Dear readers:-I re- post this article (written about three (3) years ago) as a preface to a follow up article that will revisit the same fundamental question in the very near future and "try" to make sense out of the Obama administration's approach to the Eritrean regime. Thanks for taking time out to read the article.

By Seyoum Tesfaye
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
April 19, 2007

If the USA has a clearly defined foreign policy towards the belligerent rouge regime in Asmara it is news to me. One can infer from the once- in -a- blue moon fragmented articulations by spokesman for the Bush administration and meager statements that come out of the State Department that there seems to be no clearly defined comprehensive strategy on how to contain and checkmate the out -of -control regime in Asmara.

Isaias’ regime has been pursuing an unrestrained overt anti-US foreign policy for sometimes. The stress is on an unrestrained. This is not confined to foul editorial statements by the regime’s mouthpieces or the periodic diatribes articulated by the president. It goes way beyond verbal attrition and confrontation. In coordinated actions and concerted efforts, the regime in Asmara has been advancing a well organized offensive attack on America’s regional interests and global anti-terrorist agendas. From Darfur to Mogadishu the regime is working hard to derail any and all constructive efforts by the American administration.

America’s reaction to the regime’s hooliganism has been anemic and fragmented.

Why?

Only the US government can answer the question.

But we as Eritrean-Americans and Eritreans in Diaspora have the right to raise the question.

There is no doubt the Isaia’s regime considers US its primary foreign enemy. On the basis of an ideologically driven self- serving myopic conclusion it has been waging a multifaceted assault on America’s regional interest. From Darfur to Somalia Isaias’ intrusion is open and direct. No apology or no rational explanation is presented neither to his people or the international public. But this is an inherent character of a shameless tyrant without any sense of right and wrong. One doesn’t expect eloquent clarification and sensible argument from rogue regimes. Their brutal action speaks louder than their hallow words. Compiled statistics of the dead, the disappeared, the exiled, the tortured, the banished, the silenced, disfranchised and the disinherited paints the real image of their handy work. Thanks to Mr. Isaias’ deprived leadership Eritrea is littered with tragic statistics. It will get worse before it gets better. No mystery here. The two puzzling questions are the low voltage American reaction and the meltdown of the Eritrean intelligentsia. The later should be left for future blogging.

What is puzzling and becoming more difficult to decipher is America’s overt nominal reaction towards Isaias’ robust challenge. If America is undertaking covert actions to either bring Mr. Isaias back to his senses or induce his removal, with the minimum cost to the people of Eritrea, the result is still unnoticeable. What is undeniable is that US relationship with the Eritrean regime has hit rock bottom. Chances of it getting back on track in the immediate future are unthinkable. This offers the US a chance to do strategic reassessment of its role in Eritrea. There is two ways to do this: One to confine it to the meeting rooms and corridors of the administration experts and scholars and the other approach will be to find ways to get the input of the Eritrean people to enrich the process. Combining both approaches will be even more productive.

A democracy with the stature of being the sole superpower, in a highly volatile post cold war period, has the duty and responsibility of clarifying its policies if it is interested in gaining the genuine support of the people of the world at large. No doubt the wide arrays of competing interests and issues make it difficult to devote equal attention and time to each cause. But since September 18, 2001, it has been 6 long years, the USA has not produced any discernible comprehensive policy statement on the Isaias’ regime. We are left to make sense out of fragmented reactive statements by various representatives of the American administration.

Sure the State Department has been producing the obligatory yearly Human Right Report and we are thankful for that. But that is not a policy statement or a clearly outlined policy articulation. In fact the gravity of the human tragedy, as outlined by the consecutive yearly reports, one would think this will push the Bush administration to initiate a thorough review both by the executive and legislative branch of the American government and come up with a clearly defined plan by now. Unfortunately there is nothing to indicate that this has happened.

