According to Reuters, there have been up to 120 American soldiers in Somalia since 2007 to assist authorities there in their fight against the radical Islamist group Al Shabaab. Although U.S. officials say they are there in merely an advisory role, the fact that this is only being disclosed now is yet another disturbing revelation from a government that believes it can operate in total secrecy. But more than that, the U.S. finds itself in yet another country futilely trying to stem the tide of Islamic extremism.
Like the deployment of U.S. forces in Uganda and Iraq (again), President Obama is maintaining a military presence in Somalia without congressional authorization and, until now, without public knowledge. Of course, this fact will be met with shrugs of unconcern, as Americans are shockingly disinterested in foreign policy. The general attitude seems to be that if deploying a few soldiers in Somalia or droning some suspected terrorists in Yemen will help fight terrorism, then the president should be able to do that.
Except there’s one problem.
It’s not working.
Since the September 11 attacks on the U.S., terrorist attacks have increased dramatically throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, especially in places where the U.S. has militarily intervened, with the three most affected countries being: Afghanistan, which the U.S. invaded; Iraq, which the U.S. invaded; and Pakistan, which is where the U.S. carries out extremely unpopular drone strikes that kill militants and innocents alike. The feeling is palpable in countries with large Muslim populations, as growing numbers of people in them are increasingly worried about terrorism.
The ascendance of the extremist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a case in point. ISIL has taken over chunks of northern Iraq, a development for which Obama has been blamed by not maintaining troops in Iraq. But an indefinite American military presence in countries afflicted with substantial extremist elements is hardly a solution, especially considering that these regions are in the state they’re in after enduring U.S. military intervention.
That’s why U.S. support of the non-ISIL rebels in Syria, for example, is a horrible idea. As bad as Bashar al-Assad is, at least he’s the devil you know. Historically, U.S. policymakers have prided themselves on being able to manufacture coups and then installing their preferred leaders, but today the risks associated with creating a power vacuum in a volatile country are often far too great to be worth attempting.
What it comes down to is that the U.S. has never had a coherent policy for dealing with the Middle East, North Africa, and East Africa. At least not in the last half century or so. For all its interventions, the U.S. has been largely unable to bend countries in these regions in accordance with its whims. When it has tried, it has often failed and spectacularly so.
The sensible thing to do is to stop the interventions and hit the reset button. The amount of anti-Americanism fomented by actions carried out in the name of countering anti-Americanism among others rises in correlation with the amount of meddling by the U.S. While the American presence in Somalia is small, it’s part of a broader, wrongheaded strategy based on the idea that if only the U.S. got more involved, the situation would improve.