Yesterday, AFRICOM, the U.S. military’s Africa Command, became operational. It will be incorporated into the United States’ African strategy. But is this increased presence good for Africa?

Let’s look at Somalia, in the news again this week after a Ukrainian ship loaded with 33 tanks of cargo was pirated off its lawless coast.

Since 1991, Somalia has lacked a government and has been plagued by competing warlords, leaving the country in ruins and causing innumerable casualties. That almost changed in 2006. For the first time in almost two decades, a group known as the Union of Islamic Courts was on the verge of unifying the country and establishing relative stability and rule of law.

That almost happened, except for some reason the United States feels that the best way to secure its interests is to interfere with the natural course of events abroad.

Where has this screwing around gotten us in the past? These interventionist solutions tend to backfire. For example, our oil-driven installation and support of the autocratic Shah in Iran (secret police and all) eventually led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the current Iranian government to power. There’s a reason why that government dislikes the United States, and, no, it’s not because it “envies our way of life.” It’s because more than 30 years ago, we supported the guy who oppressed, jailed and shot at many of its current members.

And then there were all the other screw-ups. We helped to create the Taliban, and turned what would have been a short internal Vietnamese conflict into a prolonged war, to name a couple. What did these actions have in common? Our government thought that it would counter communism, and it was, therefore, in the national interest. But in the long run none worked, and these policies only returned to haunt us — the Taliban would turn against us, and the Vietnam war would go down in history as a tremendous defeat for the United States, let alone devastating to the Vietnamese.

But communism was the old enemy. Today, the target is terrorism. That’s why Somalia had to lose its shot at peace, and in 2006 we destroyed its best shot at stability in 17 years.

The United States believed that the rise of an Islamist movement in Somalia would transform the country into a terrorist safe haven. That’s why when the UIC began to gain control over large areas of the country, the United States intervened and in a matter of days shattered the order established by the UIC.

It did not matter that the UIC’s leader was a moderate, or that the UIC represented a popularly supported union of judicial organizations, performing governmental functions and providing police health and educational services. An Islamist government was unacceptable.

There weren’t big headlines about that, but in late 2006 a number of U.S. special forces and gunships were sent to Somalia. An unknown number of Somalis were also captured, detained and interrogated — and these guys didn’t have the American Civil Liberties Union crying on their behalf.

It did not end there. We sponsored an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia — a very bad move given the long history (over 400 years) of animosity between the two countries. The United States historically sucks at winning “hearts and minds,” but this was a particularly thoughtless act. The United States aims to counter terrorism, or at least ostensibly place itself in a position where its actions won’t inflame terrorist causes. And then we go sponsor the invasion of a Muslim country by a Christian one. Whatever the reason, it looks bad. And make no mistake, it has been a hot recruiting point for the very sort of groups that the United States aims to contain.

But the United States knows best. Removing the UIC has once again plunged the country into war and lawlessness. And then there is the bit about countering terrorism. Disorder and resentment have a way of defying that goal — in fact, since the 2006 U.S. intervention a group known as Al-Shabab has splintered away from the remnants of the UIC, and earlier this year the U.S. State Department officially recognized Al-Shabab as a brand new terrorist organization.

Added to that, the UIC seems to be making a comeback in some areas — you can bet it’ll be a bit more “extreme” this time around.

Ibrahim Kakwan can be reached at ijameel@umich.edu.

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