“Blinken’s legacy in Africa might be setting Somalia ablaze” (By Michael Rubin about how the US State Department and the Bureau of African Affairs’ errors and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s disdain for Congress, NDAA have helped spark and spread violence in Somalia, and Somaliland):

By Michael Rubin

Ego and vanity can be corrosive to successful foreign policy. Against the backdrop of the Benghazi debacle, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flailed for any success to which she could stake her legacy. She found it in Somalia. Two decades after the Black Hawk Down debacle, the international community had created a framework for a new Somali government. The country was unprepared logistically and socially for one-man, one-person elections, so Clinton threw her support behind an appointed Transitional Federal Government.

A decade on, Clinton may be gone, but many of her top aides refuse to back down from blind support for a Mogadishu government that has repeatedly failed to govern responsibly.


While the unrecognized Somaliland state embraces one-man, one-vote elections, attracts international investment due to its anti-corruption efforts and business-friendly attitudes, and casts its lot unambiguously with Western democracies and Taiwan, Somalia does the opposite: It is among the world’s most corrupt states. Despite billions of dollars in U.S. support, it has failed to hold one-man, one-vote elections. Donald Yamamoto, the previous U.S. ambassador to Somalia, threatened to resign if the U.S. did not agree to waive Somalia’s $1.5 billion debt. Washington caved, but corruption, not development, resulted.

An amendment to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act called on the United States to develop relations with Somaliland. Behind the scenes, both the White House and State Department lobbied against the measure. Overruled, the State Department went to Plan B: Focus on Mogadishu both financially and rhetorically, while largely cutting off and criticizing democratic Somaliland. Talk to American diplomats, and they will lecture that such a policy rests in Washington’s long-standing “One Somalia” policy. Ask them to find any written or legal formulation of such policy and they cannot. It is a mirage transformed into a mountain by generations of diplomats who confused false received wisdom by transitory colleagues with fact.

The situation blew up in December 2022 as fighting erupted in Las Anod (Laascaanood), the capital of Somaliland’s Sool district. The violence was not spontaneous but rather encouraged, if not pre-planned, by irredentists in Mogadishu and their allies in Beijing. Rather than acknowledge the right of countries to counter terrorists, the State Department sided blindly with Somalia against Somaliland. The fighting became a useful wedge to stop what Secretary of State Antony Blinken saw as congressional interference. Essentially, the Biden administration sided with China against Taiwan, and with Somalia against the region’s only democracy.

The fire, however, has now spread. Not only did the al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab pour into Las Anod, but so too did U.S.-trained Danab commandos who joined forces with them. Insurgent spokesmen demanded their own state. The State Department treated the demand credibly, if only to delegitimize Somaliland and argue that its independence would unleash anarchy.

It was a cynical strategy as every U.N. Security Council member recognized Somaliland’s borders decades ago. Wildfires spread. While State Department inaction encouraged proponents of the so-called Khatumo State as a lever against both Somaliland and, by extension, Congress, they created a precedent that has now set other Somali regions aflame. It was not long before the governor of the southern Hiran district decided he too wanted to be the leader of his own state.

Violence also erupted in the Gedo region as local authorities decided they no longer wanted to be part of the Jubbaland state. Clashes also took place in Barawa, in the South West State. Meanwhile, fighting engulfed the normally peaceful Puntland capital of Garowe as militias unleashed by regional president Said Deni abandoned any pretense of democracy in favor of 1990s-style warlordism.

It is not too late for either Somalia or Somaliland, but forcing union and cynically fanning the flames of conflict condemns both. Rather, it is time Blinken and the architects of Clinton’s cynical Somalia embrace cast ego aside and instead approach the region through the lens of U.S. interests, rebuffing China, and consolidating and strengthening democracy where it actually exists.

Michael RubinAbout Michael Rubin

Senior Fellow

Research Areas

Arab politics, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Horn of Africa

Bio & Experience

Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East.

A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre-and postwar Iraq. He also spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. For more than a decade, he taught classes at sea about the Horn of Africa and Middle East conflicts, culture, and terrorism, to deployed US Navy and Marine units.

Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Dr. Rubin has a Ph.D. and an MA in history from Yale University, where he also obtained a BS in biology.


    • Foreign Military Studies Office: Contract Analyst, 2012–present
    • Naval Postgraduate School: Senior Lecturer, 2007–21
    • Middle East Quarterly: Editor, 2004–09
    • Coalition Provisional Authority (Baghdad): Political Adviser, 2003–04
    • Office of the Secretary of Defense: Staff Adviser, Iran and Iraq, 2002–04
    • Council on Foreign Relations: International Affairs Fellow, 2002–03
    • Hebrew University (Jerusalem): Fellow, The Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, 2001–02
    • Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs: Fellow, 2000–01
    • Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok (Iraqi Kurdistan): Visiting Lecturer, 2000–01
    • Yale University: Lecturer, Department of History, 1999–2000
    • Iranian Studies: Assistant Editor, 1994–97


Ph.D. and MA in history; BS in biology, Yale University


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