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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Here's a Crazy Idea -- What if the US were Actually Helpful?

If you look at the map, it looks like this -- from left to right -- Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia. The war between the weak somali government and the Islamic Courts Union is one thing. The genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan is another, separate conflict. But as both conflicts grow, the danger of the wars overlapping and becoming a single conflict becomes more and more real.

Ethiopia, squeezed between these two wars, has been pulled into the fight in Somalia.

Mainichi Daily News:

Somalia's Islamic militia said Saturday it has trained special forces to carry out guerrilla warfare against Ethiopian troops supporting the U.N.-backed government.

The announcement came during a lull in fighting between the militia and government forces. Islamic forces have declared they want to bring the whole country under Quranic rule and vowed to continue attacks to drive out troops from neighboring Ethiopia, a largely Christian nation that is providing military support.

On Friday, officials said hundreds of people have been killed since Tuesday night.

Ethiopian tanks have moved into the fight, bringing with them the possibility that Somalia may become a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Since Ethiopia isn't all that safe, refugees from Darfur head west, away from the conflicts, creating a humanitarian crisis in Chad.

Yeah, it's complicated. Sometimes, I think wars begin when things get so complex that no one can keep track of them anymore. Call them 'wars of confusion.'

The crisis in Chad is stressing a nation that can't bear a lot of stress. Worse, the story is being told almost entirely by aid organizations and the UN -- it seems that no one outside Africa really cares or, more likely, the conflicts have gotten so byzantine that people have just lost track of them.

Doctors Without Borders:

The UN and main international aid organizations have drastically reduced their programs in eastern Chad. It is the Sudanese refugees from Darfur who will suffer from this decision, as well as the internally displaced Chadians who have fled the violence of various armed groups. Despite difficult security conditions, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is maintaining its assistance programs.

On Goz Beida's dirt-track airstrip, which stretches out in the middle of nowhere, humanitarian workers struggle to get a place on the small plane that goes to Abeche, the largest town in the region. The regular flight service is not enough to evacuate the employees of the main aid organizations. Invoking the security situation, the World Food Program, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and many other private organizations have drastically reduced their intervention capacities in Dar Sila, as well as in all eastern Chad. This region, which borders Sudan, had seen the arrival of Sudanese refugees fleeing Darfur in 2003, but today it is above all the scene of violence against Chadian civilians. Several tens of thousands of civilians have fled their villages to escape organized attacks, pillaging, and murders committed by different armed groups since the end of 2005.

It's not that the UN doesn't care, it's that they've got so much on their plate. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called for international assistance in Chad.

UN News Centre:

The head of the United Nations refugee agency today visited strife-torn eastern Chad, calling for a stronger international presence to protect hundreds of thousands of Sudanese fleeing war in their homeland, Chadians displaced by the spreading violence, and aid workers trying to maintain a vital lifeline to the victims of the conflict.

"This is a moment in which a very important decision is taking place... about the possibility of a presence of a multi-dimensional nature in Chad and the northern Central African Republic," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres said before leaving N'Djamena, the Chadian capital, for the conflict zone.

"UNHCR has been clearly advocating in favour of that presence trying to create better security conditions for refugees, for displaced people and for the civilian population," he added, noting that one plan involved moving the refugee camps hundreds of miles away from the border zone with Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region.

Meanwhile, Somalia's seeing the rise of a new taliban. The US, tied down with an idiotic snipe hunt in Iraq and worried about a nuclear program that's just past the notional phase in Iran, shows no interest in a conflict that has the potential to bring islamic fundamentalism deep into Africa. President Bush has called Iraq 'the central front on the war on terror,' but Bush's front is thousands of miles away from the actual war. Somalia is almost certain to fall, Ethiopia could, Darfur's already gone, and Chad's in danger. Eritrea and the Central African Republic are in the mix.

Our answer is to chase around militias in Iraq, miles and miles away from Darfur or Somalia. Who cares about Ethiopia or Eritrea or freakin' Chad? In the simplistic reasoning of the neocons, islamic extremism is a completely middle eastern thing. It's about arabs and persians in Iraq and Iran, not africans. Africa's too hard to understand and too hard to spin. So we fight the war where the war is not.

It wouldn't be easy to resolve the conflicts in northeast Africa and the odds are real good that it won't turn out ideally, no matter what we do. But doesn't that also describe Iraq? I'd bet real money that we'll leave Iraq as a basket case when we do finally leave -- no better than it was and maybe (OK, certainly) worse. Meanwhile, we can actually save people in Africa.

Maybe the way to fight this 'war on terror' thing is the hard way. Punching people in the face until they agree to love us isn't really going to work. As things are now, people around the world see the US military coming and think, "Crap! Here comes the explosions and the bloodshed and the hiding in the basement and praying..."

What if we changed? What would the world be like for the United States if people saw a military uniform and their first impulse was to tell the nice fella from Kansas where to put the fresh water or the nice lady from Michigan where the electrical lines are?

What if we were -- *gasp* -- helpful?

As it is now, people see a US military uniform, scream, and dive behind the nearest flaming wreck of a car. We are not helpful, we are chaos. Most people aren't really fans of chaos. So we have enemies.

It'd take a while, but we can change the way people see us. It'd be expensive, but war is expensive and, frankly, not all that effective. The genocide in Bosnia can be traced back to a battle lost in the middle ages. Some fights don't resolve anything, they just cement the conflict in the culture.

And complaining about the expense of being helpful is a little hard to swallow when we seem to have plenty of money for wars -- hundreds of billions, in fact -- that aren't helpful.

Maybe the end of conflict is really simple -- just stop fighting and start helping. We can start in Africa.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Google for 'British Army hearts and minds policy'. Contrast with idiot American soldiers and their gung-ho 'by the balls policy'. I hate Americans, they're so stupid.