels between police and local government leaders, and official endorsement of the establishment of civilian security groups. Unfortunately, the community policing approach has been stunted by a lack of resources, inconsistent application, and an overemphasis on intelligence gathering.

Rather than use the [Tanzanian Police Force] TPF’s community policing structure as a means of building trust between police and citizens and improving the delivery of policing services to local communities, community policing in practice focuses primarily on intelligence gathering from local communities.

Local communities view the police ambivalently—as a provider of security but also as a driver of insecurity. A common theme across the three regions was a lack of trust in police among local communities due to police corruption, abuse of authority, and excessive use of force. . . . CSO representatives appear to have more positive working relationships with the police than the general public because of their interest in solving the same problems.

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Reporting from regional workshops hosted by local CSOs with communities and with local police

ZANZIBAR

Zanzibar is a challenging environment for an Islamist VEO because of the comparatively high level of scrutiny by community members to outside actors, en- trenched and highly competitive political parties, and well-established Muslim groups and clerics. For example, the Office of the Mufti in Zanzibar has been particularly concerned with the arrival of Salafist preachers since 2016 on the islands, and the propagation of what is viewed as an extremist—and potentially competitive—interpretation of Islam. The Office of the Mufti is regulating madrassa teachers and curricula to prevent the spread of extremist religious teaching. Further, while political competition in Zanzibar (and Tanzania more generally) has resulted in violence, it continues to provide an agreed-upon means for individuals to gain and wield power. Within this environment, it would be difficult for an Islamist VEO to recruit from among the population, particularly for high-level operators, most of whom are likely already devoted to one of the political parties.

TANGA

Bordering Kenya to the north, with a vast eastern coastline, the Tanga Region is a transit point for transnational narcotic trafficking, illegal migration, and human trafficking. According to community stakeholders, economic motivations related to poverty, family breakdown, homelessness, drug dependency, and unemployment push young men into illicit smuggling activities, including drug trafficking within the country. heroin addiction among the youth population is a major driver of criminality. Family breakdown and conflicts related to land are the other major sources of insecurity.

Violent extremism was a more prominent theme in the Tanga workshops and interviews than in the Zanzibar meetings.

Notwithstanding concerns about violent extremism, community stakeholders still ranked drug use, family breakdowns, and land conflicts above violent extremism as the major drivers of insecurity in Tanga. Despite the low priority assigned to violent extremism by community stakeholders, the assessment team found the presence of violent extremism risks to be more pronounced in Tanga than in Zanzibar or Morogoro. . . .

In contrast to Zanzibar’s Muslim community, where the close monitoring of outside actors helps to identify and isolate Islamist VEOs before they take root, Tanga may be less resilient to this form of violent extremism. As a porous border region, Tanga is vulnerable to the undetected entrance of new actors and groups, including potential VEOs. With a mixed Christian and Muslim population, there is no overarching religious institution that is regulating the entrance and ac- tivities of religious-based . . . . Although interfaith dialogues have helped ease interreligious tensions that have flared between Muslim and Christian communities in Tanga in recent years, mainstream Christian and Muslim leaders have limited influence among fundamentalist religious groups, some of whom have been associated with violence. Given these factors, Tanga is a region more vulnerable to Islamist VEOs than the neighboring islands of Zanzibar.

MOROGORO

In the inland Morogoro Region, stakeholders from local communities and police representatives agreed that land conflicts are the major driver of violence and insecurity.

Corrupt local government leaders contribute to land conflicts by taking bribes to favor one party over another in disputes and to facilitate land usurpation by wealthy and well-connected investors. A number of community stakeholders cited corruption in ward land tribunals as a driver of conflict.

Interviews conducted outside of the workshop did identify violent extremism risks, however. . . . These risks were associated with the training in weapons, explosives, and martial arts that boys and young men receive in mosques and madrassas. Religious leaders also discussed potential recruitment by unknown VEOs inside some mosques of the Ansār Sunna. One Muslim community leader stated that a group he referred to pejoratively as “al-Shabaab” supports violent jihad and recruits from Ansār Sunna mosques. However, according to another Muslim leader when discussing the group in the same interview, “They have select mosques that they go to. It depends on the leaders of the mosque. They don’t disclose their mission.” The use of the term “al-Shabaab” suggests that the local community sees the group as associated with violent extremism rather than a mainstream political agenda.

A police representative confirmed these views, stating that terrorism suspects have been detected in Morogoro, although such information is not disclosed to the public. . . . A recent report by the International Crisis Group identified Morogoro as a region where militants have reportedly planted sleeper cells.

It is difficult to determine the risk of violent extremism in Morogoro given the hesitancy of community stakeholders and police representatives to discuss matters pertaining to violent extremism and terrorism openly. Even so, community stakeholders seem not to be aware of violent extremism risks; their major security concerns are quite different, focusing on land conflicts, criminality, and gender-based violence.

