Monday, December 8, 2008

The 13th Circle of Hell

"The 13th Circle: Somalia’s Hell and the Triumph of Militarism

by Chris Floyd

As you might expect, the New York Times buries the lede in its latest story about Somalia, but surprisingly, the general outlines of the truth of the rapidly collapsing situation on this third front in the “War on Terror” can be gleaned from the piece.

Some 14 paragraphs into the story, Establishment water-carrier Jeffrey Gettleman finally gets down to the heart of the matter, and, to his credit, delivers an admirably succinct précis of the latest imperial flameout:

In 2006, Islamist troops teamed up with clan elders and businessmen to drive out the warlords who had been preying upon Somalia’s people since the central government first collapsed in 1991. The six months the Islamists ruled Mogadishu turned out to be one of the most peaceful periods in modern Somali history.

But today’s Islamists are a harder, more brutal group than the ones who were ousted by an Ethiopian invasion, backed by the United States, in late 2006. The old guard included many moderates, but those who tried to work with the transitional government mostly failed, leaving them weak and marginalized, and removing a mitigating influence on the die-hard insurgents.

On top of that, the unpopular and bloody Ethiopian military operations over the past two years have radicalized many Somalis and sent hundreds of unemployed young men — most of whom have never gone to school, never been part of a functioning society and never had much of a chance to do anything but shoulder a gun — into the arms of militant Islamic groups.

That is pretty much it, give or take some details — such as the extent of Washington’s direct involvement in the ongoing destruction of Somalia, which as we have often noted here, involved not only arming, training and funding the Ethiopian invaders, but also dropping US bombs on fleeing refugees, lobbing US missiles into Somali villages, renditioning refugees — including American citizens — into captivity in Ethiopia’s notorious dungeons, and running U.S. death squads in Somalia to “clean up” after covert operations. (The latter is no deep dark secret, by the way; U.S. officials openly boasted of it to Esquire Magazine.)

Now, as anyone not completely blinded by imperial hubris could have predicted, the entire misbegotten exercise has collapsed into the worst-case scenario. A relatively stable, relatively moderate government which held out a promise of better future for the long-ravaged land was overthrown– ostensibly to prevent it from becoming a hotbed of radical extremism. The resulting violence, chaos and brutal occupation by foreign forces led directly and inevitably to — what else? — a rise in radical extremism. Thousands of innocent people have been killed, hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes, millions have been plunged into the direst poverty and the imminent threat of starvation and disease, unspeakable atrocities and unbearable suffering are arising, as they always do in any situation, anywhere, when a human community is destroyed.

Yet none of this penetrates the glossy shell of imperial hubris — not even now, when the disaster is so glaring that even eager water-carriers of empire like Gettleman are forced to acknowledge reality (albeit in the closing paragraphs). For the real thrust of the Times story is not outrage at the living hell engendered by the Terror War’s third “regime change” operation. No, the Times’ “analysis” is clearly aimed at one goal: continuing the brutal occupation of the Ethiopian invaders.

The Ethiopians are making serious noises about withdrawing all or most of their troops in January. Perhaps Ethiopian strongman Meles Zenawi realizes he has been played by the great gamesters on the Potomac, expending massive amounts of blood and treasure only to end up in a face-losing retreat, and with a far more virulent, dangerous mess on his borders than before the invasion. Or perhaps he is playing games of his own. In any case, the Ethiopian threat has suddenly panicked the Lords of the West, who realize that, as in Iraq, the only thing holding up their local clients is the armed might of a foreign invader. Suddenly, the Western powers that backed the invasion are shocked — shocked! — to find that the warlords they installed in power (some of them openly in the pay of the CIA) have no popular support in the country, and, as Gettleman notes, now “controls only a few city blocks of the entire country.” The only preventing the complete collapse of Washington’s clients, he warns, is presence of the Ethiopians.

Thus the emphasis in the article on the dire consequences of Ethiopia ending its participation in the American-sponsored war crime in Somalia. Gettleman trots out some heavy Establishment lumber for the requisite fearmongering: The International Crisis Group, which he tells us is “a research institute that tracks conflicts worldwide.” No doubt it does; for the group is chock-a-block with the great and good of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, whose raison d’etre is “conflicts worldwide.”

The ICG board is packed with such luminaries as Thomas Pickering, who served as the Reagan-Bush man in El Salvador when the US-backed government there was slaughtering civilians by the thousands to maintain its elitist-militarist rule. Pickering was a simpering apologist for the blood-letting, declaring that the dead civilians were all sympathizers with the insurgency, and thus “somewhat more than innocent civilian bystanders.” Later, as US ambassador to Moscow, he went on to applaud Boris Yeltsin’s violent suppression of democracy in Russia in 1993 — an incident that seems largely forgotten these days in all the fulminations about Vladimir Putin “introducing” authoritarian rule in Russia.

