Somalia is the New Afghanistan
By: Craig Chamberlain
Of all the problems that the United States faces, and that the Obama administration will have to face, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, a recession, crisis in the credit markets, and rising unemployment there is a new problem that the United States will have to confront. Somalia, the piracy capitol of the world, and increasingly becoming a safe haven for terrorists, is a problem that the Obama administration will find increasingly difficult to ignore.
Why should we care about Somalia? In normal times it would have no bearing on American interests, and we would leave it alone. It’s a lawless country, and after the “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993 Americans are particularly weary of the place. But, it is the lawlessness that should force us to pay attention. If there is one thing we have learned about fighting Islamic terrorists is that they need a safe haven. A place to operate freely, where they get what they want from the government, or, as in the case of Taliban Afghanistan, the terrorists are the government. Places like that, like Somalia, are breeding grounds for terrorist groups that could threaten the interests of the United States.
Somalia was like a wound left untreated, it became infected. After the collapse of the socialist government in 1991 the country collapsed into factional fighting that has continued to this day. This lawlessness has now manifested itself as pirate attacks on shipping along the Somali coast, and much of the southern part of the country is being taken over by Al- Shabaab, the successor to the Council of Islamic Courts, which is affiliated with Al- Qaeda.
Piracy along an important shipping route and large parts of the country being turned into a new Afghanistan. A lawless land being taken over by Islamic radicals who want to turn the country into a base of operations for terrorist groups. For those two reasons alone the United States should pay closer attention. The world is already paying closer attention to the piracy issue, sending ships to the area to hunt down the pirates and insure safe passage for the ships coming down the Red Sea and past the Somali coast.
While there are certainly graver concerns for Washington they ignore the danger in Somalia at their own peril. It would continue to grow until it goes from being a nascent threat to a major one. Taking out pirate ships is a good start, but of no good if they are left with their base of operations on land intact and safe. They can replace ships, and recruit new crews. The only way to stop them, and the Islamic fanatics, permanently is to impose order on Somalia.
This leaves us with a few options that could bring some stability to Somalia and end its days of being a land of anarchy overrun with terrorists, and pirates.
There is the “hard power” option. The United States could go in, like it did in Afghanistan, fight the terrorists ourselves and help the Transitional Federal Government(TFG) take over the country. However, the TFG is weak. It’s far weaker than the Karzai government in Afghanistan. The TFG only controls parts of Mogadishu, and the city of Baidoa. For most of its existence the TFG didn’t even meet in the country but met in neighboring Djibouti. No one obeys the TFG, or cares what they have to say. Backing them would require a large military presence. This is unlikely given current commitments in Iraq and that we’ve pledged 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan. And with the Democrats in power these is little chance of using military force, and assembling a coalition will be unlikely as well. The rest of the world might acknowledge the problem in Somalia but there not going to do anything about it.
Next we have the “soft power” option. If the Obama administration decides to do anything at all it will use words and diplomacy over military action. This would involve brokering some kind of power sharing deal between the various factions. Coming up with something they can all live with will be a problem. Islamic terrorists aren’t known for honoring their agreements. But since this option is the most unrealistic, the least likely to actually accomplish anything, but will get them points for trying, then it is likely the one most likely the Obama Administration will attempt. Being liberals they don’t want to use military force, and believe that multilateral diplomacy will solve everything. Even if diplomacy were the silver bullet, getting warlords and terrorists to sit down and talk would be quite a challenge.
The main problem with “soft power” is enforcement. While it wouldn’t require any actual fighting it would require peacekeepers. Peacekeepers don’t have a good track record, especially in countries like Somalia. It’s unlikely that even President Obama could convince other nations to contribute forces(he’ll most likely be too busy making the oceans go down, and the planet heal to actually deal with real problems). Even if the mission was only temporary, to stabilize the country, and raise and train a new national army it would be difficult to get anyone to agree to sign on.
So where does this leave us? We have a country where pirates and terrorists can operate freely, and we seemingly have no good options. If we do nothing the situation will only worsen with pirate attacks becoming even more brazen than they already are, threatening cargo ships and oil tankers along that route. If we do nothing Al-Qadea linked terrorists could soon find themselves on control of the southern part of the country, and maybe all of Somalia. This will give Islamic fascists a new safe haven, training ground, and would allow them to threaten neighboring countries. Doing nothing might seem the safest option, like ignoring the hornet’s nest in your back yard, but ignore it for too long and you’ll get stung. Ignoring it is not the smartest option even if it seems the safest.
Military force and diplomacy both seem like bad ideas. So where does that leave us? It should leave us looking for people in the country we can work with, and that means we should be looking to the northern part of the country. In the north there is Somaliland, which declared itself independent in 1991. Like the Kurdish region in Iraq it governs itself as an independent, democratic country though its independence is not recognized by any other country. The Somaliland region has held free and fair elections for all levels of government.
This can’t be said of the rest of the country. The TFG is ineffective, and governs almost nothing, and what it does govern it doesn’t govern with the consent of the governed. The TFG is also incompetent, failing to bring order to the country and being chased all over the country. So why bother to support it?
The United States government should support the Somaliland government. When factional fighting existed in Afghanistan, in the 1990′s, there were no good options. We backed the northern alliance out of necessity, not because they were the best option. Here there is an option that allows us to rid Somalia of terrorists and pirates without going to war ourselves.
The Somaliland government should be given diplomatic recognition(if the Messiah, the chosen one in Washington, were to give diplomatic recognition, the other countries would be hard pressed to not follow suit) as well as aid to fight terrorists and to unify the country. They are a natural ally to prevent the country from becoming a new Taliban state that allows terrorists to operate freely.
It would end the piracy menace, prevent terrorists from having the run of a country, advance the security of the United States, as well as the rest of the world. It would also show that Obama administration takes foreign policy and national security seriously. They need to show that, let’s all hope they do.