Worthwile Ethiopio-American Initiative

Petey draws my attention to this example of the Bush administration appearing to do something clever in the Horn of Africa by arranging for the safe passage of Sheik Sharif Ahmed formerly of the Islamic Courts Union to Kenya and encouraging the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia to work with him. Ahmed was one of the more moderate figures inside the ICU but also a very high-ranking official with perhaps a large following among the ICU rank-and-file. Clearly, I think, the Bush administration's instincts are correct here. The question is whether it will work.

Frankly, I'm pessimistic. And also frankly, my pessimism is based almost entirely on the Iraq fiasco which seems to me to indicate that there are real limits to this kind of cleverness. The TFG leadership, presumably, doesn't want to give substantial power to Ahmed. And the United States has no real leverage over the TFG. Like al-Maliki government in Iraq, Bush has committed himself to TFG victory -- anything less would be a win for the terrorists -- we're not going to pull our support just because they won't compromise with Ahmed. What's more, any deal Ahmed may or may not cut stands at least as good a chance of reducing his credibility (he'd be selling out to foreign invaders and corrupt warlords) as it does of enhancing the TFG's credibility.

Noting the ideological diversity of the ICU, we can also sketch out a very pessimistic scenario here. Already, Somalia is starting to "former Islamist fighters, who are suspected of being the backbone of Somalia’s growing insurgency" fighting against the Ethiopians and the TFG. The Ethiopians say they want to withdraw soon since Ethiopia isn't the USA and actually can't afford a prolonged occupation of a foreign country.

A few years from now, in short, the ICU or its lineal descendants may be back running Somalia again, except they'll have had their moderate elements purged. The movement will be shorn-down to its hardest core of committed fighters who'll then be further hardened and radicalized by fighting the Ethiopian occupiers. And we'll wind up having delayed an Islamist takeover of Somalia by a few years in exchange for making the new regime much harder to deal with -- the United States, after all, will have clearly cast itself as an enemy -- than it need have been.

Many other things, of course, could happen. As I say, in this instance at least the Bush administration's instinct about how to deal with the aftermath of the situation it's created seems smart. I hope things will work out for them they do, at least, seem to have some appreciation of the risks (I suspect different government agencies of having different attitudes toward Somalia policy). Smarter still is to not create these situations. Maybe things will work out.