The Dark Continents
Great and regional power politics have arrived in the dusty, but strategically important Horn of Africa. The Agonist, recently returned from Ethiopia, believes the recent attack on a Chinese oilfield shows that Beijing, voracious for fuel, must now pay for its growing role in Africa. The Washington Post apparently agrees. "It must now decide how much to get involved in other countries' internal security issues." Ethiopia is in a similar position regionally, having incurred the wrath of its neighbor Eritrea among others. Somalia has blamed Eritrea for sponsoring the oilfield raid, and the Strategy Page explains that in the civil war in Somalia, Eritrea and the Islamic rebels support one faction and Ethiopia supports the other. And the nations, once on opposite sides, soon begin to search for ways to attack each other.
A week of fighting in Mogadishu is basically a resumption of civil war, with the Hawiye (a clan name) coalition of clans on one side and the Darod (another clan) coalition on the other. The Hawiye are backed by Eritrea and Islamic radicals, while Darod is allied with Ethiopia and the many nations that helped put the Transitional Government together. The U.S. has openly accused Eritrea of supporting the Islamic Courts militias, and helping to prolong the fighting.
During the Cold War, many internal conflicts acquired an international dimension as each side sought superpower sponsors. The collapse of the Soviet union momentarily removed the threat of foreign intervention in local conflicts. But in 1979, a new international force in the shape of radical Islam came on to the world stage after the fall of the Shah, while for unrelated reasons China, India and a number of other formerly Third World countries began to transform themselves into Great Powers. As the War in Iraq and events on the Horn of Africa show, Great Power involvement in local conflict is back. In the al-Qaeda and the Hezbollah, as well as numerous other groups with different names but of identical character, the radical Islamism has found its shock troops.
On the Horn of Africa rebels as well as regional powers have lined up their respective sponsors. Ever since the "Blackhawk Down" episode, events in Mogadishu have ceased to be purely local. Into the miserable shantytowns of Africa have been drawn the contending forces of the world, with al-Qaeda reprising the role of the Condor Legion or the International Brigades in Spain, as the reader prefers.
In the meantime the Washington Post describes how the stage for a confrontation between Congress and the President has been set over Iraq. "The House on Wednesday narrowly approved a $124 billion war spending bill that would require American troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq by Oct. 1, setting the stage for the first veto fight between President Bush and majority Democrats." Joe Gandelman believes hardline forces will gather on either side of the issue. Some conservative blogs are already characterizing Congress' action as unilateral surrender. Just as in the 1930s, America is wracked by a debate over whether a global threat exists at all, or whether it is simply imagined by politicians hungry for foreign adventure. Some will argue that even if a threat exists, it will be sufficient to create a Fortress America to ride out the storm. Who can say? History often returns in familiar forms, but never twice in the same way.