Política Global: Proxy War in Africa’s Horn

In the disputed border area between Ethiopia and Eritrea, tensions have been high all year but neither side appears willing to break the stalemate. Instead, both countries have been amassing troops in neighboring Somalia in what appears to be a proxy war. The build-up threatens to tip the entire Horn of Africa into a regional war (CSMonitor). Such a conflict appears increasingly imminent: Somalia’s Islamists set a December 19 deadline for Ethiopian troops to leave the country, and shortly after its expiry, clashes erupted (Independent) in several locations throughout the country.

Ethiopia—a Christian-led nation with a significant Muslim population—sent troops into Somalia in support of the country’s weak, but internationally recognized, transitional government. Since the Islamists’ seizure of Mogadishu in June and the expansion of their area of control, Addis Ababa has been concerned their influence could inflame Ethiopia’s Muslims. Eager to support the enemy of its enemy, Eritrea has provided arms and troops to support the Somali Islamists, as well as other anti-Ethiopian forces in Somalia.

The proxy war in Somalia marks a substantial escalation of the longtime conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Ethiopia refuses to recognize and implement border demarcations brokered in the 2000 Algiers Agreement, which ended a bloody and futile two-year war between them. Eritrea continues to send troops into the disputed area—patrolled by UN troops—and threaten war. An International Crisis Group report warned in December 2005 that peace between the two countries was “fraying dangerously,” and since then the situation has only become more precarious.

If war breaks out in Somalia, Eritrea will benefit from Ethiopia’s preoccupation with the Somali front, which might tempt it to adopt a more aggressive posture on the border region. War would also allow Somalia’s Islamists to drum up Somali nationalism as well as attract further external support. While the Ethiopia-Eritrea border dispute and Somalia’s internal power struggle are linked, the United States should work to resolve them separately, says a new Council Special Report. If it doesn’t, the report says, Ethiopia “may drag Washington into a conflict that will be framed in many parts of the Muslim world as another U.S.-sponsored attack on Islam.”

A U.S.-backed Security Council resolution passed on December 6 strengthens the link between Washington and Addis Ababa. The United States said the resolution—which authorizes the deployment of an African peacekeeping force to support the transitional government—aims to halt the expansion of Islamist influence and prevent full-scale war. Yet war is exactly what the Islamists promised (VOA) if the resolution passed. Instead of promoting African peacekeeping troops in Somalia, Washington should push for peace talks between the Islamists and the transitional government, a strengthened arms embargo, and the withdrawal of foreign forces, says the Council Special Report.

“Washington’s new Somalia policy is not just self-defeating: it is inflammatory,” writes Somalia expert Matt Bryden in the CSIS Online Africa Policy Forum. “The apparent determination of the United States to approach Somalia as a new front in the Global War on Terror is well along the path to becoming a self-fulfilling policy.” A November report from the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia suggests the Islamists already receive help from various African and Middle Eastern nations. Experts believe only two terrorist groups—including a small al-Qaeda cell—currently operate in Somalia, but as this Backgrounder notes, conditions are ripe for the country to become a significant terrorist haven.

Which Way Forward

on Iraq

The calm after the storm set off by the Iraq Study Group (ISG) report has settled in, leaving the question of what happens next. While nobody expects President Bush to adopt the ISG report wholesale—particularly its recommendations to pull out combat troops by 2008 or to engage Iran and Syria (NYT)—he has indicated some change in course can be expected. The White House says it will weigh the ISG report along with forthcoming reports coming from the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council before making any major changes in policy. This new Backgrounder addresses these proposals competing for the president’s attention.

The ISG report has stirred debate in foreign policy circles. Some say it is a recipe for failure in Iraq. Instead of regional diplomacy or fewer combat troops, what is needed is more “energy and competence in fighting the fight” (WSJ), suggests Eliot A. Cohen of Johns Hopkins University. Others say the report is overly generous to Iraqi neighbors like Saudi Arabia, which indicated it may back Iraq’s Sunnis in the event of a U.S. pullout. “Saudi Arabia is the elephant in the room that cannot be mentioned,” writes Greg Palast in the Guardian. Roger Cohen, writing in the New York Times, says the problem with the report is it “treats Iraq as an existing country needing a quick fix in the name of resurgent American realism, rather than a still-to-be-born country that needs to be ushered into being in the name of American idealism.”

The ISG is critical of the U.S. approach to Iraq. But it says Iraqi leaders “who are not working toward a united Iraq” also share responsibility. This “begins to pave the way for a U.S move out of Iraq in a way that if push comes to shove would attempt to place the lion’s share of the burden on Iraq,” CFR President Richard N. Haass tells Bernard Gwertzman. The ISG report endorses a withdrawal of U.S. support if the Iraqis do not make political progress. Yet the logic of this approach is faulty, say experts like CFR President Emeritus Leslie Gelb, because if the Iraqis meet the milestones set, Washington can also expect to withdraw its support. This raises questions about what incentives there are for Iraqis to reform.

All of the plans are expected to call for a political solution to resolve the violence in Iraq. But history, as CFR Fellow Stephen Biddle explains in this Backgrounder, suggests that negotiated settlements are rare in civil wars. More often than not, national reconciliation emerges after one side is defeated on the battlefield. There is a growing sense that Iraq’s various sectarian divisions cannot be healed through political compromise. Shiite leaders who hold true sway over Iraqis are not in the government. They include the popular clerics Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr, or the head of the largest Shiite faction, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who met recently (RFE/RL) with Bush in the Oval Office.

