John Bolton’s on his way out the door at the UN, but before he’s little more than a much-maligned, mustachio’d memory, he’s pushing a new policy: UN peacekeepers in Baidoa, Somalia. Baidoa is the seat of the largely impotent “transitional government”, which has been confined to little more than a corner of the country by the Union of Islamic Courts, who’ve brought more than a semblance of peace to Mogadishu and much of the rest of Southern Somalia (though they’ve brought sharia law and public floggings with them as well.)
There’s lots of good reasons to be concerned about the situation in Somalia. The UIC has made loud noises about a “holy war” against Ethiopia, which has been backing the transitional government and supplying it with arms and troops (though Ethiopia insists that those guys with guns in Ethiopian military uniforms are merely “advisors”. One wonders if Zenawi has read up on Kennedy and Johnson…) Ethiopia argues that its enemy, Eritrea, and others are arming the Islamists. And some Somalis affiliated with the UIC have talked of a “greater Somalia”, which includes the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia, which is populated mostly by ethnic Somali.
The UN has found evidence that the UIC is, in part, being armed by Iran and Syria in exchange for the assistance of several hundred UIC fighters on the side of Hizbollah in the Israel/Lebanon war. This, understandably, worries those who see the rise of an Islamist government in Somalia as creating a new safe haven for Al-Qaeda and company. (Lots of Somalia scholars argue that the liberal, Sufi-affiliated Islam that most Somalis practice makes it very unlikely that a government sympathetic to the Wahhabi will emerge in Somalia as the Taliban did in Afghanistan.)
I’m fascinated by Somalia in part because I don’t know who’s right. There’s a strong argument to be made that the UIC has brought a little peace and stability to a nation that’s seen very little of each in the past two decades. The presence of UN peacekeepers is clearly provocative to UIC forces, who say they’ll consider UN troop “an invading force” – does it make sense to try to destabilize the one force that’s provided stability in Southern Somalia in the past decade. On the other hand, UIC is not an elected government – just the most powerful warlords to come into Somalia and stabilize the country. And the news regarding UIC fighters in Lebanon is deeply worrying to anyone who is concerned about failed states.
But it’s a little hard for me to take Bolton’s argument too seriously:
Outgoing US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said not intervening was not an option.
“The other option is that the instability we have seen in Somalia for over 15 years would spread to the region,” he said.
“I think the choice of doing nothing is really not a choice at all.”
Uh, John? Somalia’s been a failed state for 15 years. We’ve done nothing in that time to stabilize the country after being scared off after the battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The country was a haven for piracy, smuggling, cheap diplomatic passports, small arms and all other sorts of bad stuff for the past dozen years… and much of that bad stuff is in decline under the UIC. Is Somalia on the US’s agenda at the UN because we’re suddenly concerned about the security concerns that failed states raise? Or is this a way for the US to show the globalization of the “war on terror” by supporting an effort we know we won’t be contributing troops towards?