The Kenyan Massacre's Roots in America's Somalia Policy

How many times do we have to experience blowback before the American people cry, "Enough!"?


Last weekend's hostage-taking — and the murder of at least 62 people — at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, has its roots in the U.S. government's intervention in Somalia, which began in the 1990s. Although there is no justification for killing innocents, it is fair to point out that al-Shabaab, the Islamist group that committed the attack on the mall and that controls parts of Somalia, would probably not be in power if not for the United States.

As Scott Horton, host of a nationwide radio program focusing on foreign policy, points out in the September issue of Future of Freedom (which I edit), the U.S. government has intervened directly in Somalia and backed repeated invasions by neighboring African states, including Kenya. In the process, a relatively moderate government was overthrown, resistance to invaders was radicalized, and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab gained partial control, which would have been unlikely without that intervention.

Horton, drawing on firsthand reporting by journalist Jeremy Scahill, notes that after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration compiled a list of countries "ripe for 'regime change,'" including Somalia, "none of which had any involvement whatsoever in the attacks or any real ties to those who did.… Luckily for the Pentagon and CIA, it was not very difficult to find cutthroat warlords willing to accept their cash to carry out targeted assassinations and kidnappings against those they accused of being Islamists — or anyone else they felt like targeting."

A backlash followed. Somalia's Islamic Courts Union, a coalition of a dozen groups, put down the warlords and the U.S.-sponsored Transitional Federal Government. "The ICU then declared the reign of Islamic law," Horton writes. "That, of course, was none of America's business, and even if it had been, the Somali regime lacked the power to create an authoritarian religious state like, say, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.… And Somalia's traditional Muslim beliefs were much more laid-back and tolerant than those in Arabia."

This was unacceptable to the Bush administration, so in late 2006 it had Ethiopia, its Christian client state and an old Somalia antagonist, invade and overthrow the ICU, "with CIA and special-operations officers leading the attack." In 2008, however, Somalis kicked the Ethiopians out. Helping in the effort was, in Horton's words, "the youngest and least influential group in the ICU, al-Shabaab ('the youth')." On its way out of power the Bush administration, seeking to save face, got the "old men of the ICU" to agree to "accept the form of the Transitional Federal Government." This only inflamed al-Shabaab, which accused them of being American agents.

"It was only then — years after the whole mess began — that it declared loyalty to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda. It started acting like al-Qaeda too, implementing Arabian-style laws and punishments in the areas they dominated, such as cutting off the hands of those accused of stealing," Horton writes.

Unfortunately, the Obama team has continued along the same disastrous path:

After the Ethiopians withdrew, [the administration] sent in the armies of Uganda and Burundi under the auspices of the African Union to hunt down and destroy al-Shabaab. Then came the Kenyans, who apparently panicked after luxury resorts near their border had come under attack. In 2011 the Ethiopians reinvaded. Kenyan forces took the port city of Kismayo from al-Shabaab in 2012 and loudly declared victory when the rebels melted away. But the stubborn insurgency continues the fight.

The Americans, for their part, continue to back the invading forces, as well as what passes for the "government" in Mogadishu, with hundreds of tons of weapons and tens of millions of dollars.

The CIA and the U.S. military still take a direct hand, not only by helping the nominal government, but also by attacking Somalis with helicopters, cruise missiles, and drones — and, Horton writes, "by overseeing at least two different torture dungeons."

The horrendous attack in Nairobi has the news media abuzz over possible terrorist threats to "soft targets" such as shopping malls, not only in Africa but also in the United States itself. As we think about this, we should realize that this is a threat made in Washington, DC.

How many times do we have to experience what the CIA calls "blowback" before the American people cry, "Enough!"?

This column originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Freedom Foundation.

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  1. How many times do we have to experience what the CIA calls “blowback” before the American people cry, “Enough!”?

    But I’ve been assured on many occasions that “blowback” is just an idiotic Paul-tard meme.

    1. By buttplug? I expect he’s got a different definition of blowback.

    2. It is. The only ‘blowback’ from Somalia is 1) Crushing Al-Shabab and 2) More shitty articles from butthurt peacenazis.

  2. ISLAMIC LAW OF ANY KIND SHOULD NOT BE TOLERATED. WE need to do everything we can to put down the very idea of religious law anywhere in the world. Hell we should support the overthrow of the saudi royal family as they are entirely evil. We should also not trade with any country that has religious based laws of any kind, nor acknowledged any government that embraces any kind of religious law as a legitimate government.

