Temperatures rose further after heavy fighting erupted on Monday in the Somali border town of Bulohawo between Somali government troops and forces from the semi-autonomous region of Jubaland.
Legislators from the nearby Kenyan town of Mandera said the fighting was so intense it caused residents there to flee and take shelter.
A Kenyan government statement condemning “violations of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” appeared to indicate that Somali forces had crossed into Mandera during the battle.
“Foreign soldiers – in flagrant breach and total disregard of international laws and conventions – engaged in aggressive and belligerent activities by harassing and destroying properties of Kenyan citizens living in the border town of Mandera,” it said.
. . . .
The fighting inSomaliais the latest instance of tensions between Mogadishu and its regional governments.
Jubaland authorities in August accused Mogadishu of interfering in its election and seeking to remove President Ahmed Madobe and get a loyalist in power to increase its control.
Madobe is a key ally ofKenya, which sees Jubaland as a buffer againstal-Shababfighters who have staged several bloody attacks across the border.
Kenya has been further drawn in, as it is accused of harbouring a fugitive Jubaland minister who was arrested by Mogadishu for “serious crimes” but fled from prison in January.
Tensions between the neighbouring countries are also high because of a spat over maritime borders, with possibly lucrative Indian Ocean oil and gas reserves at stake.
. . . .
Kenya urged Somalia’s federal and regional governments to focus on defeating the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab.
Observers say the myriad feuds between the fragile government in Mogadishu and its federal states is a major obstacle to fighting the armed group.
Somalia’s dream of unity is understandable and it can be compelling, just as those supporting Somaliland separatism can find their case persuasive. But, what Farmajo forgets or does not understand is that if Somalia is going to reunite with Somaliland, it must perform better than Somaliland. It must be more stable, more secure, more democratic, and less corrupt. It must have a better economy that will be a regional envy. Somalia cannot force Somaliland into its fold militarily; it is not strong enough and occupying Somaliland will never bring peace. Militaristic rhetoric from Farmajo will only exacerbate mistrust born from his relative Siad Barre’s rule and the human rights abuses he perpetrated in Somaliland. What neither Farmajo nor Yamamoto understand is that economic strangulation also will not compel Somaliland to rejoin Somalia. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Hargeisa under Mogadishu’s control when even Mogadishu is not under Mogadishu’s control.
Somali nationalists can cast aspersions toward Somaliland nationalists, and they can troll on social media. Farmajo’s advisors and his press spokesmen can insult from an official podium before they retreat into armored cars and locked-down compounds, or take official planes to Doha and Istanbul. But none of their tactics will achieve their goals; indeed, they only make them harder to attain. If Somali nationalists want to restore Somali greatness, there is no substitute for reform. Simply put, for there to be unity, Somalia must be better than Somaliland rather than try to suffocate Somaliland.
This is a good article and I recommend it (while I have to note my pet peeve that it indulges as so many accounts do in the Kagame mythology that the RPF “marched in from Uganda to end the genocide” rather than noting that they came across the border and began fighting years earlier than their march into Kigale in 1994.)
Is there a day coming where Americans notice the problem even of repression of religious freedom in Rwanda in spite of the lionization of Kagame and his willingness to transact with foreigners on terms not available internally?
Kudos are in order for the diplomatic efforts to step up pressure on both sides, and in particular on Salva Kiir who had the most power and leverage through defacto control of the government. It seems that the State Department under Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy in particular engaged and showed leadership. The US has a unique diplomatic responsibility and opportunity in South Sudan so it is encouraging to see us step up to the plate.
Former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka returned to the country on Sunday from Juba after accomplishing a delicate peace deal that saw South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar form a unity government.
The negotiators of the peace agreement heavily relied on Mr Musyoka to achieve the long-delayed process towards ending a six-year civil war that has led to loss of thousands of lives.
It is very much true that (1) Kalonzo was a Kenyan insider under Moi and then Kibaki’s Foreign Minister on though the negotiation of the CPA in 2005; (2) Kenya is inevitably of importance in South Sudanese power struggles because of the role of Nairobi as at least the “back office” and “capitol of capital” for South Sudanese kingpins; (3) Gideon Moi (as reported by The Sentry) and certainly other leading Kenyan figures are major players in financial dealings at issue in South Sudan; (4) the U.S. as the leading international power involved in the nascent building of a South Sudanese nation is closest to Kenya and to Uhuru Kenyatta in particular among the IGAD members and leaders, so Kalonzo in representing Kenya and Uhuru presumably has standing with the US in addition to his own background with the negotiations.
Speaking of Nairobi, Uhuru and devolution, the purported “sign over” of governmental powers from Nairobi Governor Sonko, to the Kenyatta Administration, while seemingly suspended from official action by court order and facing impeachment and criminal charges, is the big new story.
According to The Standard, “Human Rights Activist Okiya Omtatahand Lawyer Robbin Murimi filed separate applications at the High Court Nairobi challenging the move.”
Otherwise, as it has become more clear that the BBI is generating inevitable controversy, Ambassador McCarter has tempered his language of American support to emphasize a robust debate with wananchi involvement on “which provisions to enact”. At the same time, three months now since the release of the original BBI Report and almost two years after the Handshake, it remains unclear (or undisclosed) exactly what the “deal” is.
EAC Secretary General Ambassador Liberat Mfumukeko informed the UN delegation that the EAC observes elections within the context of the National Constitutions of the Partner States.
He assured the delegation that preparations were underway for the launch of a longterm EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the Burundi electoral process in its entirety, as well as a short-term EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the polling only.
“I am confident that the peaceful spirit we have experienced during the party nominations will continue during and after elections,” said the secretary general.
“The EAC is calling on all the people of Burundi to sidestep violence, regardless of the situation,” he added. In 2018, Burundi promulgated a new Constitution.
Apparently my post from December 7 “Quick thoughts on Mayor Pete’s 2008 Somaliland vacation and related op-ed” has gotten shared on Facebook and otherwise linked by people with both an aggressive left and aggressive right position as to the U.S. presidential election to the point that I thought it was worth coming back to note that my intention is for this blog to be nonpartisan. I am not a member of a political party at present and am not intending to give any advice here about who anyone should vote for in any of the primaries.
One specific thing that people seem to miss is that in 2007-2008 there was regular direct commercial air service between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Hargeisa, Somaliland. So visiting Hargeisa was not some daunting overland journey or even some exotic series of “puddle jumps”. Again, there was an issue involving permission by the United States Government for United States Government employees and contractors to travel to the country which did not have formal government recognition, even though the United States was funding some aid programs, such as the one I and other International Republican Institute staff managed from our East Africa office in Nairobi and then with a satellite office in Hargeisa opening in the spring of 2008.
Somaliland Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Hargeisa
Buttigieg’s co-author in the New York Times op-ed from their brief visit to Somaliland was working for the World Bank in Addis and thus conveniently located for a quick trip.
Traveling to and from Hargeisa from Nairobi did require us to overnight in Addis where the Meles Zenawi government had staged a major crackdown on political opposition in the context of the contentious 2005 election and kicked out U.S. democracy assistance organizations including IRI and arrested lots of political dissenters. Thus, walking around the streets in Addis was for me, at least, a tenser environment than what I experienced in Hargeisa, although not quite to the level of Khartoum at that general time. (I never visited Somalia as NDI had the programs there and as best I recollect no commercial air flights were then scheduled into Mogadishu which was still impacted by the early years of the present war with al-Shabaab.)
In fact, see this 2010 Foreign Policy piece from Nathaniel Myers, Buttigieg’s co-author on Somaliland: “Ethiopia’s Democratic Sham“.
The outgoing US Ambassador Deborah Malac, has aimed a dig at President Museveni and his NRM government for staying long in power saying it might lead to problems in the future.
Having served in Uganda for four years, Malac will late this month leave the country as US Ambassador but also retire to private work after spending 39 years doing US public service, mainly in Africa.
Speaking at her last press briefing on Thursday, Malac said the long stay in power and failure to have a peaceful transition will at one time lead to problems for the country.
. . . .
Speaking on Thursday, Malac however said because Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence people have a number of concerns over the same.
“I know it becomes difficult in countries like Uganda to talk about succession and transition and not sound political in the sense that you must be against or for a particular group but the issue is figuring out the other voices so they are heard and issues discussed,” she said.
