The Somalian lesson

U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has been harshly criticized for seeming to elevate her homeland Somalia over the U.S. in a recent speech she made in her Congressional district. If so, she is not the first politician to tout the glories of a country abroad, but she happened to pick one that demonstrates all the ambiguities of current U.S. foreign policy. Touching that third rail can hurt.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was emphatic. “She should be expelled from Congress, deprived of U. S. citizenship and deported back to Somalia. “ The object of his ire? U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a member of the controversial progressive “squad” in the House of Representatives who added to her controversy by apparently having more praise for her homeland Somalia than for the U.S. in a recent speech to her constituents. Others echoed the DeSantis outrage.

However her words are interpreted, they are not really out of line with American tradition. What country has not at one time or another been grandly touted as an example for America? There’s revolutionary France, mistreated Ireland, besieged Britain, even – let’s face it – communist Russia. All had their adherents, but Congresswoman Omar took a step too far and trod on a most questionable aspect of current U.S. foreign policy – whether we’re doing good of doing bad in our many military interventions in various parts of the world, specifically Africa.

After the 9/11 attack, the gloves as they say were off. The U.S would not just seek revenge but suppress terror and restore democracy around the world, a tall order. An early target was Somalia on the horn of Africa. Its dire poverty called for aid, its terrorist component for bombs. It got both in plentiful supply.  But it turned out bombs were not enough. So the U.S. backed an invasion of Somalia by neighboring Ethiopia which destroyed one violent Islamist group only to give rise to another, Al-Shabaad, that continues to make trouble today. Some five hundred U.S. troops are on hand and Somalia continues to be bombed.

Celebrating a Somalian festival

It is this that angers Congresswoman Omar and may explain any disappointment she expressed with the U.S. in her speech. She complains that the recurring air strikes simply increase support for the terrorists. “It is critical that we realize that we are not going to simply drone the Al-Shabaad problem to death.” She insists that reparation payments should be made to the families of civilians killed in the bombing. More generally, she notes: “Too often U.S policy makes plans for influencing or changing regimes without considering the likelihood of success or the humanitarian consequences.”

Others agree. The U.S. military interventions tend to be too long with rarely an acceptable outcome. There’s the example of the twenty- year Afghan war which ended in a U.S. defeat by the Taliban. Recently, The Intercept got hold of a 2007 U.S Government analysis of the Somalian war that showed there was no clear U.S. goal or coordination among various agencies with an over emphasis on military measures. “This could almost have been written yesterday,” says Elizabeth Shackelford, who served with the U.S State Department in Somalia. Lessons not learned.

One glaring contradiction stands out. While the U.S. purports to be bombing terrorists in Somalia, it may be letting them in across its open southern border. Why kill people over there when you’re welcoming them over here? Belatedly, the U.S. needs to get its Somalia policies together or better yet let Somalia handle its own affairs without intrusive, unsuccessful intervention.

Saving a Mexican journalist

It took him fifteen years, but Emilio Gutierrez Soto was finally granted asylum in the U.S. He needed it. Like other Mexican journalists, he was a special target of the drug cartels who murder a number of newspeople each year for just doing their job. Outside of war zones, more journalists are killed in Mexico than anywhere else on earth. 

Gutierrez Soto reported the every day news in Ascension, a small town in northern Mexico. Inevitably, that included crime which is ever day thanks to the drug cartels. On one occasion he noted that the criminals were outfitted in military uniform. That angered the military since it suggested military and criminals were one and the same, which is the case in Mexico. He was told he was in trouble.

Not heeding the warning, he continued to report and even filed a complaint with the police he had offended. Then  early one morning he and his young son Oscar were awakened by a loud thud on the door. In came a group of heavily armed soldiers who ordered the pair to lie on the floor while they searched the house. “It was a night of terror,” he recalls. 

