Department of Obscure Policy Blunders

The new TNR contains a great piece by Eliza Griswold on the situation in the Horn of Africa "Occupational Hazard: The Other Failed Invasion."

And so, last Christmas Eve, the Christian-led government of Ethiopia invaded and--supported, later, by U.S. air strikes--successfully dislodged the Islamist UIC, largely because it believed (correctly) that rebels backed by its enemy, Eritrea, were using Somalia as a staging area for attacks. The result is an occupation by Ethiopian soldiers that fuels the local insurgency, threatens to destabilize the Horn of Africa, and offers Al Qaeda an additional talking point in its campaign to persuade Muslims that the West has declared war upon them. Many of the region's Muslims saw the Ethiopian invasion as a Christmas present from Ethiopia's leaders to America's. "When the Americans started backing the Ethiopians around Christmas," one woman who supported the courts said, "we started calling the Ethiopians kafir, or infidels." [...]

This is certainly how Al Qaeda would like the world's 1.3 billion Muslims to view what's happening in Somalia. In early 2007, Ayman Al Zawahiri called for attacks against the occupying Ethiopian soldiers using "ambushes, mines, raids, and martyrdom-seeking campaigns to devour them as the lions devour their prey." But his message wasn't meant merely for Somali ears; it was also intended to inflame Muslims worldwide by suggesting, once again, that the Christian West is at war with Islam.

In the end, though, resentment toward the U.S.-backed occupation may prove to be a greater destabilizing force for the entire region than Al Qaeda ever was, especially in Kenya, where the war on terrorism is directly linked to the rise of radical Islamic identity. In the name of chasing a few bad men, the Christmas invasion played into millennia of distrust between predominantly Christian Ethiopia (4050 percent of the population is Muslim) and Somalia, which is almost 100 percent Muslim. "The popular perception is that Christian soldiers are occupying a Muslim land," says Roland Marchal, a senior research fellow at Sciences-Po in Paris.

I wonder what James Kirchick thinks now.

Presented by

Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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