The outgoing US Ambassador who has been in Uganda for four years, has been very vocal on issues of human rights and democracy and has on several occasions been accused of interfering in local politics after being viewed as being pro-opposition but speaking about the same, she said she does not care about what many think of her.
In 2007, Uganda was the first country to deploy troops in Somalia under the AMISOM and turned around what had for long been termed as a “mission dead on arrival.”
The Ugandan troops are deployed in Sector One in Benadir,(has 16 districts) Banadir, and Lower Shabelle regions having pushed Al Shabaab militants for over 200km away from Mogadishu city for normalcy to return to the capital where the militants roamed freely.
. . . .
She said that in her time, the US has supported the training, equipping and deployment of nearly 25000 Uganda military personnel to Somalia to help in improving regional security and stability.
Uganda has been at the forefront of fighting Allied Democratic Forces that have made life difficult in the volatile Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where they roam freely and have killed thousands of locals.
Uganda has also played an important role in brokering peace in the continent’s newest country, South Sudan.
. . . .
The Kampala government has also been influential in ensuring peace in Burundi and Central African Republic.
The outgoing US Ambassador said her government will continue supporting Uganda’s efforts to ensure stability in the region.
U.S. Africa Command continues to investigate the Jan. 5 attack on the Kenyan Defense Force Military Base in Manda Bay, Kenya, that killed U.S. Army Spc. Henry J. Mayfield, Jr., and two U.S. contractors, Mr. Bruce Triplett and Mr. Dustin Harrison.
The tragic loss of these brave Americans and the damage and destruction to aircraft demonstrates the enemy achieved a degree of success in its attack. However, despite public reports, an initial assessment indicates that a timely and effective response to the attack reduced the number of casualties and eliminated the potential for further damage.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 5, al-Shabaab initiated mortar fire on the Kenyan Defense Force installation and Camp Simba, while simultaneously assaulting the airfield. U.S. forces are primarily located at Camp Simba, about one mile from the airfield. Shortly after the attack began, U.S. forces at Camp Simba quickly responded and actively counterattacked the enemy at the airfield.
U.S. forces and Kenyan Defense Forces repelled the attack, killing five al-Shabaab terrorists with no additional losses to U.S. or Kenyan personnel. While numbers are still being verified, it is estimated that several dozen al-Shabaab fighters were repelled. Because of the size of the Kenyan base, clearance and security operations continued for several more hours to ensure the entire base was secure.
In Kenya, U.S. forces are primarily responsible for training Kenyan forces, sharing intelligence, and personnel recovery. There are fewer than 350 Department of Defense personnel in Kenya.
“The attack at Manda Bay demonstrates that al-Shabaab remains a dangerous and capable enemy,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, U.S. Africa Command commander. “They are a menace to the people of East Africa and U.S. national interests there and their sights are set on eventually attacking the U.S. homeland. It is important that we continue to pursue al-Shabaab and prevent their vision from becoming a reality.”
Since 2010, al-Shabaab has killed hundreds of innocent people outside the borders of Somalia.
Immediately following the Jan. 5 attack, U.S. Africa Command sent senior leaders to inspect the site and speak with on-scene leaders and troops to assess any immediate actions required. Simultaneously, the command launched a senior-leader-led Army 15-6 investigation. The investigation team is looking into the facts and circumstances surrounding the attack. The full findings of the investigation will be released following family and Department of Defense notification.
Increased force protection measures have been put into place and U.S. Africa Command will pursue the attackers until they are brought to justice.
The performance of the Kenyan security forces during and after the battle frustrated American officials. At one point, the Kenyans announced that they had captured six of the attackers, but they all turned out to be bystanders and were released.
There are about 200 American soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines, as well as about 100 Pentagon civilian employees and contractors, in Kenya helping train and assist local forces. A large majority of them work at Manda Bay, according to military officials. But there were not enough Americans to stand perimeter security on the airfield, one Defense Department official said.
American forces have used Manda Bay for years. Special Operations units — including Green Berets, Navy SEALs and, more recently, Marine Raiders — have helped train and advise Kenyan Rangers there.
Somalilandsun -After agreements from two meetings between president Muse Bihi Abdi and Opposition parties Wadani and UCID leaders Abdirahman Irro and Eng. Feisal Ali respectively, the fate of parliamentary and local council elections remains in the dark.
The darkness emanates from the still in office new national elections commission NEC that has been disputed by the opposition parties leading to an agreement that the former NEC commissioners be returned to office thence elections sometimes in 2020 as pursued by the international community with a stake in the Somaliland democratization process.
Following the two meetings between the three principle politicians in the country it was agreed that president Bihi shall uphold the agreements to reinstate the former NEC as per elders mediation that had garnered support from the international community.
But despite all arrangements more the 10 January date in which the president promised to finalize the issue nothing has been done and the status remain the same notwithstanding numerous visits and meets with senior IC diplomats the latest being the UN SRSG to Somaliland and Somalia Amb James Swan.
While the commitment to 10 January was hailed as a conclusive decision failure to implement anything returns the country to the days of political tensions.
A statement released this week from the Minister of Information states that the Government concluded following the agreement among the parties that legal authority was lacking for either the President or Parliament to effect the negotiated agreement and replace the existing membership of the National Election Council. The Government argues the only way to proceed would be to call for voluntary resignations which is reportedly not acceptable to the other parties.
Somaliland has now been functionally independent almost as long as it was part of the independent Republic of Somalia following independence from the UK and joinder with the former Italian Somalia. I agree that once parliamentary elections are finally held it would be wise for the US and the UK to step up a concerted diplomatic effort to facilitate with the UN and AU a durable resolution of Somaliland’s status and relationship with the federal Somali government in Mogadishu and the regional government in Puntland. This will have to include resolution of the Suul and Sonaag borders and at least a mechanism to address mineral rights issues.
The diplomatic task will never be easy with the passions involved but I think the effort is timely now with a balance of progress in the South and the risk of some unexpected disruption to the status quo from waiting too long. The move of the Gulf Cooperation Council to establish a Red Sea security initiative without reference to Somaliland, while others have supported national maritime security efforts by Somaliland is an example highlighting the growing potential for international misunderstandings as the Horn region attracts growing outside interest.
Back in the 2008 presidential campaign between John McCain and Barack Obama, Senator McCain got some criticism for using Charlie Black, previously of the Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly firm as a campaign consultant in part because of the firm’s background in lobbying in Washington for various dictators like Moi and Mobutu of African nations and Marcos of the Philippines. More recently, the spotlight has shifted to Paul Manafort and Roger Stone from that storied firm who have been convicted recently of multiple felonies related to their service to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and in Manafort’s case also involving money laundering associated with more recent work for a Russian oligarch in Ukrainian politics.
Washington reporting that I saw during the 2008 campaign noting the Black, Manafort Stone & Kelly work for Moi had a significant oversight in accepting spin that the Moi relationship had concluded with the end of the Cold War and the beginning of active U.S. support for democratization in Africa, including the push on Moi to legalize non-KANU parties, which came to fruition in the December 1991 legalization of political opposition.
My guess is that reporters relied on an incomplete aggregator rather than going directly to the original Foreign Agent Registration Act filings (online at http://www.fara.gov). Regardless, the point is that Black, Manafort Stone & Kelly made a third filing for Kenya under Moi for March 1, 1992 to February 28, 1993 that covers Moi’s December 29, 1992 re-election. Along with the U.S. Executive and Legislative branches, Black Manafort Stone & Kelly were to lobby the IMF and World Bank and “public interest and activist groups such as the Black Caucus, Africa Watch, Environmentalists, National Democratic Institute, Civil Rights Lawyers, African-American Institute, Article 19 (journalists) and other activists and public interest groups.”
[Another discrepancy is that the summary list on the Justice Department website lists an incorrect name, a successor firm, for the Black, Manafort Stone & Kelly, Inc. filing for 1992-93.]
As I have written previously, see “My Joel Barkan Tribute“, US Ambassador Smith Hempstone, a George H.W. Bush political appointee, wrote in his memoir Rogue Ambassador that he had recommended to Moi that Kenya allow the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to observe that first post-independence multi-party election featuring FORD-Kenya (Jaramogi Oginga Odinga), Ford-Asili (Kenneth Matiba) and the Democratic Party (Mwai Kibaki) among others challenging Moi’s KANU. Moi vetoed NDI for the Election Observation Mission but went ahead to invite “sister organization” the International Republican Institute (IRI) for whom I served years later in 2007-08 as Resident Director for East Africa in Nairobi.