ICG Co-Chair Pickering is joined by other such worthies as hardcore neocon Ken Adelman (who presciently — and no doubt profitably — jumped ship to endorse Barack Obama before the election); Zbigniew Brzezinski, who helped create the armed global jihad movement in order to hotfoot the Soviets in Afghanistan; Wesley Clark, brave bombardier of civilians in Serbia; Prince Turki al-Faisal, who directed the sinister, extremist-promoting Saudi intelligence apparat for decades; Richard Armitage, a PNAC vet and one of the key players in the operation of the imperial war-and-domination machine for years, who, like his former boss Colin Powell, has acquired a wholly unearned reputation as a “moderate”; Yegor Gaidar, who as Yeltsin’s prime minister rammed through the “shock doctrine” economic extremism that gutted Russian society and ruined the lives of millions; and Lawrence Summers, one of the architects of the global economic meltdown, now serving as a top adviser to Barack Obama.

This group sent out analyst Rashid Abdi to use the NY Times as a megaphone to warn against the risks of ending savage, bloody foreign interventions into other countries:

“It will be bloody,” predicted Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group, a research institute that tracks conflicts worldwide. “The Ethiopians have decided to let the transitional government sink. The chaos will spread from the south to the north. Warlordism will be back.”

Mr. Rashid sees Somalia deteriorating into an Afghanistan-like cauldron of militant Islamism, drawing in hard-core fighters from the Comoros, Zanzibar, Kenya and other neighboring Islamic areas, a process that seems to have already started. Those men will eventually go home, spreading the killer ethos.

“Somalia has now reached a very dangerous phase,” he said. “The whole region is in for more chaos, I’m afraid.”

Here we see the logic of militarism on full display: the only way to prevent the rise of terrorism in a country is by invading that country and occupying it with a foreign military force — which, of course, only gives rise to more terrorism in that country. This circular reasoning seems absurd on its face, but it is in fact the highly efficient dynamic that drives and sustains the ideology of militarism in practical power.

Militarism — either in its overt, unashamed form as espoused by the neo-cons and their outriders, or in the more subtly packaged, sugar-coated (and often self-deluding) version of the “humanitarian interventionists” — is the ruling ideology of the American state. Like all ideologies, it comes in different shadings, different emphases, different factions, and so on, but the national power structure is firmly committed across the board to the use of violence — and the ever-present threat of violence — to advance a bipartisan agenda of American hegemony on the world scene. Some factions take great pains to present this hegemony as benevolent and altruistic; other factions don’t care how it comes across (”Let them hate us as long as they fear us,” was a sentiment frequently voiced in high circles at the beginning of the Terror War). But all factions are willing to kill people — either directly or by proxy — to maintain that hegemony.

And that’s why, for the militarist mindset, situations such as the hell in Somalia — or in Iraq — or in Afghanistan — are always win-win scenarios. If the application of brute force in Somalia had “worked” — i.e, if the “regime change” invasion and subsequent repression had produced a quiescent client state willing to open up its resources to foreign exploitation and to jail, torture and kill any of its own citizens who threatened the profitable status quo — then the militarists would have claimed it as a template that could and should be applied over and over around the world. It would have “justified” the militarist path.

But the collapse of Somalia into a sinkhole of chaos and extremism that could “threaten the whole region,” perhaps the whole world, can equally be used to “justify” a militarist response; after all, how else can we protect ourselves from this heightened danger of terrorism, except with bigger military forces, more aggressive responses to potential threats, more power and scope for our security services, more authority for the “Commander-in-Chief” to help keep us safe, etc., etc.?

What we have long said here about Iraq and Afghanistan applies to Somalia: the imperial warmongers have won, no matter what the ultimate outcome. More than a million innocent people now lie dead across the three Terror War fronts, but the perpetrators of these crimes — not only the officials in government who order and carry out particular operations, but also the systems that sustain the militarist order (the Pentagon, the arms dealers, the military servicers, the security agencies and their shadow networks, the mercenaries, the innumerable corporations, think tanks, businesses large and small plugged into the profits of the war machine) — go on from strength to strength. The officials either stay on in government, like Pentagon warlord Robert Gates, or go off to honorable, untroubled, and remunerative retirements, like Bush and Cheney, or else park themselves on corporate boards or in their own lucrative “consulting firms” until their particular faction takes power again. Meanwhile, the systems and institutions of militarism grow ever more entrenched and unquestioned and unchallenged.

So in the coming months, as Somalia continues to descend to even deeper levels of hell than the canonical nine circles, we will doubtless hear much consternation in the imperial courts (and their media outlets) about how terrible it all is — along with many calls for even higher military budgets (and more overt and covert military operations) to deal with the “growing danger” spawned in Somalia…by the militarists themselves.

UPDATE: Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition; the masters of war are immune to recession. The Boston Globe reports on one sector of the shipwrecked American economy that is positively thriving in these uncertain times: the death-and-destruction industry. Stocks, bonds, hedge funds, houses, real estate — all are subject to the merciless vagaries of the economic cycle. But blood money always pays big dividends. It’s the safest investment there is.

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