Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Right is Wrong on Somalia

I've been covering news and blog coverage of the events happening in Somalia, but I have not been participating in the raging debate between the Left and Right bloggers over whether: a) Ethiopia was right to invade Somalia or b) America was right to support Ethiopia's invasion. This is mainly, if you'll allow me one second of elitism, because the debate is at a level beneath noticing. Most of the people who are talking about it are familiar with neither the geography nor the history of the region, much less good grammar and a solid grasp of logic (also known as critical thinking). Still, many have raised their voices in the blogosphere, to either greater or lesser acclaim, arguing that they alone have a complete understanding of the situation and proffering their definitive analysis, "proving" either that the US is wrong in its current policy towards Somalia or that it's right. I've tried to provide thorough enough coverage for the average person to understand fully what has happened in Somalia to decide for themselves what they think about it.

I would not take part in this debate, and I haven't, except Xanthippas finally provoked me into taking action with this little gem of a diatribe. There's so much wrong with this that I just can't not say anything about it. It comes from a commentator over at Obsidian Wings, and it demonstrates that even for those who are fully aware of the reality of the situation, they can still rationalize problems with this administration's policies away by torturing logic to the point that it offers up a false confession.

Let's take this paragraph to begin with:

[T]hat doesn't mean that Ethiopia was wrong to invade Somalia, or that it didn't fit US interests to offer partial support for the endeavor. A murderous and bellicose regime had just ousted the legitimate Somali government. Backed by important Somali warlords and Ethiopia's rival, Eritrea, the insurgents had consolidated power. They stated that they would attack Ethiopia; their public statements also indicated that they regarded swaths of Ethiopian territory as their own. When Ethiopia warned the insurgents that an attack on the Ethiopian solders protecting the last refuge of the legitimate Somali government would result in an armed response, the insurgents did what insurgents do: they attacked anyway.

The phrase "murderous and bellicose regime" as a characterization of the ICU is entirely inaccurate. Even those Somalis who didn't want to live under Islamic law admitted that life was better under the Courts than it had been since the death of Siad Barre. Random violence was ended and Mogadishu was quiet at night for the first time in 16 years. A few well-documented incidents occurred in which overly-zealous ICU fighters enforced their version of Sharia, but this was not (yet) the norm in this Islamic state. The Islamic government hadn't had time to settle things, but they didn't start out by murdering anyone. I freely admit that we can't say for sure they wouldn't have turned into another Taliban, but they certainly weren't as violent as the Taliban were when they came to power. As for bellicose, this commentator must be referring to their recent aggression towards the Transitional Federal Government, but we would do well to remember that they only attacked after the TFG had already imported Ethiopian soldiers, and after rumors of American involvement had proven true. This is all covered in my previous coverage of Somalia, stuff that this commentator could, and should, have read, which means that the person who wrote this post is only interested in convincing others of his ideological views rather than making a fair and balanced argument. Anyway, back to the fray.

The "legitimate Somali government" referred to is the aforementioned TFG. Now the TFG is not to be confused with a democratically elected government-in-exile. The TFG is a bunch of appointees (some of whom are warlords) that the UN basically said would be the government. Now, I have an argument for you. Say there had been some "impartial" international body around in 1781 when we won independence from the British. The international body calls this a civil war, and appoints a government for us. But we, of course, have either appointed (or allowed to operate as a government) those who liberated us. If you were an American of the time, who would you accept as your legitimate government? I'll let Xanthippas analyze the legality of the situation, but it seems to me a natural argument that any government which arises from within and has the support or at least non-hostility of the majority of the population must be the legitimate government, not some rump council appointed by some body outside of the nation in question. Yet again, this point is made by the writer simply to reinforce his ideological view, never mind that it makes no sense, and that this writer certainly would not accept the argument that the European Union has any right to appoint a government for us!

Also, this writer says they "ousted" the legitimate government, never mind that the ICU came to power by quelling the warlords who ruled Somalia and the TFG was never in power to begin with. As a matter of fact, before the ICU brought peace to Somalia, the TFG was unable to enter Somalia. They only got their headquarters in Baidoa after the ICU came to power. I'm not making this up, people. Read the history for yourself.

At this point, I almost don't feel the need to refute the rest of this argument because of its obvious incorrectness, but I suppose I should lest someone think I can't rather than that I'm simply tired of the stupidity.

Backed by important Somali warlords and Ethiopia's rival, Eritrea, the insurgents had consolidated power. They stated that they would attack Ethiopia; their public statements also indicated that they regarded swaths of Ethiopian territory as their own.

I simply don't know where this guy gets the idea that the ICU was working with the warlords that they had kicked out of power. Perhaps he's confusing the Courts with us, because we did work with the warlords in an attempt to block the rise of the Courts. It's true they were getting support from Eritrea, but at this point, nothing exists to say that Eritrea was helping the Courts out before Ethiopia was helping the TFG out (and, by extension, the warlords). Both Ethiopia and Eritrea jumped into this situation because both saw the potential benefits of being allied with the future rulers of Somalia. Ethiopia certainly was not innocently defending itself; it was, on the contrary, deliberately manipulating events in Somalia to its own advantage. Furthermore, this writer is attempting to mislead readers into thinking that the Courts were, without precedent, claiming some parts of Ethiopia and declaring that they would take them by force. As a matter of fact, the ICU repeatedly warned Ethiopia from getting involved in Somali affairs, which is why they said they would attack Ethiopia. As for claiming the Ogaden (this guy could at least learn what they're talking about), it has been a historic source of contention between Somalia and Ethiopia. The last legitimate Somali government fought a war over it and was crushingly defeated by the much superior Ethiopian forces. But the majority of Somalis think of the Ogaden as part of Somalia, so the ICU making this claim simply reflects what most Somalis think. Heck, I'm sure members of the TFG also think it's theirs, but they know which side their bread is buttered on. It means nothing, because even if the ICU had invaded Ethiopia with their few thousand men and some trucks, they couldn't possibly have waged an effective war.