If and when the issue is presented it is done as an extension to the Ethio-Eritrea conflict and in the context of Eritrea's role in Somalia. This presentation smacks the cheapening and watering down of the Isaias’ regime all sided destructive role. It pays measured attention to his external destructiveness without putting an equivalent stress to the unbearable destruction he is heaping on the people of Eritrea. What more damage should the people of Eritrea bear before the US government believes it is time to officially and publicly condemn the heinous regime and side with the Eritrean people? How many more Eritreans have to be thrown into container jails before America will open its mouth? How many more have to go to exile before it pronouns a different kind of policy? What is the threshold: A massacre or the possibility of another war?

The struggle of the people of Eritrea for democracy must be supported as a matter of principle and on its merit. If the USA has been perusing a diplomatic effort to address the Eritrean people’s concerns with the Eritrean regime it must be one of the most highly guarded secrets in Washington DC. Even then one can anticipate the negative result. This is not to say efforts might not have been pursued. But in the eyes of the Eritrean people we have no clue what the USA has been doing. Since nobody has found it worthy enough to go on the record and offer us a glimpse of the effort, we are right to entertain the question: What is US foreign policy towards the rouge regime in Asmara?

What is the overall policy of USA towards Eritrea? What is its attitude towards the Eritrean people struggle for constitutional governance? What is its relation with the Eritrean opposition? What is its view on the slowly emerging civic societies? Is there any Eritrean who can go on the record and give us a compressive answer to these questions on the basis of knowledge? I would not hold my breath. The US has failed to market its “policy” within the Eritrean community.

Of all the governments in Africa, it is obvious, the present American Administration has the worst relationship with that of the Isaias regime. One will think, after Asmara regime’s negative role in the Somalia’s crisis, the USA will have revamped its muted policy and start articulating a more comprehensive approach that will abandon all hopes of rehabilitating the defunct rouge regime; start building a direct relation with the Eritrean people and start helping the Eritrean people prepare the ground for peaceful democratic transition. Unless there is still a margin of illusion that the Eritrean regime is redeemable, on the basis of the facts on the ground, it is time for America to chart a different approach to the external and internal Eritrean reality.

The people’s agenda must be pushed to front and center of the American policy towards Eritrea. Anything short of that will only add to the justifiable undercurrent of skepticism and doubt that most Eritreans have towards the USA. To loss the favor of a tyrant is a blessing in disguise but to earn the people’s doubt is a lasting challenge. Let us hope the present US administration will find its direction to the heart of the Eritrean people before it is too late.

More concretely the Bush administration can implement the following reasonable actions to send a strong signal to the people of Eritrea that it is charting a different direction:

  • Officially designate the names of the top 20 human rights abusers within the Eritrean regime
  • Organize an exclusive and comprehensive congressional hearing on the extent of the suffering of the Eritrean people in the hands the tyrannical regime.
  • Extend a blanket amnesty to all Eritreans seeking political asylum within the US
  • Accept more Eritrean refugees that are presently languishing in refugee camps in the Sudan and Ethiopia
  • Work in cooperation with EU to find ways to help Eritrtean refugees arriving in Europe
  • Use its good office to ask the Libyan government not to deport Eritreans back to Eritrea.
  • Find ways for US Embassies in Egypt, Ethiopia and Kenya to help facilitate the transition of legitimately approved Eritreans to USA
  •  Expand the Voice of America Tigrinya program to an hourly show and remove the unofficial gag on Eritrean opposition’s representatives and personalities from frequently being guests on the radio show 
  •  Find ways to help the establishment of a robust Eritrean free press by extending management and technical training to the Internet based medias
  • Open a direct and open contact with the democratic opposition, civil societies and Diaspora media outlets. 
  •  Break the taboo and meet with the Eritrean society in the USA directly and start an open dialogue. Find ways to organize some form of platforms to directly get a feedback from the Eritrean American community in Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Washington D.C, Boston, New York City etc.
  • Vigorously move to cut off all illicit financial transaction between the regime(ruling party) and its undeclared and unregistered agents and carders in the USA
  • Identify Eritrean Americans who have chosen to openly serve and advance the regime’s anti-American policy and strip away their American citizenship
  • Set up a system that will allow Eritrean- Americans (who build houses in Eritrea) to register their property title and its value in dollar so that should the regime confiscate their property for whatsoever reason the American government can demand a proper repayment in American dollars
  • Eritrean- Americans who have business ventures in Eritrea must be given the option to do the same like those owning house. Due to the arbitrary nature of the regimes behavior anything is possible. If the owners have taken a US citizenship they are entitled to the protection of the US government when and if their properties are unduly confiscated by any tyrannical regime
  • All Eritrean Americans who are presently residing in the USA but periodically act as designated delegates of the regime must be asked to register as agents of the regime and be asked to explicitly define their designated role
  • Deny legal status to all Eritreans who still profess loyalty to the regime and are still holding full membership status in the ruling party while applying for political asylum in the USA.
  • Be willing and receptive to find ways to economically, socially and politically empower the Diaspora Eritrean community so that it can be a more productive segment of the American mosaic.
  • Open a 1-800-000-0000 number for Eritreans in America to call if any member of their family has been arrested or killed by the regime.

