Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Somalia: A Long War Test Case

Somalia is a test case for the Pentagon-defined Long War against global terrorism: involvement by proxy in order to deter and defeat actual and potential terrorists; hence a campaign that looks set to be more political in nature than military. Basically, this kind of action would lend itself to a battleground between "CIA" and "State Department" operation types and operatives: one that the "CIA"-like organizations so far is dominating -- and losing.

The US supported "anti-terror" warlords have been dealt a blow in Mogadishu by other factions rallying around a sharia court system -- possibly one of the few working social "organizations" in Somalia that is not tinged by ethnic and clan allegiances.

And as opposed to the more directly greed-based warlord-system, it comes with an ethics of social interaction. At the face of things, it is logical for the US to have chosen a number of warlords to support the case against terrorist breeding grounds. But only apparently, when the setup is not conceived holistically; where all actors are not given some legitimacy. A logic of complete friend-foe distinction doesn't function when we are dealing with counter-insurgency-type goals. Moreover, and concomitantly, just because we choose to bet on some guys (chosen for pragmatic reasons), it doesn't mean that their victory will be ours -- or that the opposite is the case.

An interesting analysis Reuters analysis by C. Bryson Hull looks for the positive outcomes of the events:
Despite vows by the Islamist leaders to create a Muslim state, many diplomats said U.S. fears of Somalia becoming a terrorist base were overblown and that on the contrary, the new order may be a boost for peace. "In all likelihood, this may lead to some substantial progress in Somalia. It's quite an opening," a European diplomat involved in Somalia's peace process told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The only catch, the diplomat said, is that "most Western governments, when they hear sharia courts, think 'terrorists'."

The courts deny any al Qaeda links, although one senior Islamic court leader, Adan Hashi Ayro, was trained in Afghanistan and is suspected of involvement with the group. Security experts and diplomats say there are training camps in and around Mogadishu and that a handful of al Qaeda operatives are there. The Islamists were quick to try and calm fears they were harbouring al Qaeda by saying they shared "no objectives, goals or methods with groups that sponsor or support terrorism".
John Prendergast's column in the Washington Post: "Our Failure in Somalia" explains the dilemmas of making counter-insurgency by proxy in a country where there is no state -- and goes on to call for a more sustained state-building mission:
Now "our" warlords -- and by extension our counterterrorism strategy -- have been dealt a crushing defeat by the Islamists, as the latter have consolidated control of Mogadishu. Our short-term interest in locating al-Qaeda suspects has thus been undermined, and the risk of a new safe haven being created for international terrorists has been greatly increased. (...)

A successful counterterrorism effort would require the United States to pull the political and military threads together into a coherent strategy of broader engagement. U.S. officials and those from other governments throughout the region uniformly have told me that long-term counterterrorism objectives can be achieved only by American investment in the Somali peace process. Yet the State Department has just one full-time political officer working on Somalia -- from neighboring Kenya, and he was just transferred out of the region for dissenting from the policy on proxy warlords. Somalia's ineffectual transitional government remains confined to the shaky central town of Baidoa, where it is still struggling to overcome internal divisions.

A functioning government that could ensure security would be a win-win scenario for Somalis and the United States, enabling the state apparatus to address the criminality and extremism that undermine progress in the country. This would provide a real partner for the war on terrorism in an area that has a track record for exporting trouble. (...) The United States can no longer afford not to engage more deeply and directly in state reconstruction efforts in Somalia. It is in our national security interest to do so. (Emphasis added.)

Two points on Prendergast: 1) He peddles an unproven point on terror and failed states, 2) State Department must enter the fray: one guy doesn't cut it.

1) As I have stated before, it is a very open question whether the failed states of the world deserve our attention in the short term on the ground that they feed terrorists. The claim is very widespread, but I think it is not substantiated. What is substantiated though, is the interest we have in the long term in building secure and stable and democratic states, thus shrinking the World's zone of risk, and minimizing its bad spill-over to ourselves. In the middle term, alleviating the risk for local and regional spill-over is enormously important. Regional spill-over effects have been important drivers of many African conflicts, notably in West Africa and the conflicts in Congo (just to underpin the regional dynamics already in play, Kenya just rejected one newly emigrated warlord).

2) Running a foreign policy by proxy and through covert operations may have its advantages. But one advantage that is lost with that model is the added efficiency of a diverse public scrutiny and creatively productive debate. If Prendergast is correct about the one -- one! -- guy from State, then State really have to get their act together. The NSPD 44 and S/CRS should be enough for them to thump CIA and who else is in there, and at least claim a stake in the process. If that guy's withdrawal really was a result of diverging policy views then a) lets get the debate out in the open, b) those who remain (CIA and probably SOCOM) would be well advised not to fight a further US investment in Somalia, even if it means offering State a seat at the table.

Later update: nicely corresponding article in the Washington Post, "Guns Finally Silent in Somalia's Capital" -- plus AP's "Somali Islamic Leader Blasts US".

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