The Somalia Hangover

Somali troops fired on rioting civilians in the capital city of Mogadishu today, resulting in at least two deaths. The riots broke out over soaring food prices -- the result of a global food crisis that has triggered similar violence from Haiti to Bangladesh. And the shootings illustrate the increasing likelihood that we will see more violence erupt over the food crisis in coming weeks and months.

Early dispatches indicate that the protesters were rioting against the government's ineffective (or non-existent) efforts to alleviate the crisis and certain merchants' refusal to take Somali currency. The soldiers allegedly opened fire in an attempt to impose order on the crowds, which are said to have numbered in the tens of thousands.

The AP report notes that Somalia has existed without a functioning government since 1991. Ironically, today's riots took place in the same Bakara market that served as the central battleground during the famous "Black Hawk Down" battle between U.S. forces and Somali fighters in 1993. That fighting ended the last major international humanitarian mission in Somalia. Given the state of unrest there today, and past experience, further direct aid seems unlikely.

Despite our lingering hangover from the 1993 intervention, however, we cannot afford to ignore the volatile combination of instability, citizen unrest, competition over food, and the presence of Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in Somalia. This failed state sits at the crossroads between Africa and Southwest Asia. If left unattended, it will become a major sanctuary for global terrorists. And, if left unassisted, Somalia's people will spill over into bordering states, destabilizing them and causing secondary effects throughout the region.

As I write this, America's legions remained tied down in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no end in sight to those conflicts. And here we have another strategic cost of those wars -- the inability for America to project ground combat forces anywhere else because of our commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan. We might surge a carrier battle group to Myanmar, to provide aid in the wake of the recent cyclone, but that's about all we can muster right now. Absent the full mobilization of America's active and reserve forces, we have no ability to conduct sustained operations anywhere else because of Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Phillip Carter |  May 5, 2008; 9:18 PM ET  | Category:  Emerging Conflicts
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Strongly disagree with you here Phil when you write: "This failed state sits at the crossroads between Africa and Southwest Asia. If left unattended, it will become a major sanctuary for global terrorists".

At least in so far as your calling for American involvement. The present admin is too ignorant, too corrupted, and too arrogant to be relied on for anything. Other than to provide the wrong prescription for what ails ya. And then to lie about its failure to work.

Stay away from the place. Look what America's latest advice got us. Ethiopian troops in a nation that hates them. Seen, rightly or wrongly, as a tool of America. Look at the reputation we are building for ourselves in the world. A reputation that inevitably brings about a sharp decrease in our ability to project 'smart power'. And 'smart diplomacy'. Nothing could turn this into a high profile terrorist base than to turn it into an America v. the bad guys site.

Posted by: jonst | May 6, 2008 5:32 AM

"This failed state sits at the crossroads between Africa and Southwest Asia. If left unattended, it will become a major sanctuary for global terrorists".

Phil. I am sure you saw these articles, US successful attacks of AQ leaders in Somali

Don't worry about it brother, there must be something going on. The last thing we need is a huge force there to mess things up. Perhaps a small, more discrete force is all we need there and many more places.

Posted by: bg | May 6, 2008 7:09 AM

Phil, further on the subject,strategically, you are right. We do need look beyond the next US election (which is usually the extent of US foreign policy foresight), and consider where the sanctuary might move to if we are allowed to one day work with Pakistan to clear out the sanctuary. We should make an effort today to establish the intelligence infrastructure that we need in places that could one day become a sanctuary so that we are being proactive, instead of reactive.

But right now, I am more worried about the current known sanctuaries that we can't touch, such as the FATA and other lawless regions of Pakistan along the AFG and PAK border. Until we find a way diplomatically to have more direct involvement in Pakistan, we will continue to cut off the heads of the hyrda as it ventures out of the safe area, only to watch another one regenerate in their sanctuary.

Until we can even see a glimmer of hope of removing extremists from Pakistan, we need not worry too much about where they will go next.

Posted by: bg | May 6, 2008 7:22 AM

"Absent the full mobilization of America's active and reserve forces, we have no ability to conduct sustained operations anywhere else because of Iraq and Afghanistan."


As Lloyd Bridges would have said, I sure picked the wrong time to stop sniffing glue.

After six years of endless clusterf**kery in Afghanistan; after five of pointless whack-a-muj in Iraq...and you mourn the fact that we CAN'T put more boots on the ground in some lawless Third World s**thole to chase bandits and goat herders around the ruins of whatever passed for society and government before the whole dilapidated mess collapsed to the ground?

For WHAT, Phil?

To "restore order"? There never WAS order, and the only way to "restore" order is the way the Romans did, by making a wasteland and calling it peace.

To "build the nation"? The never WAS a nation, just some lines some colonial Brit drew on a map to pretend that a bunch of tribesmen were a Westphalian state.

If our current misadventures in the Middle East haven't managed to penetrate the collective skull, let me try the hammer and nail approach:











We have one tool - the hammer of military force. We have no diplomacy because who the hell do we negotiate with? We have no bribery because how do we bribe every damn bandit chief and tribal warlord and keep them bought? We have only the ability to bomb, strafe and shoot. That's fine, sometimes you need to shoot the wolves to keep the sheep safe in the pen. But what do you do when there's nothing BUT wolves?

I, too, regret that our geopolitical shortsightedness has got us stuck in the Middle Eastern tarbaby. But not because it prevents us from getting stuck into an East African tarbaby. As a great philosopher-king once said: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...won't get fooled again.

Posted by: FDChief | May 6, 2008 2:04 PM


Well, yea, but then there's always "interest" hiding under the covers. Why all the sudden would Somalia be back in the news anyway? Cuz maybe intervention might be "profitable" again?

Perish the thought.