These positive ideas are forwarded with the hope that some of them will resonant the right note in the eyes of some caring decision maker somewhere within the vast bureaucracy of the American Administration. True enough the economic relationship between America and Eritrea is one of almost non-existent. Eritrea’s export to USA is too marginal to even mention or to be used as leverage to solicit some sense of civility from the Eritrean regime. At this juncture Eritrea doesn’t have strategic raw materials that would have propelled its issue to the front page of policy debate. If it were not for the remittance by the expatriate community, mainly living in the USA, the present regime in Eritrea would have collapsed by now and that would have brought some kind of closure to this dark period in Eritrean history. Unfortunately that is not the case. But the absence of strategic raw material, a robust trade relationship or a highly organized Eritrean- American constituency is not an excuse to sideline the 4 million people of a small nation. Nor is it acceptable to treat the Eritrean people as auxiliary to Horn of Africa’s politics.

The Eritrean people have earned their right to be treated with respect and dignity independent of all subsidiary issues. Those who choose to bestow this kind of honor on the Eritrean people at their darkest hour will earn their undying gratitude. Those who marginalize them will deepen their distrust of foreign powers.

America can play a very constructive role if it chooses to take into account the voices of the Eritrean people. It already has a historic deficit in the hearts and minds of the Eritrean people. There is not a single Eritrean who does not believe that the interest of the people of Eritrea was put on the auction block when the federal status with Ethiopia was abrogated with the blessing of the US government almost 50 years ago. The present silence can again be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Why is taking so long to directly approach the people and offer a moral, political and even material help to assist them to frame the peaceful transition to democratic governance.

Now we are looking for a clue: since the choice is between the tyrannical regime and the people of Eritrea, what will the US do? Will it take cover under diplomatic nuances and hope the megalomaniac tyrant will somehow rehabilitate itself or put its trust on the Eritrean people and find ways to connect with them. Logically the choice is simple but in the political and diplomatic world nothing is so simple.

If there ever was a time for the US government to make a breakthrough engagement with the Eritrean people, this dissenter believes, it is the right time.

The key component for direct dialogue between Eritrean-Americans and Eritreans and the US government will be the willingness of Eritreans to break through their morbid fear and step up to the plate and be willing to engage US policy makers in a fruitful conversation. For Isaias and his cohorts those who dare to defy his demonic control and express self- generated views is the definition of treason. Some within our community have subconsciously internalized this unhealthy fear. They will come up with thousands of excuses why they will not break the fear threshold. The brave ones will call, push, struggle and go the extra mile to break the pattern of fear. Should the US administration be willing to open a direct dialogue with our community I hope there will be thousands who are willing and able to stand up and articulate the demands and concerns of the voiceless million suffering under the brutality of the Isaias regime.

Disclaimer: the view expressed in this Dissent conveys my perspective and view only. No posting or reproducing of this article is allowed without the consent of the writer.{jcomments off}


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