Looking Back at Somalia


One thing that often happens in the punditry game is that you get things wrong. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 turned out much worse than I’d thought at the time. The Obama administration’s economic team seems to have had a worse grasp on things than I’d thought they would have. But sometimes you get things right! And with the White House increasingly alarmed about the power of al-Shabaab in Somalia, I feel comfortable proclaiming myself wildly vindicated in my skepticism about the US/Ethiopian effort to dislodge the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu:

Troops sent into Somalia to follow up on the AC-130 strike told The Washington Post that “no one can confirm a high-value target” was present at the scene. They did, however, find documents indicating that Aden Ayrow, not an al-Qaeda figure but a commander in the ICU military, had been there. The strike looks, in short, as if it was simply undertaken in support of Ethiopia’s military adventure. Mogadishu is descending into chaos, with gun battles on the streets and predictable popular anger at the foreign invaders, their foreign backers (i.e., us), and their domestic puppets in the de jure government. An untold number of people have already been killed in the fighting, and many more are likely to die if Somalia devolves again into civil war, a situation that will only make the country more hospitable to al-Qaeda.

What’s more, nobody can quite explain what it is we’ve accomplished, what we hoped to accomplish, or what we think we may in the future accomplish by doing this. A January 13 New York Times articles cited special forces sources as arguing that the operation should be a model for future conduct, but their explanation, that it “flushed the Qaeda suspects from their hide-outs and gave American intelligence operatives fresh information about their whereabouts,” is bizarre. Sponsoring a foreign invasion of an entire country to capture three suspects would be serious overkill by any reasonable standard, but pronouncing the operation a to-be-mimicked success when you haven’t even captured the targets is inane.

At the time, we were intervening on behalf of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government against an Islamic Courts Union headed by Sharif Ahmed. The ICU, once crushed, splintered into various faction, the most radical of which, al-Shabaab, is now fighting against a new version of the TFG which is currently headed by none other than Sharif Ahmed himself! Military adventures are frequently counterproductive, but rarely in such direct and clearcut a way as this. Now the best-case scenario is Somalia ruled by the very we intervened to boot from power.