In Sudan, is the International Criminal Court an impediment to progress toward democracy and/or human rights now?

I am no expert on Sudan and the International Criminal Court practice, such as it is, is not my field in law.

But I am an observer of various related neighborhoods and did a bit of work in Sudan back in 2007-08. Also, over the years I have never quite seen answers develop to some of the conceptual uncertainties I looked at about the idea of an international criminal court while in law school. And, of course, there is my experience with the multifaceted failure of the ICC’s attempt to prosecute a few symbolic “most responsible” members of Kenya’s political elite for the instrumental murder and mayhem that was part of the competition for power in Kenya in December 2007-February 2008.

Thus, some questions:

1) Does the ICC indictment against Bashir hinder the prospects for Sudanese to get Bashir out of power through popular protest?

2) Are we all agreed that the ICC is not ready to prosecute a case against Bashir even though the facts of the case are many years old and the charges themselves have been pending for almost ten years? If so, is this not hugely important to weighing the practical value of the Bashir case to the Sudanese people today?

You can watch the discussion from a March 2009 event from the Overseas Development Institute and the Royal African Society on the ICC’s decision here.

3) How many Member States have declined to act on the Bashir warrant when he was in their jurisdiction? How many have attempted to act? How many Member States have honored the spirit of the case against Bashir during its pendency?

4) What diplomatic efforts have the Prosecutors been making during the pendency of the Bashir case? Is diplomacy by a Prosecutor a form of informal pleas bargaining? Is it really the case that the ICC cannot plea bargain? Is it in the larger interests of justice for a jurisdiction to have a prosecuting authority that cannot plea bargain? What about pardon authority?

5) What are the lessons from the failed cases against Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto? And more broadly from the overall success of the perpetrators of political violence in Kenya in avoiding prosecution, avoiding other penalties or sanctions, keeping the political gains achieved through violence and obtaining further support from Member State governments and other governments which notionally supported accountability?

I recognize that this is a very tough time for human rights and humanitarianism as reflected in this post on counter-humanitarianism, 2019’s biggest challenge: the humanitarian sell-out” from Christina Bennett at the Overseas Development Institute. All the more reason those of us who care about people in the hands of angry rulers need to ask ourselves the hard questions.

Update: The International Crisis Group has a new report out titled “Prospects for a peaceful transition in Sudan improving” (h/t The Official blog of David Shinn) which notes the ICC issue and discusses the idea of bargaining through the UN Security Council’s deferral process:

The UN Security Council might also offer to request the ICC defer investigation or prosecution of Bashir’s case for one year, pursuant to the Rome Statute’s Article 16, were he to resign or to leave office in 2020; the deferral could be extended provided Bashir stayed out of – and did not interfere in any way with – Sudanese politics. The downsides to deferring his case would be enormous, but without a pledge along these lines, Bashir is unlikely to step down.

One problem with this is that 3 of the Permanent Members of the Security Council are Non-Members of the ICC. China and Russia are hardly advocates of human rights, rule of law or democracy and the present United States administration expresses opposition to the existence of the ICC as such, escalating the complications associated with U.S. diplomacy involving ICC cases. What are the interests of the CCP here? Reports indicate that the Bashir regime has brought in Russian “Wagner Group” mercenaries.

Of course in the Kenyan cases, unsuccessfully pursuing a Security Council deferral was the major diplomatic priority for Kenya’s Government for a period of years, as well as attacks on the Court though the African Union, IGAD and whatever other fora could be found. The diplomacy failed, but the Prosecution failed anyway, with loss of life and other large costs left to the witnesses and victims.

Update Jan 16: World Politcs Review has a new piece from Richard Downey of CSIS.

McCarter heads for confirmation as Trump’s next Ambassador in Nairobi

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has voted to favorably report the nomination of Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter as Ambassador to Kenya to replace outgoing Ambassador Robert Godec.

This should assure McCarter’s confirmation by the full Senate.

(Updated) Tea Leaves and Poker Hands: Bolton at Heritage on Africa

In a relatively short speech Thursday morning at Washington’s Heritage Foundation, President Trump’s current National Security Advisor John Bolton was said to announce the administration’s “new Africa policy”. Amb. Bolton stuck out during the George W. Bush Administration as both an aggressive hardliner by reputation on policy and as willing to fight hard within the bureaucracy. So no surprise that Bolton says we are not going to let the spigot run on aid projects or peacekeeping missions that are not “winning”, and will target programs more strategically to better match quids and pros, and such.

