October 18, 2009


In Somalia, a New Template for Fighting Terrorism (JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, 10/18/09, NY Times)

One widely held misperception about Somalia is that it is rabidly anti-American. This may come from the indelible images of gleeful Somalis dragging the corpses of American soldiers through the streets after militiamen shot down the two Black Hawk helicopters and a heavily armed mob finished them off. Later American policies did little to curb antagonisms. In 2006, the C.I.A. shoveled a few million dollars to predacious warlords in an attempt to stymie a competing Islamist movement. When that didn’t work, the American government supported Ethiopia, Somalia’s historic enemy, when it invaded. What followed was a nasty guerilla war that ended only when the Ethiopians agreed to leave earlier this year and the Islamists were allowed back in. Essentially, the 2006 status quo was returned, minus 15,000 Somalis, now dead.

Still, “most Somalis are not anti-American,” said Afyare Abdi Elmi, a Somali-Canadian political scientist at Qatar University’s International Affairs Program. “Most Somalis are pragmatic and they do not inherently oppose America’s involvement in Somalia per se. They reject when such involvement is associated with warlords or Ethiopians. Neither condition exists now.”

This could spell an opportunity, as the Obama administration seems to think. The United States and other Western powers have provided the new Islamist government with weapons, money and diplomatic support. While terribly weak, the government has proven to be relatively moderate, vowing to repel terrorist groups, and seeking a middle path in its interpretation of political Islam.

The United States, for its part, is helping the government in a crucial way, with pinprick counterterrorism attacks like the commando raid that killed Mr. Nabhan; these presumably advance the mutual interest of eliminating Qaeda terrorists and weakening the Somali insurgency, while avoiding civilian casualties.

The sad thing it that helping Ethiopia was such an obvious mistake when W made it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2009 8:29 AM
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