Willful Blindness, "Doublethink," and the Mogadishu Massacre

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The prospect of the ill-advised partnership between Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopia and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) ever solving the Somali problem is dead on arrival.

And though their ferocious military campaign has created a horrific carnage that the International Committee for Red Cross called “the worst in 15 years” and the UN described the worst humanitarian crises of the day, the duo continue to garner support from Washington whose initial interest was to hunt down “three global terrorist” desperadoes, but now seem to be comfortably laying in the middle of a dangerous intersection; blindfolded, with a big stick in the hand.

Some observers suspect willful blindness staged by the hawkish wing of the administration to pave the way for what could eventually lead to a full-fledged U.S. military involvement. These observers point out to a pattern of questionable decisions the administration continues to make in dealing with the situation in Somalia.

Perhaps the most inflammatory among them is the ill-timed visit of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Jendayi Frazer, to Baidoa to meet with President Abdullahi Yusuf as the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia in recent years.

The meeting took place at an extremely sensitive time: when the European Union was expressing concern of war crimes violations, when Human Rights Watch was blaming the U.S. for holding hundreds of ghost prisoners in secret prisons in Ethiopia, and when Amnesty International was blaming the TFG for exacerbating an already deteriorating humanitarian crises by deliberately preventing the flow and the distribution of food to some hundreds of thousands of civilians who fled Mogadishu.

In light of these kinds of decisions, Washington seems not to care about winning the hearts and the minds of the majority of Somalis. Those who are against the Ethiopian occupation, who condemn the brutal slaughter in Mogadishu, and who believe there still is a window of opportunity for the United States to involve itself constructively.

“I got nauseated from looking at this picture,” said a retired Somali politician as he handed me a newspaper clip showing the picture of Dr. Frazer and President Yusuf shaking hands and smiling triumphantly to the camera. “Doesn’t this remind you of that infamous handshake of Donald Rumesfeld cutting a deal with Saddam Hussein?” he added.

This, needless to say, is a long way from the “tacit support” position of only a few months ago.

Other observers believe it is Meles’ mastering the language of the day, and constantly defining the conflict in whatever illusive terms that best justify his and TFG actions.

Their spin doctors offer a menu of definitions intended for both domestic and international consumption.

The brutal slaughter in Mogadishu is sometimes described as an old-fashioned inter-clan power struggle where one particular clan’s uncompromising resistance has led to an unavoidable deadly duel. Other times it is described as a direly needed cleansing process of an untamable city that became a “terrorist-breeding” swamp and a “threat to global security.” Other times it is described as a power struggle between “secularist” TFG and “extremist” Islamic Courts Union (ICU). Yet, other times, it is described as a struggle between anarchy-addicted profiteers and a constitutionally-driven transitional government.

Of course, these definitions are by no means free of contradictions; however, they get free passes from media, mainly for two reasons.

First, because media, by and large, are absent from the seen of the crime; and, as such, are heavily dependent on second-hand information or cooked reports. Second, because most of the media groups in America are still embedded, at least in spirit. These groups diligently disseminate the official version without scrutiny. Even when they know where this runaway train might be headed, they would still defend the status quo and any wild pursuit of “peace” and “freedom” through war and chaos. And this brings me to the next point: “doublethink”.

Orwellian doublethink is a mindset acquired by an individual or a group through a conscious process of choosing to embrace two logically contradictory ideas or beliefs at the same time; because that is a testimony to jingoistic conformity.

Meanwhile, the nightmare continues: corpses decay in the streets, violence spreads across the Somali boarders, and hatred proliferates in a country that became the poster child of Africa’s brain drain. A country ruled by brutes with big guns; by individuals with myopic vision and demonstrated record of deficiency in the capacity to compromise.

Meanwhile, the Meles Doctrine prevails, and his “preemptive war” is declared a success by the TFG Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, a neoconed nation is being taken to the cleaners, once again.

If only a few months ago the multifaceted Somali political dilemma was streamlined into a conflict between two entities (TFG and ICU,) the Ethiopian led invasion has driven the situation right into the minefields of clan politics.

In spite of that, however, Washington still has a golden opportunity to “…use Somalia as a springboard for reestablishing good relations with the Islamic world” and to restore lost credibility around the world.

Washington could rein in on Ethiopia and the TFG by pressuring the former to immediately withdraw its troops, and the latter to retreat to Baidoa and to start negotiating with ICU. It could pressure the UN to send peacekeepers, spearhead a peace and reconciliation conference, and form an international committee to oversee the process.

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