“We don’t negotiate with terrorists — except when we arm them.”

An Angry Rebuttal to Michael Rubin’s Shameless Warmongering

While there is a steady tide of shoddy reportage and irresponsible commentary that sides with the terrorist group currently fighting the Ethiopian government, Michael Rubin’s article, “The U.S. Should Support the Tigray Defense Forces,” stands out as one of the most appallingly ignorant and inflammatory pieces I have ever read. And I have been covering this war, both from outside and via trips to war zones within Ethiopia, practically since its start.

A word, by the way, about that war’s start, which Mr. Rubin neglects to mention as he references the approaching second anniversary. The war began after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) attacked federal military outposts over November 3–4, 2020. This fact is not in dispute. The TPLF official Sekoture Getachew openly bragged about his forces making a “pre-emptive strike” on regional television in Tigray November 14. It is also worth noting that the “#TigrayGenocide” hashtag debuted on Twitter November 4, and we are still waiting for TPLF apologists to explain how a genocide magically came into existence on the very first day of a war.

I waited in vain to read any mention in Mr. Rubin’s article of the child soldiers the TPLF have used in this conflict, inadvertently revealed in photos by the very Western media seeking to glorify the organization’s fighters as “underdogs.” This is a clear international war crime. I looked but did not find any mention of the scores of Tigrayans who have fled the TPLF’s forced recruitment drives and other horrors, documented meticulously by Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald of Canada’s Balsillie School of International Affairs and subsequently confirmed in Western media reports.

And while Mr. Rubin cites drone strikes on the TPLF, the details of which are disputed by the Ethiopian federal forces, I see no mention of the TPLF’s relentless looting and vicious destruction of hospitals, universities and even museums in the Amhara and Afar regions. I know about their damage because I saw it for myself and reported on it.

As well, Mr. Rubin should also be reminded that the UN’s own internal documents implicate its staff in turning a blind eye to the TPLF’s forced recruitment and even its assaulting and kidnapping UN workers, as well as looting aid facilities. Why no mention of these crimes? He will no doubt fall back on the disingenuous ploy of claiming they have not been reported by Western mainstream media outlets. To which I reply: Fine, why not? The leaked documents are right in my reports.

Throughout his article, Mr. Rubin is not only so economical with the truth as to approach mendacity, he also relies on the coded phrases the TPLF uses itself in its propaganda; for example “humanitarian siege.” But there is no “siege.” We know this because for months, the executive director of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, has churned out tweets and videos, advertising each time WFP trucks roll into Tigray to distribute aid — aid trucks, by the way, which pass through the Afar region, where thousands of Afar have desperately needed aid themselves yet have been almost completely ignored until recently.

We also know this because the TPLF stole 570,000 liters of fuel and tanker trucks from the World Food Programme, an act which was condemned by Beasley, the UN, USAID chief Samantha Power and the Bureau of African Affairs. Funny how Mr. Rubin leaves that event out.

Common sense should also tell him there is no siege for the simple fact that — whether you wish to dispute who broke the ceasefire — the TPLF are clearly outside of Tigray as they attack parts of the Amhara and Afar regions. This also held true when they ludicrously claimed a “siege” in social media posts even as TPLF forces penetrated deeply into Amhara and Afar territory before the ceasefire.

Mr. Rubin’s bio offers no signs he has any expertise on Africa at all but let us presume he can be reasonably trusted on his knowledge of Kurdish studies. Well, sir, when I stood with the commander and soldiers of a Peshmerga unit two kilometers away from an enemy-held village in 2015, I do not recall anyone sending ISIS groceries. For that matter, ISIS didn’t demand them, nor did they receive them in occupied Mosul. The idea that a terrorist group — while holding scores of innocent civilians hostage — should be entitled to aid, banking and telecom services would have been ludicrous to U.S. and allied forces back then. So why does this grotesque idea have currency now?

But far more egregious are Mr. Rubin’s recommendations. He cavalierly asserts, “The United States has no business intervening in the conflict on the ground,” yet suggests that the U.S. “might airdrop humanitarian supplies to Tigray. This would mean overflying a hostile Eritrea… Second, the United States might also consider supporting Tigray with both small arms and ammunition as well as counter-drone technology.” These steps are in themselves active interference.

I am a Canadian. I have lived most of my life next to a superpower, observing its intermittent follies in trying to police parts of the world it fails to understand. Within my own lifetime, that has included destroying and defoliating much of Vietnam, destabilizing Iraq, invading and ultimately abandoning Afghanistan, and then we might recall its public and clandestine misadventures in Iran, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Somalia, Congo, Liberia and the list goes on.

