The State Department’s focus on China and Hamas in Africa is a result of a broken culture of American diplomacy. Embassies often prioritize their own popularity over addressing strategic concerns, leading to silliness and incompetence. In Somaliland, the US subsidizes the country almost $1 billion a year, but the government endorses Hamas and seeks relations with Israel. The proper response should be to cease funding Somalia’s antisemitism and focus on countering China, combating extremism, and promoting democracy.
By Michael Rubin
Why does the State Department promote China’s interest over Taiwan’s, fund a government that endorses Hamas with billions of dollars, and boycott a country that seeks relations with Israel?
The culture of American diplomacy is broken. Embassies focus narrowly on host countries and ignore broad strategic concerns. While geographic bureaus might host an occasional conference for diplomats to talk with each other about common problems, generally, embassy teams work on their own. Seldom do they coordinate policy to fulfill key American foreign policy objectives.
The result is silliness that borders on incompetence. In Niger, the U.S. Embassy promoted local music rather than advance the struggle against Chinese influence. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the embassy focused as much on promoting recycling as it did on countering China’s efforts to corner the cobalt market. When Washington lifted arms sanctions on the country in an effort to bolster American popularity with the government, Congo used its windfall to purchase Chinese drones and hire East European mercenaries.
The problem is even greater in Somalia, where successive U.S. ambassadors have prioritized their own popularity with Somali officials over any open-eyed sense of American interests. Almost a year ago, a coalition of Somali irredentists, jihadi terrorists, and Somali special forces attacked Somaliland across a border that every member of the United Nations Security Council had recognized. It was China’s first proxy war in Africa, preplanned to punish Somaliland for turning its back on Chinese influence. With his trademark bothsiderism, Secretary of State Antony Blinken equated the Taiwan-aligned victim with the China-backed aggressor. China’s ambassador openly celebrated the militia leaders it supported. The message he projected was clear: China backs its allies, and United States officials abandon theirs.
To this day, American diplomats tell interlocutors they see no evidence of Chinese influence. Such ignorance is deliberate, as the State Department vetoed the dispatch of American diplomats to Hargeisa, the capital of the pro-Taiwan side. As a result, Blinken had no independent stream of reporting and instead relied entirely on Mogadishu’s propaganda.
Somalis mock their American benefactors. The U.S. subsidizes Somalia to the tune of almost $1 billion a year. Less than 18 months after Blinken lauded the formation of Somalia’s new government, Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre declared Hamas a liberation movement, denounced labeling it a terrorist group, and went further than even Turkey’s and Iran’s racist rulers by calling Jews descendants of monkeys and pigs.
Blinken, who speaks about how his stepfather’s Holocaust experience and fight against antisemitism shaped him, is silent. The proper response would be to cease funding Somalia’s antisemitism. Somaliland has ties with Taiwan and seeks ties with Israel. It should receive American largesse rather than the Hamas-supporting regime next door. To call Somalia a partner and give it billions as Mogadishu promotes terror and partners with China is like bragging about support for drug rehab while the clinic doctor sells cocaine.
It is time to get serious about American interests. Every embassy should advance efforts to counter China, combat extremism, and promote democracy, even when doing so makes the ambassador’s job tougher. With democracy in retreat and democracies such as Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, and Somaliland under siege, Washington must stop business as usual.
In the Middle East, the Biden team appeased Iran and drew a moral equivalence between democracies and terror-embracing regimes. National security adviser Jake Sullivan now looks foolish for bragging this brought calm and advanced peace. The same lesson should apply to Africa: Appeasing regressive, hateful, and corrupt elements does not bring calm. Common sense must prevail. American policy must stop punishing allies and coddling kleptocracies and instead consolidate democracy and the rules-based order. As China fans the flames of conflict, time is running out.
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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