Some, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, suggest focusing less on Iraq’s internal politics and more on the regional dimension. Bring in Iraq’s neighbors, they say, including Iran and Syria, to hold an international conference that addresses not only Iraq but also the Arab-Israeli peace process. After all, this precedent has a sound track record in places like Madrid (where Arab-Israeli peace talks reconvened in October 1991), Dayton (where agreement was reached in 1995 to resolve the Bosnian War), and Bonn (where the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan was brokered in 2001). Writing in the American Interest, Michael E. O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution lays out the positives for a Bosnia-style option. But as former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard C. Holbrooke points out, Washington’s only leverage in Iraq is the threat to pull out, whereas in Bosnia it had the threat to bomb them. “It’s quite a different kind of thing,” he says.

There are also growing calls for a drawdown of U.S. forces, perhaps by as early as 2008. President Bush has rejected calls for a “graceful exit,” but said more recently he needed to be “flexible and realistic” (PBS) about troop deployments. The ISG suggests switching the military mission from combat to support by embedding up to 20,000 advisory officers with the Iraqi forces. But CFR’s Biddle says there are real risks with this strategy. “If any significant fraction of U.S. troops is pulled off the streets, the situation will get worse,” he writes.

Then there is the question of what defeat in Iraq would mean for U.S. interests, not to mention America’s standing in the world. Haass writes in TIME that regardless of the outcome, the United States will remain the world’s lone superpower. “What is essential,” he says, “is that the U.S. cut its losses there, contain the consequences and look for new opportunities to advance its interests around the world. The sooner the post-Iraq era of U.S. foreign policy dawns, the better.”

Lula listo para asumir segundo mandato

BRASIL – El presidente brasileño, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, asumirá su segundo mandato el 1 de enero próximo en una ceremonia sencilla que no contará con la presencia de ningún otro jefe de Estado y en la que no tomará juramento a sus nuevos ministros, informaron fuentes oficiales.

Representantes diplomáticos

Lula, reelegido en octubre pasado para un nuevo mandato de cuatro años, se abstuvo de invitar a otros jefes de Estado a su investidura y no espera la comparecencia por iniciativa propia de ningún gobernante, aseguró en declaraciones a periodistas Cézar Álvarez, asesor especial de la Presidencia de la República.

“Ellos (los gobernantes extranjeros) tendrán la sensibilidad de saber que no hubo invitación”, aseguró Álvarez, responsable por los detalles de la ceremonia del próximo lunes en la que Lula asumirá su segundo mandato.

Los presidentes extranjeros serán representados en la ceremonia de investidura de Lula por sus respectivos embajadores en Brasilia.

Sin nuevos ministros

Álvarez explicó igualmente que el gobernante no tomará el juramento de sus nuevos ministros debido a que los actuales miembros del Gabinete continuarán en sus cargos hasta febrero próximo, cuando el presidente anunciará una reforma ministerial.

El jefe de Estado aún está negociando una amplia alianza partidaria con la que pretende gobernar en su segundo mandato y que, además de las fuerzas de izquierda que siempre lo apoyaron, incluirá formaciones de centroderecha como el mayoritario Partido del Movimiento Democrático Brasileño (PMDB).

Según Álvarez, Lula aún no definió los nombres de todos los ministros y pretende tomar un juramento colectivo a su nuevo gabinete, que será anunciado unos “20 o 30 días después de la investidura”.

Ceremonia sencilla

El asesor informó igualmente de que, pese a la sencillez de la ceremonia, el Gobierno gastará unos 541 mil dólares en la fiesta popular que organizará para que el público pueda conmemorar la investidura del presidente.

El mayor costo será destinado al alquiler de cinco pantallas gigantes que serán instaladas en diferentes partes de la Explanada de los Ministros, la amplia avenida en donde están ubicados los ministerios, la Presidencia, el Congreso y la sede de la Suprema Corte.

En las pantallas los asistentes a la fiesta podrán presenciar mejor el concierto musical que tendrá lugar la Plaza de los Tres Poderes, el espacio que separa las sedes del Ejecutivo, el Legislativo y el Judicial.

Según los organizadores de la ceremonia, Lula será investido en la tarde en la sede del Congreso y luego se trasladará al Palacio presidencial, desde donde se dirigirá a las personas presentes en la plaza.

Tras el discurso de Lula, comenzará el espectáculo musical que contará con varios cantantes populares.

Esperan Mensaje de Fidel para Año Nuevo

LA HABANA, Cuba- Los cubanos esperan ansiosos un mensaje de Fidel Castro en el Año Nuevo, cuando se celebra el 48 aniversario de la revolución, ante la falta de informes oficiales sobre la salud del líder, operado por un problema intestinal.

Tras las ausencias del presidente cubano en un homenaje de fines de noviembre, en el desfile militar del 2 de diciembre y la sesión del Parlamento del pasado día 22, la atención se vuelca ahora al 1 de enero, para cuando la isla prepara una gran fiesta de aniversario de la revolución, dedicada también a Fidel.

“Debe de salir algo el 31 de diciembre o el 1 de enero, porque él sabe que el pueblo está preocupado. Nos merecemos una explicación. La gente está ansiosa por saber”, dijo una mujer de 42 años, encargada de la limpieza en una oficina del barrio El Vedado.

Ni el gobierno ni la prensa cubana mencionaron hasta ahora el informe dado el martes en Madrid por el médico español José Luis García Sabrido, quien tras examinar a Castro en La Habana el fin de semana negó que padezca de cáncer u otra enfermedad maligna.