Footnotes from the British Underground

This blog began as venue for my stories as I traveled in Africa. 18 months later, I return to it as I travel to study as a Marshall Scholar in the United Kingdom. My hope is that this blog can be a conduit for you - my family, friends and secret/strange admirers - to track my movements, see a photo or two and get a glimpse of my days in the UK. Apologies once again to Dostoevsky for the blog's name...

My Photo
Location: Bradford, United Kingdom

After graduating from Notre Dame, I'm off to England for graduate study. I'll be studying for a M.A. in International Politics and Security Studies. When not studying, I'm continuing to coordinate Uganda-CAN's efforts to end the 20-year war in northern Uganda!


The Democratic Moment...

First off, Happy New Year! I'm in South Bend for the start of January, but back to Britain soon...

Yesterday's swearing in of the first-ever woman Speaker of the House was quite exciting, coupled with the Democrats' takover of Congress. These first weeks will be telling of whether the Dems will have the spine and soul to advance an bold egalitarian, humanitarian agenda or whether they'll backtrack to a politics of convenience. Let's hope the former wins out.


Somalia's UIC and Ethiopian Army "at War"

The BBC is reporting this morning that war has truly broken out between Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and the Ethiopian Army. They report:
Fresh heavy fighting is reported near the weak Somali government's Baidoa base, amid fears conflict could plunge the entire Horn of Africa into crisis...Somalia's Deputy Defence Minister Salad Ali Jelle told reporters in Baidoa that 71 Islamic fighters had been killed and 221 injured so far during clashes in three locations.
This conflict does have the potential to explode, plunging the entire region into violence. Now more than ever, sensitive diplomacy is needed to withdraw Ethiopian troops out of Somalia and engage a political solution between the Transitional Government and UIC. Unfortunately, the larger and less nuanced frame of the "war on terror" may subvert any hope for such peace diplomacy.


Bush Admin. and Juba Peace Talks: Missing in Action

We - Uganda-CAN - released a new policy brief this weekend, titled "The Bush Administration and the Juba Peace Process: Missing in Action." In it we write, "Negotiations currently taking place in Juba, Sudan to end the twenty year war between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army and Government of Uganda offer the best chance ever to settle the conflict peacefully. Yet the United States Government, a strong partner of the Government of Uganda with far-reaching regional influence, has yet to definitively endorse the negotiations or to offer support to strengthen the prospects for the talks’ success." The brief outlines the four public statements made by U.S. State Department officials in six months, along with key recommendations for how the U.S. Government could best strengthen the peace process. Click here to read and download the full brief.

Remove the Humanitarian Veneer of "Peacekeeping" in Somalia

I'm continuing to follow events in Somalia as hostility between the Ethiopian army and Union of Islamic Courts exchange threats and mobilize for war. Matt Bryden of ICG has an excellent analysis on CSIS Africa Policy Forum of how Washington's current policy is only exacerbating this conflict. Below is a draft Op/Ed piece on the topic that I was working on last week:

Remove the Humanitarian Veneer of Peacekeeping in Somalia

Somalia is on the fast track to becoming the battlefield for the next proxy war of the ‘global war on terror.’ Last week, the UN Security Council voted to authorize an 8,000-strong regional peacekeeping force into Somalia to protect the weak Transitional Federal Government against the growing Union of Islamic Courts. At first glance, it would seem that emerging international momentum to prevent Somalia’s arising conflicts is a positive development. However, removing the thin humanitarian veneer, it becomes clear that U.S. insistence on deploying international peacekeepers is more about geopolitics than peace. Consequently, we should not be surprised if, just as in Iraq, the situation quickly spirals out of control.