IRI and NDI are private District of Columbia not-for-profit corporations established originally at the Republican and Democratic National Committees, respectively. Along with two other special purpose democracy assistance not-for-profits associated with two other parents, the United States Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO (an affiation of labor unions), these four “core institutes” receive funding from the National Endowment for Democracy or NED, pursuant to 1983 legislation. NED receives direct funding from the United States Government and is also able to raise private donations, as are the four “core institutes”.
It never came to my attention one way or the other whether Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly consulted Moi on the decision to reject NDI in favor of IRI or what Moi’s considerations might have been in taking that position. Nor of the State Department, USAID and/or others in the US Government and in IRI in going along.
Moi was re-elected according to the Electoral Commission of Kenya with approximately 36% of the vote.
The election was seen as badly flawed but nonetheless representing “the will of the people”. Presumably that would mean a recognition that within a year of opposition being legalized and with State resources deployed on behalf of Moi, a good 2/3 of Kenyans wanted to replace him, but without a runoff or a pre-election “deal” among the fledgling opposition parties Moi would be able to keep power and claim to have switched from a single-party authoritarian system to a “democratic mandate” without giving up power or persuading a majority of Kenyans that he deserved it.
In Kenya after 27 years the Moi family remains prominent in political and business matters in Kenya with the son of Moi’s original benefactor Jomo Kenyatta eventually succeeding Moi as president in 2013 after a 2003-2013 interregnum under Mwai Kibaki who was Moi’s Vice President for the first ten years of his presidency from 1978 to 1988.
In my last post, I explored the fact that Ambassador Kyle McCarter is the United States’ first Ambassador to Kenya to come from a background in elective politics. Because he had just done what seemed to be a well-received television interview I added in introductory material to the original draft to reflect that.
In the aftermath of following the interview with an invitation for questions on Twitter, the Ambassador got drawn into the Kenyan controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power coal plant proposed for the Lamu area on the Coast. My sense is that he seemed to respond to a Kenyan political and legal controversy as a politician would in asserting his own opinion and judgment based on his own experience and positions–an easy thing to do on Twitter–in a quite different way than a diplomat would normally react.
In the context of following this discussion, I did a bit of quick updating on the internet of the status of the coal mining industry in Sen. McCarter’s former State Senate district in Illinois. By coincidence I spent some time visiting in the area as a young lawyer back in the 1990s and knew that at that time there was a perception of economic strain associated with a decline in local mining employment. After going through some history of mining, I found a recent article in a local newspaper about a young mayor of a town in the area responding to the economic circumstances by promoting solar energy in his immediate community. I shared the article with the Ambassador and a Kenyan leader on the citizen fight against corruption in the power generation and resale businesses in Kenya (as opposed to an anti-coal activist or someone otherwise involved in the Lamu case).
The Ambassador responded tartly that coal provided 95% of the power in his region in Illinois, he knew the mines and plants, and that coal was the cleanest and cheapest approach to needed power in the context of the highest environmental standards in the world. Further, he was not inclined to be persuaded by “well paid activists” and that “facts are stubborn things.”
This furthered an impression–hopefully not intended–that the Ambassador was weighing in on the Kenyan legal and policy controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power deal.
Likewise, this generated pushback form “Kenyans on Twitter” who felt patronized or insulted, as well as those who have a different view on “macro” issues relating to power generation and environmental issues than they interpreted the Ambassador to have Tweeted. As for me, I had just intended to share an interesting recent news article, without comment, and not to get under anyone’s skin, or debate the philosophy of coal economics in the global context.
One thing is certain with active Twitter use: all of us who Tweet actively will “step in it” sometimes. The Ambassador well knows this because his ultimate voice vote confirmation in the Senate was held up for some months in apparent reaction to a few previous Tweets that generated push back and follow-up. The Ambassador is also representing the United States and has a professional communications staff of public servants to help him.
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”:
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?
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.)
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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.