When Joe Biden took office, many victims of genocide hoped US interest would triumph over indifference. Upon his nomination to be secretary of state, longtime Biden aide Tony Blinken made a great deal of his stepfather’s survival of the Holocaust. Biden himself promised to right the historical wrong and recognize the reality of the Armenian Genocide. To Biden’s credit, he kept his promise. Many human rights advocates also cheered Biden’s choice of Samantha Power to lead the US Agency for International Development, a cabinet-level post in the Biden administration. Power quite literally had written the book on what she termed “a problem from hell.” Sure, she disappointed in Libya and Syria, but maybe under Biden she would have more power human rights advocates hoped.
Either she did not have power or ambition trumped it. The Uyghur Genocide is the most industrial and wide-scale genocide since the Holocaust. John Kerry, a former secretary of State whom Biden brought into the White House as “climate czar,” urged Biden to downplay Beijing’s incarceration and slaughter of the Uyghurs in order to better win Chinese cooperation on climate talks. If Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said about the alleged death of a half million children in Iraq “we think, the price is worth it,” then Kerry’s slogan might as well be the death of 12 million Uyghurs is worth the price.
Alas, the Biden team’s indifference to the Uyghurs is today the rule rather than the exception. Blinken’s State Department praised Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev for promising “amnesty” to some of the democratically elected members of the Nagorno-Karabakh. Neither Blinken nor Power recognize the anti-Tutsi nature of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, seeking instead to bargain over it. That would be like telling Israeli Jews that the United States would not recognize the Nazis as motivated by anti-Semitism unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first bargained over trade or defense policy. Biden himself saw no problem laughing and relaxing with Muhammadu Buhari, a perpetrator of the Biafra Genocide during the US-Africa Leaders Summit.
Now, Biden and Blinken have taken casual disdain for victims of genocide to a new level. Toward the tail end of his rule Siad Barre, Somalia’s Cold War-era dictator, sought to eradicate the Isaaq clan, one of the five major clans of Somalia. First the discrimination and then the attempted genocide of the population of the Somaliland region of Somalia was the major reason why Somaliland in 1991 re-asserted the independence it had briefly enjoyed prior to its union with Italian Somaliland.
For the past six months, fighting has occurred in the Sool region of Somaliland. It is not organic. Rather, it is part proxy war between China and Taiwan, part effort by Siad Barre’s Darood clan to reassert supremacy, and part attempt by al-Shabaab and Somali irredentists to attack the only regional democracy.
Blinken has sided with China, Russia, and Al-Shabaab against Somaliland due to the State Department’s embrace of a “One Somalia” policy. Put aside the fact that such a policy is a unicorn. It is imaginary. It appears nowhere in print and seems instead to be false conventional wisdom passed down through recent generations of Africa hands.
Perhaps this is why, in a recent UN Security Council press release, the US acquiesced to Russia and China and put “Somaliland” in quotes to report that the Security Council “condemned the violent clashes between ‘Somaliland’ security forces and clan militia.” Not only does such a statement draw moral equivalence between perpetrator and victim, but it also suggests that residents of Somaliland who have rebuilt from the ashes of attempted genocide are somehow illegitimate. No other geographic entity appears to get that treatment.
Put another way, would Biden and Blinken write about Europe’s “Jews,” Rwanda’s “Tutsis,” China’s “Uyghurs,” or Nagorno-Karabakh’s “Armenians?” If they did, observers would recognize it as questioning the legitimacy of those groups as a people.
While this is not the first time the UN has used scare-quotes to delegitimize Somaliland—Power signed off on the calumny when she was UN ambassador—the context of doing so as calls for Somaliland’s eradication escalate should raise serious questions about the morality and judgment of both Biden and Blinken.
(c) 2023, American Enterprise Institute