Blowing the Horn

WASHINGTON'S FAILINGS IN AFRICA

The Greater Horn of Africa -- a region half the size of the United States that includes Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda -- is the hottest conflict zone in the world. Some of the most violent wars of the last half century have ripped the region apart. Today, two clusters of conflicts continue to destabilize it. The first centers on interlocking rebellions in Sudan, including those in Darfur and southern Sudan, and engulfs northern Uganda, eastern Chad, and northeastern Central African Republic. The main culprit is the Sudanese government, which is supporting rebels in these three neighboring countries -- and those states, which are supporting Sudanese groups opposing Khartoum. The second cluster links the festering dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea with the power struggle in Somalia, which involves the fledgling secular government, antigovernment clan militias, Islamist militants, and anti-Islamist warlords. Ethiopia's flash intervention in Somalia in December temporarily secured the ineffectual transitional government's position, but that intervention, which Washington backed and supplemented with its own air strikes, has sown the seeds for an Islamist and clan-based insurgency in the future.

Recent U.S. policy has only made matters worse. The region, which has both suffered attacks by al Qaeda and hosted its agents (including Osama bin Laden himself), is a legitimate concern of U.S. officials. But stemming the spread of terrorism and extremist ideologies has become such an overwhelming strategic objective for Washington that it has overshadowed U.S. efforts to resolve conflicts and promote good governance; in everything but rhetoric, counterterrorism now consumes U.S. policy in the Greater Horn as totally as anticommunism did a generation ago. To support this critical but narrow aim, the Bush administration has too often nurtured relationships with autocratic leaders and favored covert and military action over diplomacy. Sometimes that has even included feting in Langley Sudanese officials suspected of having a hand in the massacres in Darfur or handing suitcases full of cash to warlords on the streets of Mogadishu.

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