    1. Or we could not mix religion and government and mind our own business.

    2. You mean we should abolish trial by jury? That was originated by Islam (see: waqf). How about the notion that the king is also under the law? Islam beat the Magna Carta by hundreds of years, in fact, many scholars believe that the notions of English liberty were brought back from the mid east (Islam) by the crusaders.

      Here’s one for you: I can’t quote the text, but it’s the one immediately after the Koranic equivalent of John 3:16. It reads, “Let there be no compulsion regarding religion,” and “religion” is better translated “lifestyle”.

    3. Um… okay?

      There are many problems with this line of thought. Delineating religion from government is extremely difficult, as 200+ years of First Amendment litigation in this country has shown us… and we have an unambiguous clause regarding that.

      Arguably, the USA is under the thumb of Christian law. After all, every president has been Christian, Congress has been and is completely dominated by Christians, and Christians are the vast majority of chaplains in the US Armed Forces. Elected leaders of both countries in this country routinely refer to Jesus Christ.

      People in foreign countries should be able to choose how they want to be ruled. Will it suck that they choose a particularly oppressive form of Islamic law? Yes. But, really, that’s none of our business. We seriously have zero credibility to criticize how other governments treat their citizens.

    4. who are you?

  3. I tried to count the number of countries that we’ve tried to help since WWII and I don’t think any of them have been successful. Starting with our involvement in Iran in the 50’s then Korea then Cuba then Vietnam and of course all the countries in the Americas. Not one of those countries has a favorable opinion of us except maybe South Korea and thats only because we are still there on an unfinished job. When you look at our history of f##ing up these countries I say it’s time to let them all be and if they want to do business with us great otherwise leave them alone.

    1. Uhh, South Korea is now one of the wealthiest and most advanced nations on Earth, while it’s neighbor to the north is, well, you know. The fact that the US and other nations fought to keep out the people that are now running the North probably has something to do with that, ya’ think.

      1. you’ll note I made an exception for South Korea

    2. Panama, Grenada, Iran (ShahMossadegh), Congo (no commies), Nicaragua (no commies), SAVING THE ENTIRE WORLD FROM SOVIET COMMUNISM

      See what you want to see,

      1. Free from Soviet communism but not free of dictatorships or religious fanatics or drug cartels. You say tomato I tomato. Evil is as evil does.

    3. Are you including Western Europe and Japan?

      The US didn’t have to institute the Marshall Plan following WWII in Western Europe; yet, we did and that’s largely been a success (all democracies now; strong vibrant economies in Germany, UK, France and the Low Countries; the reunification of Germany as a multiparty democracy, not a one-party dictatorship).

      Japan was so successful there as a direct result of American help/protection that there was actually talk of it supplanting the USA in the 1980s… before it got hit with stagflation.

  4. So yea this article is a load of shit. In the real world, there is no such thing as ‘susteainable moderate religious law’. The ICU had moderate-flavoured and extreme courts. The ICU also liked to talk of Greater Somalia, which includes chunks of Ethiopa. FTS said Ethiopia and they wisely invaded. How this is America’s fault we’ll never know.

    Then, years later, America helped crush Al-Shabab although it was Kenya and Ethiopia that did the heavy work. The policy was a great success and America wasn’t the biggest part, contrary to Sheldman’s fairy tale.

    1. Can I get some more of you to write “El Kabong” instead of “Al-Shabab”? You know, like Quackdaffy & Bushitler?

  5. Sorry, not buying it. You could probably trace a similar skein of supposed causality here back to all sorts of villains. And what kind of “blowback” is it that targets someone other than the blower?

    There are carloads of wrongs, idiocies, and personal hobby horses that the US State Dept. can be justly blamed for. Why try to pile on a far-fetched one like this, like some sleazy prosecutor?

  6. Obviously, many of the posters here are not libertarian.

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  8. No, the roots of this massacre are in Islam.
    Violent Islamists are doing this all over the world. It may not be a good idea for the CIA to support fighting in Africa. However, Muslims will keep murdering innocent people and attempting to subject all non-Muslims to their brand of violent religion whether the CIA is there or not. I don’t remember the CIA being in Bali when the Muslim terrorists blew up a nightclub and killed a couple of hundred people. I don’t consider this blowback. This is the modus operandi of Muslims in the Middle East and Africa.

  9. Well, just to prove my point, we now have Boko Haram, another violent Islamist group in Nigeria, murdering at least 50 students in a school while they slept. Please tell me how the CIA was involved in that?

    These violent Islamists must be eradicated.

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