“Soft power is the ability to obtain preferred outcomes by attraction rather than coercion or payment.” Joseph Nye
Aklog Birara (Dr)
The use of humanitarian crisis as a pretext to punish “rogue countries” is nothing new. It just depends on the definition of the term “rogue” and the leverage nations possess that apply this term.
It is concerning to me as Ethiopian American who loves and admires both my ancestral home, Ethiopia, and the country that serves as my new home, the USA, that American foreign policy toward Sub-Saharan Africa is contradictory, condescending, and paternalistic. I remember not long ago that Ethiopia was described by high level American officials as a “pillar of stability.” It was admired as a steadfast US ally in the war against terrorism. The EU chose Ethiopia as a preferred destination for foreign aid and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The same country, the same people!
What really changed then? Is it the reform agenda of the current Ethiopian Government? To my understanding, this Government is the first that is breaking state and party grip of the banking and telecommunications sector. This market orientation is in line with American values.
The contradictory nature of US foreign policy toward Ethiopia today can be appreciated when we scrutinize what American Presidents have done in the past in other countries.
- President Barack Obama, Democrat, approved and initiated airstrikes against Libya, March 19, 2011. The President justified this move on African soil after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing military intervention. The President defended his action by stating that the intent was “to save the lives of peaceful, pro-democracy protesters who found themselves the target of a crackdown by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.” Gadhafi died in the process. Libya changed its constitution. But it is characterized by an extremely fragile political order. Armed militias often supersede the authority of the elected government. Libyan politics is characterized as “chaotic, violent, and contested.” The rivalry is between regional interests and military commanders. These forces have been vying for power since the airstrikes toppled Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime in 2011. Ethiopians recall that the Obama Africa policy team did not take harsh measures against Meles Zenawi’s brutal crackdown on “peaceful demonstrators” when hundreds were murdered, and thousands jailed. The Washington Post wrote a blistering piece on the subject (See Ethiopia silences its critics with a deadly crackdown on dissent …https://www.washingtonpost.com › 2016/01/08).
In fact, the Obama team went further and said that the election was “free and fair.” Meles had cover; he was loyal to the USA. He was even allowed to criticize Western democracies in public. Ethiopia is planning an election in the coming weeks. It is true that the country is beset with ethnic and other conflicts and by proxy wars. But the fundamental principle that elections are a manifestation of human and civil rights; and that these rights are exercised solely by the Ethiopian electorate remain unassailable. The role of the donor community is not to second guess or to subvert them; but to help their fruition.
- In 1990, President George Herbert Walker Bush, Republican launched “Operation Desert Shield” that transformed into an international military coalition against Iraq called “Operation Desert Storm” in January 1991. On November 29, 1990, the United Nations Security Council authorized the use of “all means necessary” to remove Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, giving Iraq the deadline of midnight on January 16, 1991, to leave or risk forcible removal. When negotiations failed, the US Congress authorized President Bush to use American troops to force Iraq out of Kuwait. The intervention achieved its objective. After 9/11, on September 20, 2001, President George Bush, another Republican, declared a new approach to foreign policy in response to 9/11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” He launched a second devastating war against Iraq. Often characterized as one of America’s “forever wars,” Iraq as a country collapsed. Saddam Hussein was killed. Senator Tim Kaine of VA wrote an opinion piece in which he concluded that “The overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens have come to regard the Iraq War as a grave foreign-policy mistake.”
President George Bush renewed Ethiopia’s relationship with the US, this time anchored on the “war against terrorism.” As far as I know this partnership has not been halted. So, I ask why the sanctions? Why present Ethiopia’s domestic case to the UN Security Council not once but three times? Why make Ethiopia an agenda item at the G-7 Summit and possibly at the NATO Summit? and to what end?
- Syria was once one of the most successful, peaceful, and stable countries in the Middle East. Ten years later, it is literally a basket case. Millions of Syrians left for Europe, Lebanon, Turkey, and other countries. The US and other G-7 countries are involved in the collapse of Syria.
Why the same mistake repeatedly? Who loses? Who benefits?
- The US initiated one of the longest wars in American history in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In the intervening two decades the United States has suffered over 22,000 military casualties (including around 2,400 fatalities) in Afghanistan. Congress has appropriated approximately $143 billion for reconstruction and security forces. Improvement in most measures of human development is limited. The Biden Administration has announced complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. Afghanistan is war-torn, conflict-ridden, and unstable.
I also want to mention the lack of parity in G-7 consideration of punitive actions. The Government of Ethiopia is fighting a terrorist group that committed treason. The TPLF massacred 1,500 innocent Amhara civilians and day laborers in Mai Kadra at which the local population is building a martyr’s memorial. Does this not deserve consideration by the G-7 countries? Why reverse crimes against humanity by making the victims victimizers?
In the Far East, the military in Burma or Myanmar is reported to have murdered thousands of innocent civilians because of their faith and ethnicity. The military deposed the civilian government. This is not the case in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is trying to undo the damages inflicted by the TPLF. The damages include a slew of ethnic-cleansing and genocide: in Gambella, in Beni-Shangul Gumuz, in Oromia, in the Amhara region, and around Addis Ababa. These atrocities by the TPLF and its allies are missing in G-7 deliberations. Why is that?
If the G-7 led by the USA is committed to human rights, where is the parity in applying the principle of “the responsibility to protect?” Is it fair or just to subject Black Africa to a different human rights law compared to Egypt? To Burma? To China? To Russia? To Venezuela? Or even to the USA itself concerning African Americans, Asian-Americans, and indigenous people?
Ethiopia is simply fighting terrorism and not killing innocent civilians. Tigrean-Ethiopians are part and parcel of Ethiopia. Tigray is not an independent nation.
The countries in the sample suffered in multiple ways. Collateral damage is extensive. Hundreds of thousands have been killed. Rebuilding these countries will requires hundreds of billions of dollars in investment capital. Millions have been forced to flee. It will take decades to restore these nations. Ethiopia does not deserve to face the same fate.
In each of these countries, war crimes have been committed by different groups including G-7 nations most notably the US. But the truth has never been told. The UN, the ultimate global institution for appeal against war crimes by the powerful is dominated by the US. So are the Bretton Woods institutions—the World Bank and the IMF that fund poor nations. The politicization of these institutions will do irreparable damage to the World Bank and to the IMF, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Who do you appeal to then?
The picture that emerges from punitive financial sanctions and military interventions is that countries are arguably worse off after sanctions and military interventions than they were before.
Military intervention is especially gruesome and costly. It causes psychological damages and leaves indelible scars. It destroys physical, social, and economic infrastructure that is often financed with aid monies from donors. The unintended consequences that include the deaths of innocent civilians are especially devastating for ordinary folks.
In Part V, I shall discuss the shifting narrative on Tigray that is intended to achieve a desired objective. The ultimate objective is, however, unclear to me.
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