He wrote up the event for the local newspaper but soon after fled with Oscar to the U.S., applying for asylum at a border  crossing in New Mexico. There began another unexpected ordeal. To attain asylum in the U.S. can be a long drawn out process, and most applications are rejected, though these days asylum seekers can secretly cross an overwhelmed border with the help of a cartel “coyote.” For the next several years, father and son were put on hold, awaiting a decision while living and working on a farm.  Would they be granted asylum or deported back to Mexico? It was a close call.

In 2017 Robert Hough, a federal immigration judge ruled that their story was filled with “inconsistencies, implausibilities and uncorroborated assertions.” He almost seemed to be confirming the cartel’s objection to journalism, though not – to be sure – its ominous warning. With a reputation for rejecting almost all asylum applications, he said the pair could avoid harm by relocating somewhere else in Mexico, apparently ignorant of the fact that the cartels control the whole country. No place would be safe for them.

Put under arrest, they were almost deported, but an appeal panel reversed Hough’s decision, concluding that their fears of persecution on returning were justified. Yes, there is a tight drug cartel control of Mexico. This month Gutierrez Soto was officially granted asylum.

Emilio Gutierrez Soto, Lawyer Beckett and Oscar after asylum announcement.

The National Press Club and others who helped him are pleased with the outcome. But their work is far from over. With an open border at their disposal the cartels are stronger than ever, pushing more drugs and people across for immense profits. Given the hazards of reporting in Mexico, more U.S. press coverage is needed, but is strangely lacking. We probably know more about Yemen and Somalia, with which, it is true, we are at war, than about neighboring Mexico. It’s routinely described in conventional terms when, in fact, it is a narco state, a criminal enterprise, that murders its reporters, some of whom, like Gutierrez Soto, we manage to save.

The Neocon Era

Hard as it is to construct a consistent U.S. foreign policy, considering all the pressures involved, Victoria Nuland managed to achieve it. As a solid member of the so-called neoconservatives whose husband Robert is a chief theorist, she had a clear plan and followed it to the letter. From her perch at the top of the State Department, she backed U.S. expansion into the Middle East, partly for the benefit of Israel, with the ultimate target Russia.

With the controversial wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria behind her she chose Ukraine as her first stop on the way to Russia. She aimed to replace a pro-Russian regime with a pro-American one. Her on-the-spot planning was meticulous down to the last Ukrainian to occupy a new office. “I think Yats is the guy,” she told the compliant U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in a telephone conversation later exposed by the Russians. She was referring to Akseney Yatsenyuk, who indeed became the prime minister after the successful coup. She contemptuously dismissed the doubts of the European Union.

It was a dramatic turnabout. A large country bordering Rusia was now pro-American much to Moscow’s distress. And there was still more. Testifying later before the U.S. Congress, Nuland somewhat reluctantly admitted that Ukraine has a number of biological weapons labs which should be kept out of the hands of the Russians. Their presence indicated a depth of U.S. involvement in the country beyond what was generally realized. The U.S. stake in Ukraine was serious.

With that in mind Nuland and her allies forged ahead, threatening to link Ukraine to NATO in violation of an earlier U.S. pledge not to expand the alliance toward Russia. For Putin a red line had been crossed, and he invaded, starting a war that is still with us. But the neocon goal has not been met. The Russian regime has not been replaced like the Ukrainian. Contrary to expectations, Russia has emerged from the conflict with a stronger military and economy and a ruler more secure than ever. Someone had to take the fall for this, and apparently it was Nuland.

Neocon policy had demonstrated the ample military power of the U.S., but it did not come to a successful conclusion. It will be up to Trump, presuming he’s elected, to fashion a new policy based on his plans for improved relations with Russia and less military action. But his first term leaves some doubt since he appointed two neocons to top positions who promptly turned on him. What has he learned in the meantime? As for departing Nuland, she will be out of sight but probably not out of mind. We will continue to hear from the woman who left an indelible mark on U.S. foreign policy.