Islamists abandon Mogadishu in the face of Ethiopia’s apparently unstoppable conventional assault, leaving the capital back under conditions of clan-based anarchy. It will be interesting to see if the Ethiopians and/or the transitional government try to actually assert control over the capital. This has the rough shape of the result I would have anticipated (conventional success followed by hard-to-solve problems) but I must admit I wouldn’t have believed the Ethiopian military had the logistical capacity to advance this quickly.
Spencer spent some time working the phones in an effort to answer the question of the hour: which terrorists are the Islamic Courts Union harboring. “That’s a good question,” conceded Carl Kropf from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence who didn’t know the answer.
As you’ll see if you read Spencer’s post, there is an answer. The Somali terror nexus isn’t something invented out of whole cloth. On the other hand, it really doesn’t seem to me that there’s much there there. We want three guys, one of whom (Abu Tahai al-Sudani) there doesn’t appear to be any information about other than that we say he’s a terrorist, and the actual relationship between our desire to apprehend these dudes and the question of who controls Mogadishu is pretty vague. They were in Somalia before the ICU took power, and it’s at least not obvious to me why kicking the ICU out of the capital (or wherever they’re being kicked) would bring them to our custody.
The fact that the designated spokespersons for the US government didn’t have an answer at hand to the admittedly good question of what the basis of our policy was tends to indicate to me that the policy is not incredibly well-founded. As recently as the December 20 State Department briefing, Sean McCormack was saying America’s top policy priority was “that we don’t want to see the conflict in Somalia spread to the region . . . we don’t want to see a proxy fight in Somalia,” not anything about Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. A week later: Proxy fight on!
Forced to choose between intensive inquiry into the idea of swapping Ron Artest for Corey Maggette or else looking further at the Horn of African situation, I reluctantly chose what was behind door number two. Take a look back, shall we, at the December 7 State Department briefing. Sean McCormick got a question: “Sean, on Somalia. The Islamists say that they are sort of less than happy with the UN’s endorsement of this African peacekeeping force and they say that it’s just going to add fuel to the fire. I wondered whether you — were causing sort of a regional war?” McCormick replies, “no.” The questioner wants more: “Do you have any comment?” McCormick elaborates:
Look, this is — this force was authorized as a training and protection force for the Transitional Federal Institutions. Its approval takes place within the context of policy that we believe that the way forward here is for negotiations between the Islamic Courts and the Transitional Federal Institutions. As long as the Islamic Courts perceive that they can continue to back the Transitional Federal Institutions into a tighter and tighter and smaller and smaller corner, there of course is less and less incentive one would expect for them to actually want to negotiate. So I can understand why they may be less than happy about this. But this is a policy that is endorsed by a number of different countries in the region.
The force will be deployed under the aegis of the IGAD countries, which is the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, and it’s an East African regional organization. And the resolution also clearly states that neighboring states: Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti will not deploy troops to Somalia. So it actually specifically addresses this idea that somehow this action will directly lead to some wider conflict on the — in the Horn of Africa.
In short, the state of play a few weeks ago was this. Islamists were threatening to overrun the powerless Transitional Government unless an international peacekeeping force was sent in to protect them. So the United States sought to get such a force and, indeed, the UN agreed to authorize one. The Islamic Courts Union said that such a move would lead to a regional war. According to The Washington Post, “the United States accommodated a European request to exclude participation by Somalia’s neighbors, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, in the new force.” Our stated policy, as McCormick indicated, was to avoid rather than cause a regional war.
Now at this time, Ethiopia had already “sent thousands of troops [to Somalia] to help prop up the government.” Presumably, the deployment of a UN-approved force that would exclude Ethiopian participation (it was to be led by Uganda) would have precluded the Ethiopians from further expanding their ambit of control in Somalia. Thus, the war is launched to pre-empt the deployment of the Ugandan-led force — apparently with American approval contrary to the policy McCormick outlined earlier in December. New Republic editor in chief Martin Peretz approves, citing the prospects for a Jew/Rastafarian/Christian alliance against Islamist influence in East Africa.
I’d forgotten that The New York Sun is so around the bend that they don’t print the term “Palestinians.” Instead, we read that Barack Obama “has faulted the Bush administration for not pushing harder for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.” Lawyer Alan Solow, a longtime Obama supporter and Jewish Community Center Association leader is trotted out to assure Sun readers that Obama has “been very strong on the defense of a safe and secure Israel.” The article also notes that Obama says “he would tend to support a missile strike on Iran if other methods fail to get Tehran to abandon its nuclear program” which I think is unfortunate.
I was most interested to see the views of Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell and a major Obama supporter. Power turns out to have significantly sounder views (none of this nonsense for example) than I had thought. All in all, he looks pretty good assuming he’s not too serious about that whole starting a war with Iran thing.
Joe Biden has often used his platform as the Democrat most likely to be paid attention to on national security issues to unimpressive effect. But with regards to the Bush escalation plan, he’s playing for the good guys: “I totally oppose this surging of additional American troops into Baghdad. It’s contrary to the overwhelming body of informed opinion, both inside and outside the administration.” Biden says he’ll start his Iraq hearings on January 9.
My theory about the popularity of a “more troops” strategy for Iraq among pundits and politicians had been that they knew this wasn’t going to happen. By recommending a course of action that you know won’t be adopted, you’ll get to blame the catastrophe on Iraq on (a) treasonous anti-war types, and (b) George W. Bush while leaving super-hawk ideology unscathed. The trouble, of course, is that Bush now looks set to embrace the “surge” strategy. So Jack Keane and Fred Kagan take to the pages of The Washington Post to argue that a three or six month surge “would virtually ensure defeat.” Instead we need “a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so.”
Once you’re talking about an 18 month deployment, of course, you’re not really looking at a surge. And the logistics of producing the surge by extending deployments start to get much more difficult. So Bush may get his surge and Kagan may still get to claim his brilliant strategy was never adopted after all. Be that as it may, the point is that this war will still be in full-swing — possibly even further escalated beyond where it is today — during the 2008 campaign.
Plus: Double entendre of the day: “The only ‘surge’ option that makes sense is both long and large.”
UPDATE: Paradox of the day, J-Pod: “The key here is time. A ‘temporary’ troop surge will be a disaster.” A permanent surge, sure. Just remember, ignorance is strength.