When Ethiopia warned the insurgents that an attack on the Ethiopian solders protecting the last refuge of the legitimate Somali government would result in an armed response, the insurgents did what insurgents do: they attacked anyway.

A point needs to be clarified. At the time the Courts' soldiers fought the Ethiopians, they were not insurgents. They were the group in control of the largest swath of Somalia. As for their reaction to having Ethiopian troops on Somali soil, they did what we would do if the Republic of Texas invited some Mexican troops over to protect them, namely, they attacked foreign invaders.

Let's take a look at a few more of the claims made in this piece.

Moreover, given the convergence of interests, it made absolute sense for the US to assist Ethiopia. A bloody and long-fought insurgency was likely to occur with or without our involvement. May as well as use it to our advantage, by helping to remove jihadist thugs from power, aid the re-installation of the legitimate Somali government, and hunt real and suspected extremist and terrorist elements.

This is called "realism." We need more of it.

This is what's wrong with the Right. If they heard President Bush say he was riding a unicorn the other day down at his ranch, they would immediately leap to his defense with proofs of the historical existence of unicorns as well as convincing themselves that they had seen a unicorn recently. Never mind that they couldn't produce an actual unicorn. It's just that "shut up and do what the boss says" mentality that makes them who they are.

Ok, let's get to real reality. Jihadist thugs or not, the only claim the US made about the ICU harboring terrorists was that they believed that one senior member of the ICU was sheltering three men suspected of taking part in terrorist attacks. Was a war going to break out regardless of our actions? I'm not sure, but I think it certainly says something that when they did invade, US advisors rode in with them. At the very least, we gave them weapons and encouraged them to invade.

This guy is telling us that the "realpolitik" of the situation favored our intervention. Did it? Last anyone said, we haven't captured or killed those three suspected terrorists. We did, however, create yet another failed nation-state that Islamic terrorists might now use for training camps, but we've got no one to negotiate with to end it. Somalian pirates are back in action who had been curtailed by the ICU while they were in power. We haven't "re-installed the legitimate government", because for one, they were never in power (or the legitimate government), and as we showed in Iraq you can't force a government on anyone. Nor do we have the means with which to back them up. Some of the idiot higher-ups may have thought the Ethiopians would do our dirty work for them, but Ethiopia doesn't care about Somalia. All they wanted was to remove the only political group in Somalia that could have united the country so they wouldn't have to deal with Somalia as a rival. I bet they've already worked out a sweet deal with the TFG for use of the ports, since Ethiopia is land-locked.

Now here's the kicker.

[I]t bears remembering that Yglesias himself has not been a fountain of wisdom on all things Somali. He proposed negotiating with the Somali insurgents and granting legitimacy to their government: "The best way to obtain those [al Queda] suspects would have been to try to cooperate with the ICU in securing custody over them." This course would have put us directly at odds with the European Union and the African Union, both of which backed the legitimate Somali government. That's reason enough to reject it. It's also shockingly ahistorical and ungrounded in evidence. That's another reason to reject it.

Given that the ICU were never insurgents (until after they'd been driven from Mogadishu), it makes more sense that one would advocate negotiating with the only power in the land rather than using a proxy to knock them off, especially when the latter course still wouldn't guarantee satisfaction. Furthermore, negotiating with someone doesn't imply anything about their status other than that they're the ones who have what you need. I'm sure in a perfect world we wouldn't have negotiated with the Soviets either, but we couldn't get what we wanted by ignoring them. Heck for a perfect parallel, in what way is North Korea's government legitimate? Yet here we are negotiating to keep them from building nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the EU and AU never advocated non-negotiation, but this author wants us to believe that since they recognize the legitimacy of the TFG, they would have objected to us even talking to the ICU. That's plainly ridiculous. Do I even need to point out that the Europeans in general love to talk instead of taking action? Anyone remember Bosnia?

Lastly: "The Bush administration, for once, confronted the situation as it was and devised a plan to make the best of it. We need more of that. Not less. And this remains true regardless who supported the plan."

His whole argument rests on the idea that a war was inevitable, therefore we had best be involved in order to have a chance of getting the results we wanted, namely, the capture of three suspects. That's not even a good argument if its conditions were fulfilled. I fail to see how inevitable war precluded us from talking to the ICU in the first place.

Of course, we don't even have to talk about what-ifs. This administration continues to trample our good name in the eyes of the world by working with the most despicable regimes on the planet in the name of our war on terror. We've just alienated the Somalis who didn't have a problem with us and proven that we operate with an ideology of "all Muslims are bad". The realpolitik of the situation is really that the moral high ground does count and that we've sacrificed it yet again for nothing. If you think world opinion doesn't matter, that's not the real world. That's unicorn land.

UPDATE: Xanthippas here, with a link to Eric Martin's post that only reinforces the fact that conservatives have no idea at all what's going on in Somalia.


Alexander Wolfe said...

"That's unicorn land."


And you didn't even have time to mention the fact that the Ethiopians are now rounding Somalis on our behalf and imprisoning them in camps in Ethiopia, and allowing us to "vet" the terrorists among them...which is probably zero, unless your definition of terrorist is now "anybody who hates us because of what we did to them."

Great post.

adam said...

Indeed, great post.