This is actually an incipient U-turn on America’s part and by no means on PM Abiy’s.
By Andrew Korybko
The “Controversial” Phone Call
There’s a lot of talk about the phone call between Prime Minister Abiy and US President Biden, with some speculating that it took place purely because the former supposedly submitted to the latter. This interpretation is based on a critical take towards the government’s decision to grant amnesty to several individuals last week. The line of thinking is that PM Abiy carried out unilateral political concessions due to unbearable US pressure. According to those who ascribe to this belief, the latest phone call was yet another disappointment. There’s a completely different way to assess everything, though.
It can’t be emphasized enough that Ethiopians have the right to have whatever opinion they want about their officials. Having reaffirmed that, those who’ve recently experienced disappointment should be careful not to be misled by demagoguery lest they be exploited by adversarial forces as pawns in their scheme to split the national unity movement that’s become so powerful as a result of the #NoMore campaign. One mustn’t ever forget the existence of group psychology, which is an objectively existing science that’s being weaponized through the demagogic manipulation of people’s emotions.
Before proceeding, the author kindly requests interested readers to at the very least skim some of his recent analyses in order to obtain an understanding of how he assesses three of the most talked-about developments in the past few weeks. These are the ENDF’s decision to halt its advance outside of Tigray, the formation of Ethiopia’s inclusive National Dialogue Commission, and the decision to grant amnesty to several individuals. The purpose in asking readers to skim them isn’t to get folks to agree with him, but simply to understand his interpretation of events before proceeding to the rest of the present piece:
* 25 December: “The ENDF’s Tactical Halt Outside Of Tigray Is Actually Highly Strategic”
* 30 December: “Ethiopia’s National Dialogue Commission Wasn’t Created Due To Foreign Pressure”
* 11 January: “The Strategic Dynamics Of Ethiopia’s Inclusive National Dialogue”
In a nutshell, the author’s view is that the ENDF strategically halted its advance outside of Tigray in order to avoid falling into the TPLF’s false flag “genocide” trap. The inclusive National Dialogue Commission was formed not due to foreign pressure, but in full alignment with PM Abiy’s Medemer philosophy of pursuing peaceful solutions whenever it’s realistically possible. The latest military developments once again gave him a chance to put his well-known philosophy to the test. Finally, the amnesties create strategic opportunities for jump-starting this dialogue and emboldening pro-unity Tigrayan forces.
It’s everyone’s personal right to agree or disagree with these assessments, but there shouldn’t be any doubt that they represent the author’s sincere interpretation of what’s recently happened. His paradigm will now be applied to analyzing the Abiy-Biden phone call. It’s hoped that even those who disagree with the author will at least read this piece through to its end in order to be exposed to a different way of thinking. At the very least, it can constructively challenge critics’ way of thinking, while it might inspire them to reconsider their views at the most.
The larger geostrategic context must first be considered. The Hybrid War on Ethiopia was waged by the US via its TPLF proxies due to PM Abiy’s principled position of multi-aligning between that country and China in the ongoing New Cold War between those two superpowers. The former Trump Administration began to impose zero-sum choices on America’s partners halfway through his one-term presidency, which Ethiopia resisted. As punishment and in order to send a strong signal to the rest of Africa, which is expected to be the primary theater of this competition, the US began meddling in Ethiopia’s affairs.
The latest conflict wasn’t entirely of America’s own making though since it exploited preexisting tensions between the federal government and the TPLF. Nevertheless, American, Egyptian, and other foreign backing of those terrorist forces resulted in the conflict being extremely devastating for the northern part of the country in which it was waged. The tide finally turned a few months ago though when PM Abiy bravely led the ENDF from the front lines and successfully pushed the TPLF back to its home region. This completely reversed the prior military dynamics and caused a panic in Washington.
On top of that, China just announced that it’ll appoint an envoy for the Horn of Africa. This move was a long time in the making but comes after America squandered all of its prior regional soft power by tacitly supporting terrorist forces against the Horn’s largest country whose stability is integral for all of its neighbors. From an American standpoint, the TPLF’s crushing defeat on the battlefield coupled with China’s regional diplomatic advances seem to have prompted an urgent recalibration of US policy towards Ethiopia, or at least a very visible attempt to explore this possibility some more.
The Russian Precedent
There’s actually evidence of a similar such recalibration playing out in real time. The US is currently holding strategic talks with Russia over the undeclared US-provoked missile crisis in Europe. It remains unclear whether they’ll succeed, but the very fact that they’re taking place is an accomplishment. The subversive anti-Russian faction of the US’ permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”) successfully thwarted Trump’s attempts to do exactly that, but one of the former president’s most enduring legacies is that their anti-Chinese rivals became much more influential.
Biden inherited this now-predominant “deep state” faction and agreed to continue advancing their anti-Chinese grand strategy. This relates to Russia because the US is hoping that a possible agreement with that country could de-escalate tensions in Europe and thus enable the Pentagon to redeploy some of its forces from there to the Asia-Pacific in order to more aggressively “contain” China. Of course, the subversive anti-Russian “deep state” faction might ultimately sabotage these talks so their success isn’t assured, but that’s the predominant anti-Chinese faction’s motivation for even holding them.
The Relevance For Ethiopia
This observation is extremely relevant for Ethiopia for several reasons. First, it confirms that there are indeed competing factions within the US’ policymaking establishment, in this case those who’ve lobbied on behalf of continuing their country’s TPLF-driven Hybrid War on Ethiopia and those who warned against it as a strategically suicidal policy that was doomed to fail. Second, it shows that intra-“deep state” dynamics change, particularly due to the prevailing anti-Chinese faction’s rising threat assessment of China. The Abiy-Biden phone call suggests that a change might also be happening towards the Horn.
