Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Gambler doubles his stakes. Bush in Somalia.

Has there ever been a US President who was more scornful of the wishes of the US electorate?

Knowing that his war in Iraq was primarily responsible for his defeat in the mid erm elections, Bush vowed to listen to the American people... and then promptly ignored them by making plans to increase troops level there by up to 20,000.

Now he has gone ever further by opening up a new battleground in the War in Terror by attacking Somalia.

Pentagon officials said the targets were al-Qaida members who organised the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Top of the hit list was a Sudanese explosives expert called Abu Taha al-Sudani, thought to be the head of al-Qaida operations in east Africa. But the issue here is not Washington's right to strike back at its sworn enemies, but how many innocents are wiped out in the process. One of the instruments used was extremely blunt, an AC130 gunship which strafed a village near the Kenyan border. The tactic is well proven in Afghanistan and Iraq: kill everything that moves within given coordinates and then see who you have got afterwards. It's the military equivalent of drift-net fishing.

Unlike when you are fishing, you can't throw the minnows back into the sea afterwards, and the battle for Somalia is all about the minnows.

One can't help but think that there's an element of opportunism in this most recent US attack. Bush seeks to remind the American electorate of the worldwide nature of his War on Terror as he prepares to do the one thing Americans have signalled that they do not want. Escalate the war in Iraq.

Oh, he may give it fancy names like, "Surge and Accelerate", but it's an escalation any way you choose to look at it.

Bizarrely, the attack on Somalia may well bring about an increase in support for the very forces that Bush is attempting to remind the American public that it is so important so suppress.

Somali officials said at least 27 people were killed in the air strikes led by AC-130 gunships around Ras Kamboni. It was not clear whether any of the dead were al-Qaida operatives, although Pentagon officials confirmed that bodies had been seen on the ground.

The village of Haya near the Kenyan border was also strafed on Monday, Somali officials said, and there were further reports of operations yesterday.

The number of innocents killed with have a direct effect on the way the US is viewed within Somalia and a direct effect on the recruiting efforts of al-Qaida in that country, not to mention the chances of the new "government" from surviving. There are many who would argue that the US attacking another Muslim country at this time is simply giving al-Qaida a new recruiting poster. Bush would, no doubt, argue that he is taking on the bad guys.

But analysts said it remained an enormous challenge to establish the whereabouts of suspected al-Qaida cells, or to carry out an accurate strike given the limitations of the AC-130.

"It's akin to the heart of darkness, just shooting into the jungle," said Bob Baer, a former CIA agent. "At the end of the day you are just making more enemies."

Meanwhile, British officials warned of the prospect of al-Qaida followers - or "jihadists" as they called them - turning their attention to Ethiopia in response to its army's role in overthrowing the Union of Islamic Courts and forcing its members to flee Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

The officials said that these Islamic extremist fighters could now be planning to attack Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

The officials also said that other Islamic Court fighters could be regrouping in Kenya. Though the Somali border with Kenya was patrolled it was not sealed, a source said.

The European Commission, who are Somalia's largest donor, have called the strikes, "not helpful".

Bush is now beginning to resemble nothing so much as a demented gambler, doubling his stakes with each loss he endures. Widening wars when the electorate wish to see war scaled back. Increasing troop levels in Iraq where the electorate want troops brought home.

The intervention of James Baker was widely attacked by Bill Kristol and others on the right for not spelling out how victory could be achieved in Iraq. Of course, the unspoken message under Baker's report was that the war is lost. Baker simply wanted to give Bush a face saving way out, so he described a way to evacuate troops without Iraq falling into civil war (though he was careful to note that such an outcome could not be guaranteed) and label this "victory".

Bush has cast all such caution to the wind, doubling his stakes at the roulette wheel, betting that something - anything - will materialise, allowing him to grab victory from the jaws of defeat.

This is no longer a policy. It's a desperate gamble. And it's no way for the most powerful country in the world to conduct it's foreign policy.

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