May 25, 2013
Us vs. Them
Posted on May 6, 2008
By James Harris
Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus, argues for a more humane foreign policy and explains why American airstrikes in Somalia and elsewhere are about more than terrorism.
Click here to listen to a recording of this interview.
James Harris: This is Truthdig. James Harris here with Emira Woods, the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus. I really wanted to share with you what Emira and I were talking about, because people are dying. The U.S. is responsible for the death of those people, and there are intentions and agendas in play in Somalia and Ethiopia on the northeast coast of Africa that, frankly, are not being talked about in American media.
Emira Woods: Clearly, this is an issue that needs to be dug up even further, and I just thank you for your resource in shedding light on these often neglected and overlooked stories. So I am happy to talk about Somalia. Clearly, Somalia is of strategic importance to the United States. It is this week [interview was conducted in March] that there were U.S. airstrikes on Somalia. It has followed a year of successive airstrikes on Somalia. So the end result has been Somali civilians killed as the U.S. pursues its so-called war on terror. Essentially, the rhetoric of the Bush administration is that they are seeking the terrorists that were involved in the bombing of the U.S. embassies 10 years ago, that they have intelligence that those terrorists went into hiding in Somalia 10 years ago, and that these airstrikes are to get them, to get those terrorists. That’s the rhetoric. The reality is that Somalia has been of strategic importance for quite some time and, really, throughout the Cold War—it’s not a recent phenomenon—throughout the Cold War, first the U.S. and then the USSR, they took turns to control and to assert their influence over Somalia. Their proxy wars happened in Somalia. Why? Because of the strategic location of Somalia. Somalia is right off the Indian Ocean; it’s the Gulf of Aden. Without control over this vital water resource, this vital waterway, all of the shipping, including the oil resources that come from the Middle East to the U.S. and the rest of the world, could be impacted. So what you have is a vital location for Somalia, its richness of its coast. Because of that you had successive attempts to control Somalia during the Cold War period. This all ended when the Cold War ended. And back in 1991, the dictator, really, that controlled Somalia, lost all his external support and was ousted.
Harris: And who was put in? Who was put in?
Harris: Until 2005 ...
Woods: Fifteen years! 2006, about 2006, this formation of a government—so there were many attempts to form a government, many of them happening in Kenya, interestingly enough, with some support from the international community, but many of those attempts failed because they did not get the buy-in from the majority of the Somali people. Now, in June 2006 a government came to power that finally got support from the majority of the Somali people. Now, the thing is, it called itself the Union of Islamic Courts. And you know, for the Bush administration. ...
Woods: You know, that’s a word that goes too far for them. And so the Bush administration decided, “No, no, no! That government must not stand.” The Bush administration ignored Somali opinion, which essentially said, “For the first time in 15 years there’s peace. And there’s a prospect for further peace.”
Harris: Because the people in Somalia agree on their government ...
Woods: People agreed on the government. The government was able to maintain security. So, for the first time, people could send their children to school without worries of attacks. Women could walk the streets and go to the market without worries of rape or attacks. There was a sense of stability for the first time.
Harris: All right, are you a fan of the government during that time?
Woods: Well, clearly, the government was in place from June 2006 to December 2006, when the U.S. decided that they had to go. So it was a six-month period, right?
Harris: Of bliss.
Woods: A six-month period of peace. But it was short-lived. So it’s hard to say what that government would have or could have done.
Harris: And what happened, what happened after ....
Woods: Essentially, what happened ...
Harris: ... peace?
Woods: In December ‘06 the U.S. started their airstrikes and they had, also, their proxy army, really, the Ethiopian army, come in on the land, on ground. So you had ground forces from the Ethiopians, air attacks from the U.S. that dislodged that government in Somalia, killing ...
Harris: And they ...
Woods: ... in the process of fighting.
Harris: So they are a fighting army.
Woods: Fighting army from Ethiopia. Fighting army from the U.S. Attacking Somalis to dislodge a government supported by the Somali people. This is the essence of it. So the Bush administration, as is the case in many instances, picks sides, right? They pick sides based on their view of the world, this lens of Islamo-terrorist, Islamo-extremist—however you call it, right?—us versus them. And the “them” ... the government supported by Somalis but not a government that the U.S. was in support of. And so what they did was, they did whatever could be possible, including direct attacks to dislodge that government. So there is now a transitional, interim government that has been imposed on the Somali people, with support of the U.S. and the Ethiopian army. And of course the Somalis see this as a government that’s supported by external agents and that’s not legitimate. So there has been continuous, over the last year, outbreaks of tension, of outright fighting and complete instability. And we see, just this week the U.S., through their airstrikes, continuing to foment the tension to get their way in Somalia.
Harris: And who are they striking?
Woods: So they are ...
Harris: Is that a dumb question? Who are they ... ? Are people getting killed? Where are they hidden? Are these strategic strikes or are they strategic strikes like Bill Clinton’s during the 1997 Afghanistan?
Woods: James, let me tell you: They are hitting civilians. This is what has been reported repeatedly. From those airstrikes back in December ‘06 to the airstrikes of this week, none of these supposed terrorists or extremists have been found or have been killed. It is women. You hear the stories this week of women and children being killed by the U.S. airstrikes. And so you see that, regardless of their rhetoric, the result is that civilians are being attacked. Civilians are being killed by an irresponsible U.S. foreign policy.
Harris: There was that one moment in that movie “Blood Diamond,” where the movie was ...
Woods: It was a good movie.
Harris: It was legitimized by this one statement, “This is Africa.” That anything that goes on in Africa could be made acceptable, could be overlooked, and could be forgotten. Is this another example of this being “That’s just Africa”?
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