December 14, 2010
By mid-2007, the 50,000 Ethiopian
troops that invaded Somalia in late 2006 found themselves increasingly
bogged down, facing much fiercer resistance than they had bargained for
as Somalis of all stripes temporarily put aside their differences to
stand together against the outside invader.
As the military incursion turned increasingly sour, then-U.S.
Undersecretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer, who taught at the
University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in the
1990s, insisted that, prior to the invasion, the United States had
counseled caution and that Washington had warned Ethiopia not to use
military force against Somalia. Frazer was a close collaborator with
former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for whom there also is
a strong University of Denver connection. Frazer certainly tried to
distance the United States from responsibility for the Ethiopian
invasion in a number of interviews she gave to the media at the time.
But one of the released WikiLeaks cables suggests a different
picture, one that implicates Frazer in pressing Ethiopia’s President
Meles Zenawi to invade his neighbor. The content of the cable is being
widely discussed in the African media. It exposes a secret deal cut between the United States and Ethiopia to invade Somalia.
If accurate – and there is no reason to believe the contrary – the
cable suggests that Ethiopia had no intention of invading Somalia in
2006 but was encouraged/pressured to do so by the United States,
which pushed Ethiopia behind the scenes. Already bogged down in wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan at the time, the Bush administration pushed
Ethiopia to invade Somalia with an eye on crushing the Union of Islamic
Courts, which was gaining strength in Somalia at the time.
At the time of the invasion there was little doubt that the Ethiopian
military incursion was "made in Washington." Like so many other
WikiLeaks cables, this one merely puts a dot on the "i" or crosses the
"t" on what was generally known, although it does give specific
information about Jendayi Frazer’s deep involvement in the affair.
According to the cable, as the main U.S. State Department
representative in Africa, Frazer played a key role, spearheading what
amounted to a U.S.-led proxy war in conjunction with the Pentagon. At
the same time that she was pushing the Ethiopians to attack, Frazer was
laying the groundwork both for the attack in the U.S. media and for a
cover-up by claiming that although the United States did not support
Ethiopian military action, she could understand "the Somali threat" and
why Ethiopia might find it necessary to go to war.
Frazer spread rumors of a possible jihadist takeover in Somalia that
would threaten Ethiopian security. Turns out that media performance was
little more than a smokescreen. The U.S. military had been preparing
Ethiopia for the invasion, providing military aid and training Ethiopian
troops. Then on Dec. 4, 2006, CENTCOM Commander Gen. John
Abizaid was in Addis Ababa on what was described as "a courtesy call."
Instead, the plans for the invasion were finalized.
At the time of the Somali invasion, Zenawi found himself in trouble.
He was facing growing criticism for the wave of repression he had
unleashed against domestic Ethiopian critics of his rule that had
included mass arrests, the massacres of hundreds of protesters, and the
jailing of virtually all the country’s opposition leaders. By the spring
of 2006 there was a bill before the U.S. Congress to cut off aid to
Zenawi unless Ethiopia’s human rights record improved. (His human rights
record, by the way, has not improved since. Given how the United States
and NATO view Ethiopia’s strategic role in the "war on terrorism" and
the scramble for African mineral and energy resources, Western support for Zenawi has only increased in recent years.)
In 2006, dependent on U.S. support to maintain power in face of a
shrinking political base at home – a situation many U.S. allies in the
Third World find themselves in – and against his better judgment, Zenawi
apparently caved to Frazer’s pressure. Nor was this the first time that
Frazer had tried to instigate a U.S. proxy war in Africa. Earlier as
U.S. ambassador to South Africa, she had tried to put together a
"coalition of the willing" to overthrow Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, an
initiative that did not sit well with South Africa’s post-apartheid
government and went nowhere.
The 2006 war in Somalia did not go well either for the United States
or Ethiopia. Recently, a State Department spokesperson, Donald Yamamoto,
admitted that the whole idea was "a big mistake," obliquely admitting
U.S. responsibility for the invasion. It resulted in 20,000 deaths and
according to some reports, left up to 2 million Somalis homeless. The
50,000 Ethiopian invasion force, which had expected a cakewalk, instead
ran into a buzz saw of Somali resistance, got bogged down, and soon
withdrew with its tail between its legs. The political result of the
invasion was predictable: the generally more moderate Union of Islamic
Courts was weakened, but it was soon replaced in Somalia by far more
radical and militant Islamic groups with a more openly anti-American
As the situation deteriorated, in an attempt to cover both the U.S.
and her own role, Frazer then turned on Zenawi, trying to distance
herself from the fiasco using an old and tried diplomatic trick: outright
lying. Now that the invasion had turned sour, she changed her tune,
arguing in the media that both she and the State Department had tried
to hold back the Ethiopians, discouraging them from invading rather than
pushing them to attack. The WikiLeaks cable tells quite a different
story. In 2009, the Ethiopian forces withdrew, leaving Somalia in a
bigger mess and more unstable than when their troops went in three years
prior. Seems to be a pattern here?
Reprinted courtesy of Foreign Policy in Focus.