Third, incipient recalibrations aren’t guaranteed to succeed since subversive “deep state” factions – in this case the US’ pro-TPLF Hybrid War one – might sabotage pragmatic outreaches and paths towards peace. Fourth, even in the chance that positive progress can be made, the US can’t repair all the damage it’s already done to its interests, which in this case is losing countless hearts and minds in the Horn. And fifth, both state-level parties in a dispute always gain by trying to talk to each other at least once even if their efforts end up failing so long as their conversation is respectful and between equals.
Same Call, Different Readouts
Having explained that, it’s now time to turn to the different readouts of the call that were published by both sides. Biden’s is more detailed and focuses on American “concerns” while PM Abiy’s is vaguer but focuses on the positive progress that his country has recently made. Both sides, however, agreed to strengthen bilateral relations, which is important to point out. That suggests that the pragmatic and comparatively (key qualifier) pro-Ethiopian faction of the US’ “deep state” is ascending in influence over their pro-TPLF rivals even though it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to maintain their newfound role.
The Pakistani Precedent
Critics insist that this call only took place because PM Abiy enacted some unilateral concessions under American pressure, yet another example from a different recent context deserves to mentioned in order to raise questions about that interpretation. Pakistani Prime Minister Khan hasn’t received a call from Biden yet despite his country successfully assisting in the evacuation of many American and other civilians following the US’ chaotic withdrawal from neighboring Afghanistan last August. What that South Asian leader did is infinitely more important for US interests than what PM Abiy has done.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Khan still hasn’t gotten a call from Biden, which shows that even a nuclear-armed power that’s one of the most populous countries on the planet and a decades-long American partner (despite occasional turbulence in their ties) won’t automatically receive recognition from the US leader despite saving many Americans and their fellow allied civilians. To be clear, Pakistan didn’t do that due to American pressure, but because it was in its own national and humanitarian interests to assist with those evacuations. The same can be said of PM Abiy’s three latest moves.
The Relevance For Ethiopia
With the Pakistani example in mind, it’s difficult to extend credence towards the critical interpretation that PM Abiy only spoke to Biden because the former enacted unilateral concessions at the latter’s behest. The US unquestionably plays political games as proven by how much it’s been mistreating Pakistan lately to reference the example that was just made in this analysis, which is explained by the prevailing pro-Indian “deep state” faction’s recent influence over their pro-Pakistani one in formulating America’s South Asian affairs, but sometimes it does the right thing due to strategic necessity.
No such necessity exists in South Asia at the moment to the regret of some Pakistanis, but it’s nowadays becoming more self-evident in the Horn due to the latest developments that were earlier discussed: the TPLF’s crushing defeat on the battlefield, the government’s amnesty of several individuals for strategic peacemaking reasons connected to the inclusive national dialogue, and China’s decision to appoint an envoy to the region. With the regional tide decisively turning against US interests, and to no small part due to the #NoMore movement, the US felt compelled to experiment with a policy recalibration.
Who Really Made The U-Turn?
This is actually an incipient U-turn on America’s part and by no means on PM Abiy’s. The first-mentioned, as was already explained, is actually presently in the process of exploring a policy recalibration towards Russia that may or may not succeed. The second-mentioned, however, consistently pursues his nation’s interests but does so in flexible ways that enable him to best adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. After all, PM Abiy was never “anti-American” or “anti-Western”, he was just always against being coerced by the US to take its side against China in the New Cold War.
His strategic vision of multi-aligning between those superpowers in pursuit of Ethiopia’s national interests has remained consistent whereas the US is now the one being compelled by changing circumstances into experimenting with the recalibration of its policy towards the Horn that may or may not succeed (including if it’s sabotaged by the pro-TPLF “deep state” faction). That being the case, the latest phone call is indisputably a soft power victory for PM Abiy personally and all of Ethiopia more broadly despite there having yet to be any tangible benefits from it.
None should have been expected though, the same as can be said about the US’ present experimentation with recalibrating its policy towards Russia. The fact of the matter is that both developments, which are strategically connected to one another by the rising threat assessment that the US’ anti-Chinese “deep state” faction has towards the People’s Republic that partially inspired these incipient policy changes, are accomplishments in and of themselves since few observers ever expected them considering the pressure put upon the Biden Administration by anti-Russian and pro-TPLF forces.
Observers should be cautioned not to get their hopes up about either incipient policy recalibration though since they might very well fail to produce any tangible benefits. Even so, they still inspire cautious optimism since they speak to the US’ changing “deep state” dynamics that might possibly result in some peaceful outcome or another with time. It would be premature, however, to speculate on what this could look like in either scenario, especially the Ethiopian one, but the best-case one would be that the US pressures its TPLF proxies to disarm, demobilize, and hand over their war criminals.
To wrap everything up, the author sincerely thanks those who spent the time reading his entire analysis. The intent was to constructively challenge the beliefs of those who think differently with the hope of inspiring them to change their opinion if they felt comfortable doing after reflecting on the insight that was just shared. Those who are still critical of the latest developments deserve to be credited for exposing themselves to a different viewpoint though, which is more than the many who are convinced that PM Abiy recently made a series of missteps can say. They’d all do well to consider different views.
The author is of the sincere belief that the latest developments are truly beneficial for the cause of national unity, though they’ll take time to bear fruit. He’s also aware that there might be some setbacks throughout the course of the inclusive national dialogue process and that some of the recent moves might not fully succeed, such as if the US’ pro-TPLF “deep state” faction reasserts itself at the expense of the comparatively more pro-Ethiopian one whose influence seems to be ascending. Even so, he’s cautiously optimistic about the future of Ethiopia and hopes that the skeptics can be convinced too.