Since 9/11, the U.S. military has become increasing engaged in the Horn of Africa, declaring it a new front line in the war on terror. The Combined Joint Task Force in the Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), a military unity of the U.S. Central Command based in Djibouti, now comprises thousands of personnel, including special operation forces. Somalia has been a main focus of CJTF-HOA, due to both its strategic proximity to the Middle East and its vulnerability to al-Qaeda and other terrorists. In May of this year, it was uncovered that the U.S. was secretly backing warlords in Mogadishu to stop certain a coalition of Islamic groups from taking control.

This summer, the U.S. fears came true as the Union of Islamic Courts defeated Mogadishu’s warlords and emerged in control of the capital city. Since then, Somalia has been a top priority of the State Department and the U.S. mission at the UN. At the Security Council, the U.S. has urged a lifting of the arms embargo imposed on Somalia in 1992 to allow for the arming of the transitional government. It further drafted Resolution 1725, which passed last week, authorizing a Chapter VII force to “stabilize” the country. The Union of Islamic Courts, growing in popularity by their resistance, have vowed to fight any peacekeepers--“foreign invaders” as they see it--that enter their territory.

The only government yet to commit troops for the peacekeeping force is Uganda, which first raises controversy because Kampala is already accused of failing its responsibility to protect its own civilians caught in the brutal 21-year war in the north. However, Uganda’s close ties with the U.S. make it a natural pick for this role. The U.S. has been training and equipping Ugandan special forces. Uganda was further accused of violating Somalia’s arms embargo in a UN report released last month.

A second country named in that report and also a strong historic ally of the U.S. is Ethiopia. Resolution 1725 bans neighboring countries from participating in the peacekeeping force, yet Ethiopia already has troops within Somalia’s borders. Last month, thousands of Ethiopian troops crossed into and have remained in the southwest part of the country to protect the transitional government. The Islamists in Mogadishu have given them a week to leave or face “major attack.”

It is not hard to imagine scenarios where this could quickly spiral the entire region into war. In that sense, the international community is right to focus its attention and resources on securing peace. However, the problem is that this peacekeeping force will likely do more to undermine peace than keep it. Perceived as a U.S. invasion, the Islamic militias will fight back and are already gaining local and international support from their anti-hegemonic resistance. Just as in Iraq, a sense of occupation will fuel radicalization. Most significantly, the “military solution” has already derailed efforts to establish a peace process toward a power-sharing government of national unity.

If the U.S. is really committed to stability in Somalia, we should learn lessons from our ongoing experience in Iraq, namely that geopolitics and peace don’t mix. John Prendergast (Boston Globe, 29 November) argues that the U.S. could best contribute to peace by employing targeted multilateral sanctions and strengthening the arms embargo. The U.S. could further rekindle diplomacy efforts to broker a political agreement between the parties. Rather than inciting resentment, such an approach could build good will and promote real stability that is essential to counter terrorism.

The worst legacy of the Bush Administration may be its articulation of a ‘humanitarian’ foreign policy, while choosing policy that undercuts established humanitarian principles. In Iraq, when the original justifications for war collapsed, the Administration repackaged its arguments on grounds of democracy promotion and humanitarianism. However, as we clearly see now, these claims were deceiving. In Somalia, the Bush Administration is going for round two, and the result will inevitably be the same. This will only further undercut our moral legitimacy in the world. Though, it’ll be easier to sell to the American people because this time there won’t be American men and women returning in body bags.


Humanitarianism Deceived in Somalia

I'm still writing for the new Unwilling-or-Unable blog with GuluWalk founder/director Adrian Bradbury. Events surrounding Somalia over the last few days have been really troubling to me. The US pushed through a UN resolution for an African peacekeeping force to support the Transitional Federal Government against the Mogadishu-controlling Union of Islamic Courts. The Courts have said that they will fight any "peacekeepers" that enter their territory. Consequently, this move will likely undermine important efforts to reach a political solution and power-sharing government between the two groups. Here's some of what I wrote yesterday:
While the discourse is one of "peacekeeping," one does have not to be cynical to think that this action may be more about geo-strategic politics than peace. In fact, the US Government has been concerned for some time that Islamic forces could take control of the country. It was revealed in May of this year that the US has been secretly backing warlords in Mogadishu. Since the Islamic Courts took Mogadishu, Somalia has been the top Africa priority of the State Department and the US mission at the Security Council. The US has urged a lifting of the arms embargo imposed on Somalia in 1992. A report last month by the UN showed that major violations of the arms embargo had been committed by Uganda, Ethiopia and others. It is worth noting that dating back to the early 1990s, Uganda and Ethiopia have been strategic allies of the US in the region. As this new peacekeeping force is put together, some worry that the force will be committed more to securing US interests than promoting a political solution to the conflict.

