by Alex Bekele
One year after TPLF massacred the Northern Division of the Ethiopian National Defense Force in a surprise blitz and started the war there is still no end in sight. Either side has failed to secure a decisive victory in the war front, at least so far, and the nature of the conflict of interest between the two rules out a negotiated settlement. Why not a decisive victory, and why not a negotiated outcome?
In order to talk about a decisive victory, we should first understand what victory means to each party based on their own declarations. For TPLF victory means regaining the power it lost in 2018 because of a popular insurrection, or at least returning to the status quo ante2018, and if unsuccessful, dismantling the Ethiopian state, allying with its enemies near and far.
For Prime Minster Abiy, victory means bringing to justice those who were responsible for treason and the November 4 massacre of over 6000 precious sons and daughters of Ethiopia serving in Uniform. It means making them account for the looting of the Division’s military arsenal. It means bringing to justice those responsible for the MaiKadra Genocide of November 10, 2020. It also means bringing to justice those who were responsible for the looting, gang raping, massacring civilians, and deliberately destroying of civilian infrastructures in many parts of Amhara and Afar.
Clearly, these two sets of underlying interests in the two definitions of victory are incompatible. TPLF’S victory is Ethiopia’s shame and total loss, and Ethiopia’s victory will be TPLF’s leadership inescapable accountability for treason, genocide, massacre and many other war crimes. So expecting to resolve this conflict with a give-and-take negotiation is nothing short of expecting a miracle. There is nothing substantial one can give to the other party to bring it to compromise without losing everything.
It is in this excessively tense and complicated situation that the US interfered with its Blackmail Strategy, aiding and abetting TPLF, and pressuring Ethiopia to kowtow to its demands. Because this strategy is not defensive, but aggressive, because it is fundamentally unjust, and to some extent immoral, because it demands too much in vague and broad terms, and because it is using fake news, and demeaning intimidations to get its way, it is fueling the war with no achievable goal.
Ethiopia never carried out any aggression against the US or any of its national interests in the region in any shape or form. If it claims one, it has never made it clear what US national interests would be protected by a group designated by the Ethiopian Parliament “terrorist”, and what US national interest was being hampered by the democratically elected government of Ethiopia. Ethiopians in the country and in the Diaspora are seriously puzzled by what the United States is trying to achieve by siding with the TPLF that trashed every value the American people live by every day, and threw the over 100 million Ethiopians, friends of America for decades, under the bus. This is why I say its strategy of Blackmail is aggressive, not defensive. It did not give us any interest that Ethiopia trespassed and it is defending through this strategy. It is strictly an aggressive move on behalf of the TPLF, telling Ethiopia, “Allow our friend back to power, or else….” This sounds awful, to say the least.
US intervention through this Strategy of Blackmail is also fundamentally unfair, and to a certain extent immoral. When the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2001, Ethiopians grieved with America and the rest of the world for the loss the American people suffered. Subsequently, Ethiopia did everything at its disposal to fight terrorism at home and abroad. When the United States Capitol was attacked on January 6, 2021, Ethiopia sent its condolences to the people of the United States and resented the barbarism of the terrorists. In the 9/11 attack 3000 lives were lost, many more injured. Four police officers lost their lives in the January 6 attack, and hundreds more were injured. These are huge losses. Ethiopia went through a similar terrorist attack but a more lethal and a more consequential one on November 4, 2020. Over 6000 Ethiopian National Defense Force members were massacred while asleep by a domestic terrorist group that had no shame to claim responsibility the day after. God knows the number of injured and the degree of the looting of the Division’s war arsenal. A couple of days later the same group carried out genocide on over 1000 Amharas at MaiKadra. Even worse, Ethiopia was dragged into a war of survival reluctantly; after salvos of long range missiles rained on Asmara, Eritrea too was forced to be a party to the war for defensive purposes, terribly destabilizing the region. Paradoxically, The West, spearheaded by the Biden Administration, failed to condemn the terrorists and their acts of terror, harping shamelessly on the need for dialogue. A country that is pouring millions of dollars and huge amount of human resources into the investigation of its January 6 terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 4 police officers, injured hundreds, did physical damage to the Capitol, and delayed the Senates work by a few hour, started pressuring the legitimate government of Ethiopia to open dialogue with its November 4 terrorists that routed out a whole division, ransacked its arsenal, carried out genocide at MaiKadra, and dragged two peace-loving nations into a catastrophic war, destabilizing the whole region. To force poor Ethiopia into a dialogue with the terrorist group that declared war on the country, the US started propping up the terrorist group providing satellite communication capability and diverting humanitarian aid materials to its fighters. Every time TPLF was cornered, US redoubled its help under the cover of humanitarian assistance, and incessantly called for dialogue, and when it advanced it tuned down its call for dialogue and escalated its propaganda war against the Ethiopian government. It rallied all the Western governments, their media, and nongovernmental organizations to fabricate and echo fake news demeaning Ethiopians and sanctifying the TPLF. Despite such immense pressure, Ethiopia couldn’t give in, for that would mean an ungovernable country of 115 million people, as no part of the country will forget and forgive the terrorism TPLF unleashed upon the Northern Division. So, the US demand for dialogue is not only unfair but also immoral. In blunt terms it is telling Ethiopians, “forget your November 4 martyrs and the victims MaiKadra Genocide and embrace TPLF, or else….” Just the thought of Ethiopia buckling to this threat sends shudders through the spine of every one of us.
