January 8, 2007


Promoting disorder in Somalia: As long as the U.S. prefers warlords to Sharia in Somalia, hard-line Islamists will have appeal. (Niall Ferguson, January 8, 2007, LA Times)

Long before the arrival of European imperialism, Somalia was a country plagued by warfare. There were recurrent attempts by Ethiopia to subjugate the Somalis. There were also frequent feuds between the various Somali clans themselves, like the Hawiye clan, which has its base in Mogadishu. The new prime minister is in fact a Hawiye, but has forfeited much credibility by acting as an Ethiopian puppet. In the eyes of many Somalis, recent events are just the latest of many wars with Ethiopia. That is why the recent rout of the Islamists is unlikely to be the last act in the Somali tragedy.

The Islamists offered Somalia order; not a Western order, to be sure, but order nonetheless. Under their rule, the price of an AK-47 in the Mogadishu markets slumped to $15, a sure sign that the warlords were being forced to downsize their militias. Young men no longer roared through the streets in the Mad Max-style vehicles known locally as "technicals" -- trucks mounted with antiaircraft guns. Some were returning to school and university. Others were getting jobs with private electricity companies and airlines. Internet cafes were beginning to displace militia training camps. Kalashnikovs were being traded in for mobile phones.

Now, with the Islamists gone, the most likely scenario is a return of the warlords. Worse, the Islamists may now revert to the tactic of suicide bombing to destabilize the new government. As has happened in Afghanistan, the overthrow of an Islamist government will be followed not by a new order but by the old disorder.

As I said, it would take a satirist of Evelyn Waugh's genius to do justice to this story -- to lay bare all the unintended consequences of yet another enforced regime change. At least in the Cold War, "our son of a bitch" -- the local anti-communist strongman -- could be counted on to impose a brutal kind of order. Now, in the war on terror, the United States would rather see a country torn apart by multiple sons-of-bitches than ruled under Sharia law.

But the more U.S. foreign policy promotes anarchy instead of order, the stronger the Islamists' appeal will be.

Which would make a badly mistaken policy nearly useful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 8, 2007 1:29 PM

If any county in the world deserves the friendship & support of Western civilization, Ethiopia does. Not specifically for this Somalia action, but for a huge list of cultural & historical reasons.

Posted by: b at January 8, 2007 2:28 PM

Oh sure, let's let Al Qaeda-friendly Islamic jihadis take over a country in the name of "law and order." That worked out so well in Afghanistan, didn't it?

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 8, 2007 3:44 PM

Confusion to the enemy.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 8, 2007 3:55 PM

Yup, if we allow Somalia to descend into anarchy, we're wrong.

If we allow the Islamicists to take over, we're wrong.

If we allow another group of thugs to take over, we're wrong.

If we engage in nation-building, we're wrong.

If we do nothing, we're wrong.

Sure must be nice to have a job in the MSM, you know in advance the conclusion to every article you write.

Posted by: Steve White at January 8, 2007 5:17 PM

Worked rather well in Afghanistan.

Posted by: oj at January 8, 2007 5:19 PM