So I ask: By what right, Mr. Rubin, do you think your country is entitled to invade the airspace of two sovereign African nations — one of which is, in fact, historically an American ally?

By what right do you consider it acceptable to arm a band of ethno-fascists who are still officially on the law books of the U.S. itself as a terrorist group?

How dare you, sir, suggest interfering militarily and through cynical diplomatic tactics in what by definition is an internal conflict, for which Ethiopia is entitled to defend itself according to the rules of the UN Charter?

Mr. Rubin seeks to pin his case largely on demonizing the Eritrean government. While I have no great love for Isaias Afwerki’s regime, it is also an undisputed fact that the TPLF brought Eritrea into the war by launching rockets at Eritrea’s capital. What nation would not seek to defend its capital, let alone its own territory against outside attack? And who is Mr. Rubin to decide whom Ethiopia can choose for its allies?

How dare you, sir, try to tell an African nation how it conducts its foreign relations?

Mr. Rubin also wrote: “Ethiopia deserves democracy.” On this, I agree — and it has it. In fact, its election last year was deemed free and fair by international observers. But according to Mr. Rubin, “democracy” apparently only exists with a politician in office who can be easily bullied by the State Department. As well, he encourages the U.S. to “establish direct diplomatic links with each of Ethiopia’s federal regions and political parties.”

I would love to know how he would feel if Putin’s Russia began to follow this toxic logic in earnest and courted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and every separatist crackpot with a political party in that state or the others in the union? If I remember correctly, your authorities prosecuted and later deported Maria Butina as a foreign agent after she tried to ingratiate herself with the Republican party and the NRA.

Oh, but we are assured that this step “would not undermine Ethiopia’s sovereignty but rather celebrate its multicultural nature.” This is sheer nonsense, and a disingenuous way of endorsing the so-called ethnic federalism scheme that the TPLF imposed on the country for 27 years. It is also what helped tear the country apart. As Mr. Rubin seems to know next to nothing about Ethiopia, let me enlighten him. In its own founding document, the TPLF declares an entire ethnic group, the Amhara people, to be its enemy.

It made good on that promise, as evidenced by the mass graves of the TPLF’s Amhara victims discovered in April in Welkait by University of Gondar researchers.

In suggesting active interference by the Biden administration in this conflict, Mr. Rubin pits himself against his own government’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer, who has publicly endorsed the African Union-led peace process.

I am sure many wonder, as I do, whether Mr. Rubin genuinely cares about the stability of the Horn of Africa or is simply interested in regime change, helping a brutal terrorist group/oligarchy regain power because these are the devils that he and his colleagues know. But the Ethiopian people know the TPLF all too well. They don’t want these thugs back. And it is incredibly insulting to a sovereign people’s own wishes and downright evil to try to facilitate any help on the TPLF’s behalf.

Some background for anyone interested: Michael Rubin’s article was published on September 9, and predictably, it got promoted by the likes Martin Plaut and the TPLF troll army online. I could have written up and published a response far sooner, but as an experiment in how far we’ve progressed (or haven’t), I submitted my article above — originally titled, “Michael Rubin’s Pro-TPLF Suggestions: A Rebuttal,” to the same organization that printed his: 19FortyFive.

It’s interesting to note this publication’s fact-checking policy, which if it was properly implemented, would be kicking Rubin’s article back for changes over and over again.

When I sent my own piece, I wrote the Editor: “The facts of the current Ethiopian conflict are hotly contested, but the point of my piece is that Mr. Rubin seems to be deliberately ignoring the facts altogether. I mention in my own article certain leaked UN documents, which are contained in the specific links to my articles; should you wish to inspect them further, I can provide them upon request. I can also provide additional citations of other news reports and of a colleague speaking to TPLF child soldiers.

“I am also fairly confident that I have done something Mr. Rubin has not — actually visited the war zones in Ethiopia and spoken to witnesses and survivors. Your contributor casually suggested the U.S. arm a terrorist group; maybe one day he’d like to explain his position to the people I met who were made IDPs by that organization.”

To date, I’ve received no response. There are many reasons a publication might not print what you offer, but as many of us know, Western media outlets and websites seem determined to entertain absolutely no dissenting opinion on the Tigray narrative.

On their website, they say, “If you do not hear from us at the close of business on the third day, please feel free to take your content elsewhere.” It’s Wednesday. I’ve taken it elsewhere.

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Jeff Pearce

Writer person. Books - Prevail, The Karma Booth, Gangs in Canada; in June 2021, Winged Bull, a bio of Henry Layard, the Victorian era’s Indiana Jones.