Journeyin' North...

It's been three weeks since I last posted on this blog. Jess came out a few weeks ago, and we traveled to the north of the country (Durham, Newcastle)...

Here we're at the stunning Durham Cathedral (above) on the River Wear, site of filming for the Harry Potter movies. Below is the massive Angel of the North, with me next to it...


Three Days of Southern Inspiration

I just got back to Bradford from my travels in southern Wales and then Bristol.

Bristol is a spectacular city, and once-home to the famous political philosopher Edmund Burke who said: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."


"What It Means to be an American During War"

I'm in Swansea, Wales at the moment after presenting yesterday at the university here on "what it means to be an American during a time of war." Before I ship off to Cardiff and Bristol, I thought I'd post a few excerpts from my lecture:

"To really understand the depth of vulnerability that Americans felt after 9/11, you have to understand the historical context. Unlike most of Europe and even the vast majority of the world, modern Americans have had little to no experience of war on our own land. We certainly have violence in all its ugly forms, but little experience with what we might call “political violence” within our own borders. With the small exception of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, not since the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor during the Second World War had there been a foreign attack on American soil. And before that, we might have to go back as far as the U.S.-Mexican War from 1846-1848. The point being, the U.S., whether as a result of geography or foreign affairs, has maintained forms of isolationism."

"This was a time when the country wanted a duty, not a debate."

"As I’ve argued, in the vulnerability of tragedy, the tides of nationalism quickly and sharply define citizenship in terms of loyalty to the state and its protection. Hedges, Freud and others contend that this becomes synonymous with mass mobilization for war. Consequently, I want to argue here that the solution to or the transformation of this problematic phenomenon requires us to reclaim and reconceptualize democratic citizenship and its responsibilities."

"The question then is how to purify patriotism from the muck of nationalism in which it becomes entrapped during times of crisis and conflict."

"Let’s face it: with the rather small exception of those families – generally low-income and likely minority – that have lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan, Americans have remained detached from the realities of war. Without a draft that forces middle-class and some upper-class kids (those who can’t or don’t buy their way out) to fight, the war remains almost unreal for the vast majority of American voters. Sure we are outraged in principle by torture in Abu Ghraib or the slaying of civilians in Haditha or reports that 655,000 Iraqis have been killed, but it doesn’t hit home. And Americans have been generally unwilling to act in response; to demand change or as Walzer puts it: 'do all we can to prevent or stop the war.'"

"After 9/11, it would be naïve to argue that the U.S. did not face great dilemmas. For example, how to secure justice and pursue accountability for atrocities, while transforming the socio-economic roots of political violence? Or how to confront real security threats without fueling new grievances or instigating greater instability? Yet, only loud voices that were willing to give simple answers were heard."

"The only hope I see for a solution or really protection against these horrors begins with a reconceptualization and a strengthening of democratic citizenship: a citizenship that distinguishes discerning patriotism from blind nationalism; a citizenship that takes responsibility for its government’s actions especially in war; a citizenship that demands nuance and cultivates a moral imagination. It ought to mean a lot more to be an American in a time of war. It ought to mean a ‘hell of a’ lot more to be any citizen in a world of war. Until we take that responsibility, that duty, seriously, we’re condemned to the same historical patterns of mass violence and atrocity."