Reading Friedrich List's National System of Political Economy . . . the first lines of which read, "At the revival of civilization in Europe,no country was in so favorable a position as Italy in repect to commerce and industry. Barbarism had not been able entirely to eradicate the culture and civilization of ancient Rome. . ."

Posted by: seydlitz89 | May 6, 2008 5:30 PM

seydlitz: It's not that I will argue with the idea that a small group or groups within our nation will benefit from this sort of monkey business. But that was the whole point of the Founders' abhorrance of "faction"; that it would encourage unscrupulous men to place their personal interests over the good of the Nation.

But my point would be not that these men aren't trying to do this stuff. MY point is that they're FAILING to do it. I agree, for example, that the point of Iraq was never the maguffin of "freedom" and "democracy" or even the "WMD" nonsense but power projection in the Middle East. But I think the Perles and Wolfowitzes and Cheneys and Bushes thought that we could Sarawak the thing, walk in, install our Chalabi or whoever, and leave it to "our SOB" to deliver the bases and the exploration rights to the "right people". I think they honestly didn't anticipate the mess they'd make destroying a despotism in a post-Ottoman Third World dump. They still hope to retrieve some of their objectives, which is why we're fighting the anti-Iranian Shiites on behalf of our allies, the pro-Iranian Shiites. But whatever.

The frustrating thing for me is to watch us trying to do the old imperial dance in the old imperial way, sending our field force out to catch the Mad Mullah. In the end it didn't work for the original imperial powers for reasons that haven't really changed much and leave me to suspect that it won't work for us, either. And to make it work, we will have to change ourselves all out of recognition - change back to what we were like in 1900 - and I don't think I want to live in that kind of America...

Posted by: FDChief | May 6, 2008 6:17 PM

I should add that while I won't argue that there may be work to be done in the less-paved portions of the world, preventing the reappearance of outfits like the Barbary Pirates, the notion that we should do it with large conventional military force seems somewhere between rude (given that we wouldn't want someone else to do it to us that way) and foolish (since we show neither the inclination to do it with the ruthlessness that is the only proven successful way nor with the craft and patience that might be a worthwhile alternative. Bg has a point - slow, small and subtle might work. But we don't seem inclined to try it that way, and without that option I'm dead set against using missiles as bricks to try and build nations out of tribes with flags.

Posted by: FDChief | May 6, 2008 6:22 PM


As usual I think we agree on most points. The point where maybe we disagree is concerning the root of the problem.

Did the administration believe their own spin going into Iraq? Without a doubt, but I think that was also beside the point since they were also more than ready to go hard on the Iraqi people in order to show them who was boss. So the mistake was in overestimating their own capabilities of imposing terror on the locals, implementing the "Roman", "Turkish" or "Mongol" approach as you mention. Clausewitz writes that even a guerrilla war cannot take place in an atmosphere of "total danger". In other words we use enough physical and kinetic force to destroy any legitimacy we or our puppets might have while appearing at the same time as brutal and incompetent, able to level a house full of kids but unable to get the water and electricity to work. At the same time lacking the overwhelming presence on the ground which would be necessary to smother the flames of revolt.

This in turn reflects the corrupt nature of what our political system has become imo, in that it can only produce corrupt and dysfunctional policy, where private - but well-connected - interests are only too able to take advantage of the changes that policy necessarily undergoes during the violent social interaction of war.

As an example of what I mean here, and an example of a symptom of a systemic political dysfunction/corruption is this bit from Scott Horton. . .

". . . One career State Department observer put it to me this way. "In Blackwater's dealings with the Department," he said, "I often find myself wondering who is the service provider and who is beneficiary of the services." His point was simple: Blackwater exercised an unseen influence over the process of contracting and supervision; often the Government seems to be working for them. . ."

Their ideology drives them to support their own cronies over the national interests of the state that they ever so incompetently control, while at the same time maintaining that they are unquestioningly able to establish functioning foreign states. What they in fact put together are carbon copies of the same corrupt mass that they themselves represent. In the end what we have is a recipe for a war without end feeding on ever more hostile intentions and feelings of conflicting foreign nationalisms and domestic private economic interests . . .

Posted by: seydlitz89 | May 7, 2008 9:37 AM

seydlitz: We've been over this ground before, yes, and I suspect that we both see the signs of the Fall of the Republic here: corrupt and cynical officers of state conniving with corrupting and cynical private magnates to use the means of public power to divert the resources of the public purse and foreign profit into private coffers.

The bottom line is that it is extremely difficult to be an empire abroad and a republic at home. To bemoan the inability to intervene in the internal affairs of mostly-dysfunctional "nations" that are unlikely to profit from such intervention - and are unlikely to yield any public profit for the intervening nation (as opposed to private profit for certain groups or individuals) is to me a sign that Phil seems to have missed this particular point.

The loyal Bushies at least have an excuse: they're either blinded by their own greed and hubris or flat out f**king as stupid as Dougie Feith. I would hope for more from someone as perceptive as PC. The fact that he doesn't seem to "get it" augurs poorly for the survival of our Republic in any meaningful sense.

Posted by: FDChief | May 7, 2008 12:27 PM


Yes, agree, it does come back down to the "Republic or Empire" choice that some of us have seen for a long time, but the additional point I wished to make is that the character of the government in question marks also the character of the war that they start in motion and also continue in motion, thus a dysfunctional regime wages a dysfunctional war, at least for their own purposes, but since war is a duel on a larger scale, an interaction between living forces, that dysfunctionality does not have to pertain to both sides, that is the other side can take up the instrumental nature of the war in question to their own ends.

I liken your comments as to nominally intelligent people unable to take in what is starring them in the face back to the "too big to fail" notion also common on Wall Street . . . time will tell.

Posted by: seydlitz89 | May 7, 2008 5:07 PM

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