Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Trouble in Somalia

Here's a reasonably good background piece on the current fighting in Somalia, by Jonathan Stevenson of the U.S. Naval War College, published in today's Wall Street Journal.

Summarizing and omitting some nuances, here's the situation. Somalia hasn't really had a central government since the "Black Hawk Down" period in 1994, despite some efforts by the U.S. and U.N. to establish one. In fact, this wasn't such a bad situation, as I wrote in a column some years ago; various traditional tribal societies controlled various territories within the Somali region and generally didn't bother one another too much. Despite -- or because of -- the lack of a central government there was some economic development of a Hayekian spontaneous order nature, but without the agreement on rules of trade across a broad region that is usually required to really jumpstart development.

More recently, however, Somalis and outside helpers established the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), but a competitor for power has developed in the Islamist Islamic Courts Union, which actually controls more territory in Somalia, including the traditional capital of Mogadishu. Ethiopia, a traditionally Christian nation (though about 49 percent Muslim now) opposes jihadism and has sent troops to root out the Islamic Courts militia in support of the TFG. So far the more experienced Ethiopian troops have had the better of it, but Eritrea, a traditional rival of Ethiopia is supporting the Islamic Courts, so that's probably not a final outcome. The U.S. is tacitly supporting Ethiopia.

I suspect we would be better off not trying to create a Western-model nation-state superstructure in Somalia. Once there's even a simulacrum of a power center power-hungry or religiously motivated forces will want to seize and control it. If the current fighting continues, however, or if the Islamists seem on the verge of success, pressure could build for the U.S. to intervene out of fear that a state-protected base for jihad could be established. I think that would be a foolish move, but . . .

The situation bears watching.

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