Beside, US Strategy of Blackmail, its all-threat and no-accommodation approach, is asking too much and nothing at the same time. I say too much because under the cover of humanitarian assistance and stopping human right abuses, it relentlessly insists on negotiation. As I explained above, no self-respecting head of state, will negotiate with domestic terrorists who routed out one of his four or five army divisions, the best of them, without losing his people, hence too much is asked. At the same time no US interest is specifically and clearly claimed for the Ethiopian government not to violate, for either there is no US interest threatened as such, or such interest is so brazenly selfish and nefarious that it cannot be transparently spelled out. Hence I say the US is asking nothing. It is leaving it to the poor Ethiopians to figure out what exactly the Biden Administration wants from Ethiopia. Good diplomats do not demand what their adversary cannot reasonably provide or understand, and the Biden White House is doing exactly that. When powerful nations want to coerce poor, small countries, they better do it in simple, clear, and straight forward languages. Ethiopia and Ethiopians never got such a clear demand.
The worst of this Blackmail Strategy is the punishment. It often comes with helping Ethiopia’s enemy, the TPLF terrorists. Intensive propaganda campaign that is one sided and often based on spreading lies and misinformation to smear Ethiopia is one of them. Thanks to technology, Ethiopians find out the truth sooner and resent the West’s bias to harm their country. The other is diverting humanitarian assistance to TPLF every time it gets close to losing the war; truck loads of food, medicines, and medical equipment were diverted their way to get them out of the coma they suffered more than once. The most glaring and shameless of such support was the over 800 WFP trucks redirected to TPLF expansionist war. The US, through its Blackmail Strategy, thus continuously maintained the stalemate, hoping Ethiopians would eventually give in. How long it will continue to do this heaven knows. Ethiopians are in disbelief the US, once their beacon of hope, is capable of doing this, allying with the most savage force of terrorism.
When President Biden decided to take Ethiopia out of AGOA, he only forced the indomitable people of Ethiopia to recall what their forefathers paid for freedom At Adwa. When CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post and others enthusiastically reported the formation of the coalition of nine nobodies who declared their goal of violently destroying the democratically elected government of Ethiopia and they cheerfully encouraged them, the trust of many Ethiopians in democracy and Western Liberalism was knocked from the core. When the people of Addis Ababa and its surrounding were told by CNN TPLF was only 25 Km away from their capital they were disgusted by how low the West can descend to harm their poor country.
All this tells us this strategy of blackmail had only the obvious effect of alienating the Ethiopian government and the great majority of its people farther and farther into a corner, giving them no choice but to break through this domestic terroristic war and the international conspiracy that is energizing it. The sinister effort of propping up the TPLF by diverting humanitarian assistance their way, the Biden’s chauvinistic threat of spanking this proud people with AGOA, the demeaning of everything the democratically elected government does, and the painting of these terrorists as saintly victims, and all the lies and fake news that were meant to psychologically disarm the people have had the boomerang effect of rekindling the patriotic passion of every Ethiopian, pushing them to join the war with the utmost determination to pay any price and bear any burden. Maintain the stalemate by propping up TPLF you successfully did so far. With the anger and determination of its people Ethiopia is about to break out.
When a strategy the US followed so far failed to achieve what it was meant to, it is only logical to hit the pause-button and reconsider a more effective one. The place to start will be asking the question, “What are the US interests that are at stake in this conflict, and with whom should we ally to protect them—with the dying terrorist group or with the budding democracy?” The next question to ask will be if this Strategy of Blackmail, a strategy of all-sticks, no-carrots failed; shouldn’t we try an artful mix of the two?” Shouldn’t we try more accommodation and less coercion, more persuasion and less intimidation?” I have no diplomatic credentials to give a definitive prescription to wise men and women of the US; but I know the culture and psychology of my people: you won’t get anything done by treading on their pride and patriotism.
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