Monday, February 23, 2009

Somalia and the Death of Responsibility To Protect

Jeffrey Gettleman writes a great piece on Somalia, calling it "the most dangerous place in the world." His basic point is that not only is the country an anarchic catastrophe, but the international community doesn't know what to do about it, and everything we've tried has usually made the situation worse.

Gettleman (emphasis mine):
It’s crunch time for Somalia, but the world is like me, standing in the doorway, looking in at two decades of unbridled anarchy, unsure what to do. Past interventions have been so cursed that no one wants to get burned again. The United States has been among the worst of the meddlers: U.S. forces fought predacious warlords at the wrong time, backed some of the same predacious warlords at the wrong time, and consistently failed to appreciate the twin pulls of clan and religion. As a result, Somalia has become a graveyard of foreign-policy blunders that have radicalized the population, deepened insecurity, and pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

The moral of the story: don't mess with sovereignty. As Matthew Yglesias points out:
There’s an enormous tendency in this town, and in establishment circles more generally, to see American involvement in a situation as by definition offering a solution. And certainly the United States has involved itself constructively in many situations around the world over the decades. But it’s not some kind of law of nature that us poking around somewhere is a good idea. And in Somalia, at least, our involvement has been hugely destructive.

I tend to go even further: in a tribal bloodbath like Somalia, there is very little the US can do, and to the extent we try to do anything, we become enmeshed in the conflict. Now we're shooting scud missiles into Mogadishu in a fitful attempt to catch this or that an evildoer, while the whole population is being radicalized with anti-American Islamists who were largely unknown in the country even a decade ago.

Gettleman points out that Somalia, though ethnically and religiously homogenous, divvies itself up by clan. Not surprisingly, that stuff is very important over there, as it is everywhere. Gettleman:
Somali society often divides and subdivides when faced with internal disputes, but it quickly bands together when confronted by an external enemy. The United States learned this the hard way when its forces tried to apprehend the warlord of the day, Mohammed Farah Aidid.

The moral of the story for me is that there's very little the outside community can do, and not only that, to the extent the international community does anything, it makes the situation worse and more dangerous for the rest of the world. Why waste money, lives, and political capital on making the world a worse place? I'd rather stay home and let a clan-based solution come to Somalia from within (which is pretty much what happened in 2005 before we sent in the Ethiopians), because I doubt it will happen any other way.

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