After having followed this blog for some time, Tom Schaffer, a political sciences student in Vienna, kindly e-mailed me two weeks ago to ask what I thought should be done in Somalia, and why. I replied by confessing that I had mostly (and rather lazily) been letting my very eloquent friends speak for me. However, I promised to put down some thoughts of my own and post them (see "Ten Things," below).
Please share your own thoughts and comments about my list with me and others by clicking here or at the end of the list.
I also visited Tom's own website and found it to be a most interesting and lively discussion of international affairs issues generally and, of course, Austria in particular—in German. Check it out.
the U.S. should or should NOT do about Somalia
- Forget force, think conciliation. Resist the temptation to throw armed "peacekeepers," whether ours or someone else's, at Somalia's problems. Instead, press for enforcement of the Security Council's total arms embargo—against everyone. In place of weapons, offer mediators, conciliators, brokers. Get Somalis talking to each other again, as they did in Nairobi. And be patient—don't expect a breakthrough overnight.
- Don't take sides. So long as we continue to view Somalia in terms of good guys and bad guys, we're certain to choose the wrong side. By picking favorites, we only reinforce the ethnic and cultural divisions we should be helping Somalis overcome.
- Don't project our terrorism issues onto Somalia. Somalia is not a War on Terror battlefield and isn't likely to become one (unless we make it happen). Embassy bombings elsewhere in Africa notwithstanding, the handful of Somali "radicals" on our terrorist list are simply incapable of seriously damaging vital U.S. interests. Chasing down suspected Al Qaeda followers only turns moderate Somalis into enemies.
- Don't try to "rescue" Somalia by applying made-in-USA solutions. Resist tutoring them, even with the best of intentions, in how to organize their politics. Let them rediscover and update the traditional systems that served them well enough for a thousand years. We proved a decade ago that we didn't have the answers to Somalia's problems, and we still don't.
- Don't take on the task of keeping peace in the Horn of Africa. Resist the imperial urge. No one appointed us to take on that task, much less to hire the Ethiopians, Ugandans, or Kenyans—each with its own private agenda in the Horn—as our surrogates. When the Berlin Wall fell, we swore we would not become the world's sheriff, but we're becoming just that.
- Send a diplomat to be our eyes and ears in Somalia. Despite the risks, make the grand gesture. Establish an official presence, at least part time. Send a courageous veteran FSO to set up an office in Mog; establish regular contact with political leaders, the clergy, the business community, and NGO people; and report back regularly to Washington on what's really happening.
- Consult seriously with friends and allies about joint, non-military, confidence-building steps. Listen carefully to what the British, Italians, Saudis, Omanis, and Scandinavians say; they know Somalia better than we do. Explore ways to be jointly supportive of reconciliation.
- Be genuinely neutral. Don't be sucked into taking sides in clan or factional disputes. Resist being used by one side or another in settling local scores. Asking Somalis to "finger" terrorists has been highly disruptive of conciliation efforts. . . . and absurdly naïve.
- Do good works and make them visible. Send food and medicine through NGOs. Nothing won us more Somali friends and admirers than "Operation Restore Hope." They danced in the streets when our troops arrived and pushed aside the warlords' militias when we brought food to the hungry and medicine to the sick. The mission only went sour when we undertook to repair the "root causes" of the country's disorder; we should have quit while we were ahead.
- Try making friends. Deep down, the vast majority of Somalis love and admire Americans. Treat them as valuable friends and seek their collaboration as equals. Allying ourselves with warlords and with Ethiopia, to oust a faction that had actually done some good for lots of people, was a colossal PR mistake that won't be easily undone.