Al-Shabab and Al-Qaeda: Playing Americans for suckers

The suicide bombing in Uganda’s capital of Kampala by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab serves several agendas. While the facile and clueless Western media call it an “anti-World Cup attack” and the lame Obama White House says it proves al-Qaeda’s “racism” toward Africans, the reality is that from al-Sahbab’s perspective the attack is a logical and necessary response to the prolonged U.S.- and Western-backed intervention in Somalia. (How long, one wonders, will it take U.S. and Western officials to learn people don’t like being occupied?) The Kampala attack also is another episode in al-Qaeda’s ongoing campaign to lure the United States into more interventions in the Muslim world.

At the most basic level, there would be no al-Shabab in Somalia — at least not at its present strength, reach, and popularity — if Washington had not panicked several years ago at the thought of an Islamist organization known as the “Islamic Courts” taking power in Somalia. The Islamic Courts’ had all but displaced a feckless, corruption-ridden UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG), and was beginning to bring a harsh but effective law-and-order system to Somalia for the first time in decades. Under President Bush, however, Washington could not stand the thought of a working Islamic government and so labored overtly and covertly for its demise.

Ultimately, Washington supported Ethiopia’s late-2006 invasion of Somalia without thinking through that it would henceforth be seen as the sponsor of Christian Ethiopia’s invasion of Muslim Somalia. The invasion turned Somalis of most factions against the interloping Christian occupiers. The large and better-armed Ethiopian conventional forces prevailed, broke up what was left of the Islamic Courts, and protected the UN-backed TFG, which now appeared even more as the imposed creature of hostile Christian countries. The Ethiopians fought a growing guerrilla war against the Somali militias and insurgents until casualties became too heavy and Addis Ababa decided to withdraw its forces. The African Union then acted to supply the 5,000 military personnel from Uganda and Burundi who now are the peacekeepers and TFG-protectors in the capital of Mogadishu.

The sum of this complicated story is that al-Shabab was born, developed quickly, and now appears to have the manpower, political savvy, and military wherewithal to compete for control of much of the central and southern portions of Somalia. Al-Shabab’s quick evolution is the result of several factors, including foreign occupation, which historically radicalizes Somalia’s usually moderate form of Islam, and the availability of help from al-Qaeda, especially in the form of veteran fighters, who offer training and a leaven of combat experience, and media operatives whose expertise has dramatically improved the quality of al-Shabab media capabilities during the past two years. In addition, a substantial inflow of aid from Arab Peninsula countries who are nominally U.S. “allies” has allowed al-Shabab and other Somali Islamists to deliver food and health services to destitute Somalis and improve their weaponry.

Having helped destroy the less radical Islamic Courts regime and still backing the moribund TFG, Washington now confronts the potential of al-Shabab controlling two thirds of Somalia and — after the Uganda bombing — the specter of the group slowly destabilizing heretofore reliably pro-U.S. regimes in Ethiopia, Kenya, and elsewhere in East Africa.

Neither Ethiopia nor Kenya is as stable as it was before the Islamic Courts were destroyed. Ethiopia paid a high price for its invasion and occupation of Somalia not only in terms of funds and lives, but in earning the durable enmity of Somali Muslims and their Islamist allies in Africa and overseas. Kenya has likewise earned al-Shabab’s wrath for supporting the corrupt TFG regime and for its willingness to host the dozen or more UN agencies and multiple Western NGOs who are operating in Somalia with intentions that are perceived by many Somalis as anti-Islamic.

And here is where al-Qaeda is luring the United States into another potentially disastrous intervention. Even though it has expended a minimum and mainly media-focused effort to support al-Shabab, Washington’s abject fear of al-Qaeda — notwithstanding Obama’s cocky and denigrating words about the group — has made bin Laden’s al-Shabab ally a primary U.S. target and therefore yet another vehicle for luring America into an expensive fight on Muslim territory.

Even before all the causalities from the bombing were counted, for example, the FBI had sent investigators to the “crime scene” in Kampala — as if the Ugandans need help from the helpless — and yesterday Rudyard Obama said he would “redouble” U.S. efforts in Somalia, which certainly means more U.S. military involvement there and the pouring of more taxpayer money into the maw of the corrupt-to-the-bone TFG. And as it becomes clear that Ethiopian and Kenyan security are also threatened by al-Shabab, those countries too will be the recipients of Mr. Obama’s resolute eagerness to dig us ever deeper into expensive, Bush-like foreign adventures.

Overall, Bush and Obama took a problem that was on the periphery of top U.S. security issues and through mindlessness and intervention made it an agent of destabilization in East Africa and a growing drain on U.S. resources. Renewed U.S. efforts against al-Shabab, together with Washington’s efforts to undermine the Muslim government of Sudan and get U.S. military forces involved in the irrelevant-to-America Darfur civil war, will again do al-Qaeda’s work for it by validating for Muslims bin Laden’s claim that Washington intends to destroy all Muslim regimes except those of the Arab tyrants who supply oil to the United States and its allies.

Years ago Osama bin Laden said something akin to: “All we need to do is send two mujahideen anywhere on earth to wave a flag that has ‘al-Qaeda’ on it and the Americans will arrive the next day with their troops and an open wallet.” As Obama hungrily gobbles down this latest lure from al-Qaeda, one can only think that there truly is a sucker born every minute.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.