Comment by Norm Dixon and Lisa Macdonald
Under the guise of a "humanitarian mission" to ensure that food reaches starving people, a US-led force of almost 35,000 heavily armed combat troops have firmly entrenched themselves in Somalia. Despite the rhetoric of compassion and carefully staged "heart-warming" photos of beefy marines cradling smiling thankful children, the aim of "Operation Restore Hope" is to set a precedent for military intervention in the Third World and to defend US economic and military interests.
Approved by the United Nations after the event and under US command, the force consists of 23,000 US troops and contingents from 20 other countries. It includes 930 Australian elite infantry personnel, the first Australian fighting troops to be deployed overseas since the Vietnam War. The force is equipped with overwhelming firepower: tanks, artillery, fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships.
From the beginning, the intervention was intended to communicate raw power rather than compassion. On December 9, 1800 US troops, armed to the teeth stormed an undefended beach in Mogadishu to be welcomed by waiting television crews. The landing was carefully timed to be broadcast during prime time evening television in the US.
At the city's airport, US soldiers "secured" an empty hangar by rousing four unarmed men from sleep, screaming at them to spread-eagle on the tarmac. Somali civilians were handcuffed and roughed up. Cobra and UH-1 helicopter gunships continually fly low and hover over streets, ready to obliterate any vehicle or building that "threatens" them. Troops patrol the streets as if at war.
The first deaths occurred when French and US troops opened fire on unarmed civilians whose van's brakes failed as it approached a roadblock. Two Somalis were killed. At least 20 other Somalis have been killed in encounters with the invaders. Defending the level of force being used, spokesperson marine Colonel Fred Peck said it was making the point that "we are here and we are here for serious business".
In the occupation's second month, many Somali civilians, who at first welcomed the troops, are beginning to resent their presence. Two US personnel have been killed, and attacks on the occupiers have escalated.
It is estimated that more than 300,000 Somalis have died of hunger and disease since 1991. Another 2 million, out of a population of 7 million, are at risk.
The country's plight is largely the result of the West's refusal to come to the aid of the Somali people immediately after the January 1991 mass uprising which ousted the US-backed dictatorship of Siad Barre. Since 1978, the US had propped up the brutal regime to the tune
Barre unsuccessfully used this aid to fend off the revolt. The subsequent fighting all but destroyed Somalia's economy, infrastructure and social fabric. In the final period of the Barre regime, virtually all foreign aid was halted, and UN agencies and most Western charities withdrew. Yet, after the fall of Barre, they did not return when they were needed most.
By April 1991, Mogadishu was already in the grip of famine. Save the Children warned that 500,000 of the city's 1.3 million people needed emergency aid. Seventy-five children a day were dying.
The refusal to provide immediate and massive aid added to the already herculean task that faced the disparate and ill-prepared forces that overthrew the dictator. It made a rapid return to stability impossible.
The UN, its agencies and the West ignored the warnings by aid agencies that only massive aid could relieve mounting hunger and defuse the armed squabbling over scarce food supplies.
Tensions between rival factions and their desperately hungry followers were soon aggravated to such an extent that political unity between them became impossible. The tensions finally exploded into serious armed clashes, banditry and looting last November.
It is estimated by relief agencies that 60,000 tonnes of food are needed per month simply to halt the immediate carnage. Yet last year only 200,000 tonnes of relief aid were sent to Somalia, and of this only 17,000 tonnes came from the US.
Washington is taking advantage of the desperate situation it helped create to boost its ability to use military might abroad. "There is no government in Somalia. Law and order has broken down. Anarchy prevails", US President George Bush cynically said on December 4. "The people of Somalia, especially the children of Somalia, need our help."
The awful suffering of starving children offered the perfect opportunity for the imperialist powers to establish the precedent of unilateral intervention on "humanitarian" grounds. Believing claims that something must be done to relieve the misery in Somalia, ordinary people in the West, most aid agencies and others usually opposed to US military policies abroad gave the US action the benefit of the doubt.
New York Times columnist William Safire, in a December article pointedly titled "Right to intervene", wrote: "Anarchy offers the obvious invitation to intervene, as is the case in Somalia. Nobody could rationally object to our riding massive shotgun on the humanitarian relief coach."
Once accepted, this "right" can be used whenever the political and economic situation in a country seriously threatens US interests. The US need only destabilise a regime it does not like by creating or supporting internal dissent, or imposing economic blockades and it for a fortuitous natural disaster, then step in and impose its will.
Already the more bellicose ranters in the capitalist media are advocating that the new doctrine of "humanitarian" intervention be applied to Bosnia, Sudan, Liberia, Angola, Mozambique and Zaire.
A related motive for the invasion was outlined in the December 1992 issue of the US magazine, Navy Times. David Winterford, "National Security Affairs instructor" at the Naval Post-Graduate School in California, is quoted as saying Somalia's "geography is priceless. Whoever controls Somalia could control the southern entrance to the Red Sea and thus the Suez Canal ... And whoever controls Somalia is 200 miles from Yemen and 400 miles from Saudi Arabia, a prime location from which to influence the political stability of the Middle East.
"Middle East stability is dear to the United States and other Western nations whose economies run on low-priced Middle Eastern oil ... The humanitarian mission [in Somalia] is there. But there are lots of instances of starvation around the world that receive little or no official notice from the US government. Here, we can see geostrategic reasons."
The article pointed out that the region's strategic importance had "begun to revive recently amid indications that Iran may be interested in including Somalia in its sphere of influence ... the collapse of any semblance of government in Somalia made it a likely target for Iranian influence."
Linked to this is a fear in Washington that the growing Islamic fundamentalist movements in the region may threaten US interests. During the Gulf War many of these movements, once considered useful to the US since they countered nationalist and left-wing currents, defied the US and their Saudi and Egyptian patrons and sided with Iraq. Some have since shifted their allegiances to Iran.
Sudan has also emerged as a concern to the US over its government's support for the fundamentalist movement in Egypt, which is gaining a lot of support. Egypt, a key US ally, has denounced Sudan as a threat to its national security.
There are murmurs within the US administration that intervention to "protect" Sudan's Christian minority in the south may be necessary. For decades the West has ignored the government's vicious war on the south, which has caused a famine just as severe as that in Somalia.
"Operation Restore Hope" is not the mercy mission that it is being painted. It is a return to the unabashed gunboat diplomacy that many thought a thing of the past. From Grenada to the Gulf War, from Los Angeles to Somalia, the increasing use of US military might to quell the effects of deteriorating economic and social conditions and to advance US interests is becoming the hallmark of the United States' "new" world order.