Overall, Bolton calls the policy “Prosper Africa”. He emphasizes concerns about the perceived unhealthy influence of China and Russia in Africa and frames U.S. interests as focused on competition among external powers. We want Africa to “prosper” through a growing middle class and business deals creating jobs and other benefits in both the U.S. and partner countries and in so doing to strengthen our influence and reduce that of our competitors. We intend to (continue to) play favorites, but in a more explicit and direct way, emphasizing “anchor” governments like Kenya (still our sentimental favorite African country) rather than focusing directly on poverty alleviation or “Sustainable Development Goals” as a global construct.

It seems to have raised eyebrows that Bolton did not mention PEPFAR and democracy and elections among other categories of assistance that we have emphasized both with rhetoric and dollars under Trump’s most recent predecessors. Contra some initial reactions, I anticipate that any major expenditure of political capital by the Administration with Congress to engineer large cuts to popular existing programs is not in the offing.

In fact, when the White House issued a press release “fact sheet” later in the afternoon reporting that it “was issuing” President Trump’s “new Africa policy” it explicitly mentioned “democracy” twice and otherwise sanded down Bolton’s sharper edges. Democracy, especially, as well as our health programs, are a comparative advantage for the United States vis-a-vis the PRC if we want to re-frame our rationale more explicitly in terms of traditional geopolitical competition.

The origins of U.S. development assistance philosophy come from offering a competing model to communism, especially following World War II and to some extent even earlier. Likewise U.S. overt explicit democracy assistance programs were established during the Reagan Administration. So talking more openly and frankly about our concerns about China’s role in Africa in the context of a recalibrated overall relationship that accounts for the Chinese Communist Party’s changes under Xi does not at all have to lead to a retreat from development or democracy assistance.

What plays out over the next two years from any of this remains to be seen.

Instructive are today’s two votes in the Republican led Senate approving resolutions calling for an end to support for Saudi Arabian war efforts in Yemen and condemning the role of the Crown Prince in the murder of American resident Jamal Khashoggi. The peak of unilateral latitude for the Trump Administration has already passed, even before the new Democratic controlled House is seated in the new Congress in January.

Testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, by Judd Devermont, now Africa Diector at venerable Center for Strategic and International Studies, and recently national intelligence officer for Africa, gives a fuller and more nuanced picture of the range of Chinese involvement in Africa. Not all of it is necessarily contradictory to our immediate interests or longer term hopes, even though there are important concerns.

From my personal standpoint, I am still struck by the fact that according to what I read in the newspapers, combined with a letter from Washington, the Chinese hacked my security clearance file–and that of nearly every other clearance holder–from the Office of Personnel Management in Washington during the last Administration. (I also read they “wired” the African Union headquarters, among many other examples.) As for the Russians, they were screwing around in our own Republican Party and to some extent with our general election campaign.

Thus, we most need to be competent, purposeful and mature in conducting our own business in an environment which can be expected to punish complacency. Get through this temporary period of governance by Tweet and tabloid huckster hush money and get our own democracy back on a more even keel. Then we can more effectively deepen our relationships among African countries and with African citizens for the long run. In the meantime, I hope and expect that we will continue most of the incrementally helpful things we have been doing in Africa and not rock the boat too dramatically.

In the meantime, worth noting, for instance, is the presence of Somaliland’s Foreign Minister at Bolton’s speech.

What to make of the policy being announced by Bolton at Heritage instead of by the Secretary of State in an official or semi-official venue? Probably the same reason there are not details and documents: a point of the event is to stamp Bolton’s ideological role within the Administration, the Republican Party, and “The Movement” (big “C” Conservatism with American characteristics is how I might describe it). This is “framing” and “vision” with various audiences rather than actual “policy” as such.

It takes cognizance especially of the geopolitical struggle most compelling on a day-to-day basis in the White House: “red” versus “blue” in the rest of the United States. Thus the focus on competition with “Obama” as a symbol of “blue” who did not announce his “new Africa policy” until nearly the end of his first term. Bolton is a guy with seven pictures of himself on his Twitter profile who tried to mount his own run for President: he obviously enjoys the spotlight and enjoys being a lightening rod for the arena. More substantively, it announces the drawing of a line of demarcation against the perceived “feckless liberalism” of Obama and the perceived namby-pamby do-gooder “compassionate conservatism” that sometimes fuzzed the focus of G.W. Bush in Africa. “Africa” is to be normalized as a geographic space.

Realism of course tells us that the Americans who will make the day to day decisions that actually determine our role in the various African countries do not report to Bolton and that any deep reorientation of policy will require more time and attention than Trump and his cabinet as a whole likely have left in this term. This could tell us much more about what to expect if Trump were re-elected or if the next Administration involved a similar role for Bolton and like-minded officials.

Realism also notes the Administration lost votes on two foreign policy resolutions in the Senate between Bolton’s speech and the White House press release.