The United States is a wonderful country that thrives on contradictions. It tops the world on economy, technology, military hardware and propaganda. Its ideals, however, flounder upon practice because its people excel in doublespeak. While not all are guilty of doublespeak, American foreign policy mandarins tend to shine in negating stated ideals. For instance, Washington claims to fight terrorism but former American officials have come out coddling the Al Shabaab.
This is not new reality. The US was founded on contradictions of stated ideals. Thomas Jefferson beautifully wrote about all men being equal although he limited that equality to white men of means. He also owned slaves and increased the population with at least one female slave. The 1787 US constitution sanctioned slavery and slave trade. The concocted “Manifest Destiny” to spread Jacksonian democracy for white men robbed Mexico of territories from California to Texas. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wished he could dispatch free blacks outside the US. Woodrow Wilson talked of teaching Latin Americans how to elect “good men”.
The Wilsonian arrogant belief that elections elsewhere should have American approval became a 20th Century and 21st Century norm. In Chile, voters angered US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger by electing socialistic Salvador Allende. Kissinger overthrew Allende because, he reportedly quipped, the foolishness of the voters should not jeopardise American interests. The same logic applies in Hillary Clinton’s comment about ensuring American candidates win elections and John Kerry claiming the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt would enhance democracy. Contradictions in America, therefore, are traditional.
Kenya has too experienced American contradictions. Elite Americans, along with their European followers, did not want voters to elect Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013. They warned that “choices have consequences” and promised to maintain “essential contacts” only should voters disregard their advice. Voters ignored the advice and strange events seemingly designed to manufacture “consequences” started taking place. In the Al Shabaab-prone Somalia, for instance, oil operators with strong Euro political connections, using Euro citizens as Somali cabinet members started claiming Kenyan waters. There were also peculiar appointments at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in which a Somali became ICJ president. Euro “Somalia” rushed to The Hague to legitimse sea irredentism. In the US, former ambassadors and foreign policy elite ganged up to tell President Barack Obama to punish Kenya and not have anything positive to do with the land of his father. They were not amused when Obama visited Nairobi anyway.
American foreign policy bigwigs, particularly the “Africanist” wing, seemingly imagined that their desires were realities; they lost direction on Kenyan matters. This might explain the hostility towards “foolish” Kenyan voters which they manifested through their coddling of Al Shabaab. A “terror-mate” of Al Qaeda and ISIS, Al Shabaab blows up places and boasts about it. Since Americans claim to fight the Al Shabaab, Kenya and the US should be reading from the same script. But they are not.
Although it is not the first time the two countries are reading from different scripts on terrorism, American elite seemingly coddling the Al Shabaab is surprisingly new. When Kenyan Foreign Affairs PSMacharia Kamau requested the United Nations to include Al Shabaab among global terror groups, former American officials opposed the listing. They knew Kamau because as Kenya’s UN ambassador, he occasionally differed sharply with such American foreign policy brokers as former ambassadors Johnnie Carson and William Mark Bellamy. Carson gained notoriety with his “choices have consequences” warning.
American officials, who made a reputation advancing American interests by playing diplomats, soldiers, humanitarians and anti-terror fighters, are perplexing. They asked Trump’s administration to veto Kenya’s request. Why would Ambassador Thomas Pickering appear to comfort terror groups? Despite his anti-Uhuru interventionism, and probable personal antipathy towards Kamau, it makes little sense for Bellamy to share blankets with Al Shabaab. Did involvement with the Council on Foreign Relations convince retired Major General William Nash, distinguished in Bosnian operations, to join an Al Shabaab coddling club?
These people represent the American wonder, preaching and simultaneously trashing ideals, making sense to no one else except themselves. By seemingly coddling the Al Shabaab, they make Trump appear more sensible than all of them combined. He probably is. If Trump was to follow their advice on Al Shabaab, he would then look beholden to the foreign policy brokers that disrespect him.
Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU