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June 18, 2007

Comments

In lieu of editing my own .htaccess file, here's the link above, with apologies to von:

http://joshua.trevino.at/?p=190

hooray, the reasonable and grounded trevino has redirected us to a flickr page!

in other words, von, your link doesn't work because all of our wicked liberal eyes are not allowed to see the writings of your "blogfather"

Are we, in fact, successfully capturing high level Al Qaeda suspects as a result of this policy? I know we've been proxy-detaining a bunch of people & transferred a few to Guantanamo but I have no idea, really, who they are.

Or, since the Ethernopians were going to kick butt and take names later in any event, we could have just stayed out of it altogether and reaped the rewards anyway, it seems. Or not.

Given the convergence of interests, it made absolute sense for the US to assist Ethiopia. War was going to come anyway. A bloody and long-fought insurgency was likely to occur with or without our involvement. May as well as use it to our advantage.

Don't the last three sentences kind of argue against the first? Why wasn't staying the hell out of the situation an option, from your perspective?

Ethiopia's current government does not consist of "teh good guys," but to assume that they wouldn't or couldn't respond to these provocations is as asinine as adopting a panda bear as a foreign policy.

This could also be used in defense of the Sudanese government's response to the insurgent attacks in Darfur, could it not?

I'm getting really tired of "US interests" and so is pretty much the rest of the world.

in other words, von, your link doesn't work because all of our wicked liberal eyes are not allowed to see the writings of your "blogfather"

Am I reading this correctly? Tacitus redirects us away from his writings?

Sigh. How far the mighty have fallen.

Thanks, Trevino. I highly recommend cutting and pasting the link provided to read Trevino's entry on the subject.

I'm getting really tired of "US interests" and so is pretty much the rest of the world.

With all due respect, I really don't care.

Katherine, I'm not a defender of the Administrations detention policies -- as I hope folks are beginning to understand, there are a lot of people on the center-right and right who haven't been -- but I am having trouble understanding your point. There's no doubt that the ICU were/are jihadist thugs. We know this because they acted like jihadist thugs. There's also a very long history of Somalia being a refuge for extremists, and good intelligence that extremists were offering material aid to the ICU.

Don't the last three sentences kind of argue against the first? Why wasn't staying the hell out of the situation an option, from your perspective?

Staying out was a possibility. I think that a decent case can be made for it. But that's not what Yglesias advocated: he wanted to intervene on the wrong side.

My view is that, on balance, offering measured assistance to Ethiopia was the right thing to do. We helped destroyed or, at a minimum, diminished a nascent jihadi regime; received sorely-needed goodwill from the biggest regional power in a bad neighborhood; helped reestablish the only Somali government that is likely to be at peace with its neighbors;* and took out suspected and actual terrorists. This was a better option. There's also a legit case that our involved had the potential to reduce the bloodshed, although it's highly questionable whether that actually occurred. (Nor, however, is there any evidence that our actions increased the bloodshed.)

*I recognize that the TFG is far from perfect, but it is the best of the available government structures.

I was really asking a factual question, which you have not answered. That the ICU are "jihadist thugs" in some generic sense just plain doesn't answer whether we have actually captured people who threatened the U.S...I mean, Ethiopian forces are thugs too, albeit non-jihadist ones. And the fact that it's "known" (it may be, but you're provided no actual details) that there are high level terrorists somewhere in Somalia does not mean that they're who we or Ethiopia are capturing. There were high level Al Qaeda members in the neighborhood of Tora Bora in late 2001--a hell of a lot more than in Somalia--but we weren't real successful at catching them; most of the high level arrests happened later, in various cities in Pakistan.

You keep referring to evidence that exists, make factual assertions about the war, and provide, as far as I can tell, no actual citations or support for them at all. Would Ethiopia have invaded no matter what we did? It's plausible but I don't actually know if it's true. Would the EU and the African Union have actively supported the invasion the way we are? If I'm remembering correctly, the EU has mainly been making vague calls for a ceasefire. They might be true, but I don't actually know whether they're true; you might be an expert on the Horn of Africa, but you're not so much proving it. I could be wrong about this, but your basis for supporting this action seems to be based on the same level of analysis & subject to the same level of scrutiny as the U.S.'s involvement in various proxy wars during the Cold War--a quick knee jerk decision that since everyone's a thug we might as well support our thugs.

I'm not a defender of the Administrations detention policies -- as I hope folks are beginning to understand, there are a lot of people on the center-right and right who haven't been

von,

I believe that you are not a "defender of the Administrations detention policies."

But I do not believe that "there are a lot of people on the center-right and right who haven't been."

Could you perhaps point to "a lot" on the right who fit this description?

With all due respect, I really don't care.

I am aware of that, and don't mind me, it's just that, unless you're interested in a perpetual war on terror, you're not going to get very far by pursuing the 'national interest'.

Katherine's last sentence nails it. Von have you really taken a good hard like at Ethiopia's government? Their jailing of journalists? Their very own version of Tianamen Square? The allegations of rape and brutality committed by their soldiers in the Ogaden?

"Von have you really taken a good hard like at Ethiopia's government? Their jailing of journalists? Their very own version of Tianamen Square? The allegations of rape and brutality committed by their soldiers in the Ogaden?"

Yeah, but at least they're not jihadists, or uruk-hai, or Balrogs or Nazgul or anything like that.

I highly recommend cutting and pasting the link provided to read Trevino's entry on the subject.

As Trevino has resorted to the LGF tried-and-true tactic of redirecting traffic from here so that we cannot link to his blog, what reason would we have of taking the extra effort to get around his childish and petty redirect? Because it's really really good? I doubt it. And with all due respect, Von, I can't be bothered.

Von:

First the points of agreement: Yes, the Pajamas Media clowns are the hackmost hacks of hackery, and their hackishness is never so obvious as when they bloviate about foreign policy: and Yes, Matt Yglesias is flogging a very expired equine in ranking them over the bellicose glee with which they applauded the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia last December.

But it really is hard to see how the overt and ostentatious support of the US in aiding the Ethiopian intervention really does(did?) "fit US interests". It is even harder to see what long-term advantage the US can wring out of its backing of an invasion of a country (which probably holds America in general dislike anyway) by a (despised) army of foreigners; in pursuit (apparently) of establishing a military presence in a "country" which doesn't want it; and in support of a "government" whose authority is ephemeral, at best.

From everything I have read, the problem with the Somali Transitional Federal Government is that while it may have the "backing of the UN, EU and AU", it doesn't seem to have the backing of appreciable numbers of Somalis (there's a reason why it was chased out of the capitol) - who, AFAICT, see it as just another warlord gang (albeit one with foreign guns -lots of them- backing it up).

Somalia is one of the world's premier political messes - as is the Horn of Africa in general - and intelligent solutions to clean the mess up are few and far between. At least those that don't involve a lot of gratuitous bloodshed that, as per Katherine's comments, may or may not be applied to actual "enemies".

You might believe that the Bush Adminstration's vigorous support for Ethiopia was "confront[ing] the situation as it was and devis[ing] a plan to make the best of it." - but their "best", so far, has shown little return.


d-p-u:

No need to wade through Josh Trevino's thickets of prose: his link leads to a pair of posts on his blog from last December. First, a gripe about the lameness of Western press coverage of the Ethiopian "intervention" (not that he was all wrong about that!). Second, a somewhat lengthier diatribe about the disgraceful lack-of-moral-clarity over the S/E war by "the left": centered around a thorough fisking of Matt Yglesias' commentary.

Although, in true Tacitan style he does pay MY a sort of left-handed compliment:

"It’s easy to pick on Yglesias, but we should be fair and note two other things: First, we do so because he is, unlikely [sic] the bulk of his fellows in the leftosphere, neither intrinsically ignorant nor obscene."

I'm getting really tired of "US interests" and so is pretty much the rest of the world.

With all due respect, I really don't care.

With all due respect, you're wildly outnumbered.

To expand this beyond a drive-by:

You really ought to care, because there's a lot more of the rest of the world than there is of us.

The only area in which we dominate the world at this point in any kind of unique or exclusive way is militarily. In a non-symmetric context, even that may not be of as much value as we think.

If we want to hold the rest of the world hostage at gunpoint, maybe we can throw our weight around for a while longer. Then again, maybe not. Nineteen guys, some box cutters, and about a half million bucks did a lot of damage.

Short of that, we better learn to play nicely with others. It's their world, too.

Thanks -

Staying out was a possibility. I think that a decent case can be made for it. But that's not what Yglesias advocated: he wanted to intervene on the wrong side.

My view is that, on balance, offering measured assistance to Ethiopia was the right thing to do. We helped destroyed or, at a minimum, diminished a nascent jihadi regime; received sorely-needed goodwill from the biggest regional power in a bad neighborhood; helped reestablish the only Somali government that is likely to be at peace with its neighbors;* and took out suspected and actual terrorists.

Again, the same would likely be true had the US interceded in Sudan on the side of the government. The government is fighting against an Islamist insurgent movement that started the conflict by attacking and massacring police and military units without provocation. Like the Ethopians, the Sudanese government are shady fellows, but are probably better than the regime the insurgents would instantiate upon victory.

Yet I'm reasonably certain that you are not about to make that argument, Von.

Von, here's some of what Ethiopia's Army has been accused of doing against its own citizens:

Anab, a 40-year-old camel herder who was too frightened, like many others, to give her last name, said soldiers took her to a police station, put her in a cell and twisted her nipples with pliers. She said government security forces routinely rounded up young women under the pretext that they were rebel supporters so they could bring them to jail and rape them.

“Me, I am old,” she said, “but they raped me, too.”

Moualin, a rheumy-eyed elder, said Ethiopian troops stormed his village, Sasabene, in January looking for rebels and burned much of it down. “They hit us in the face with the hardest part of their guns,” he said.

[...]

The violence has been particularly acute against women, villagers said, and many have recently fled.

Asma, 19, who now lives in neighboring Somaliland, said she was stuck in an underground cell for more than six months last year, raped and tortured. “They beat me on the feet and breasts,” she said. She was freed only after her father paid the soldiers ransom, she said, though she did not know how much.

Ambaro, 25, now living in Addis Ababa, said she was gang-raped by five Ethiopian soldiers in January near the town of Fik. She said troops came to her village every night to pluck another young woman.

“I’m in pain now, all over my body,” she said. “ I’m worried that I’ll become crazy because of what happened.”

I think you're understating their record a little . . .

I' sorry, I'm tied up today. But, in brief response:

Randy, I realize that Ethiopa's current regime is not a good one. It doesn't factor in my analysis, however. Wars rarely right wrongs. But they sometimes need to be fought nonetheless.

Katherine:

You keep referring to evidence that exists, make factual assertions about the war, and provide, as far as I can tell, no actual citations or support for them at all. Would Ethiopia have invaded no matter what we did? It's plausible but I don't actually know if it's true. Would the EU and the African Union have actively supported the invasion the way we are? If I'm remembering correctly, the EU has mainly been making vague calls for a ceasefire.

Neither the EU nor the AU would have intervened militarily. But Ethiopia, as I noted, didn't need military help to invade Somalia. The EU and the AU were backers of the TFG, however, and the AU has promised (and now has sent) troops to defend it. My comment regarding international support was to the effect that no one was going to pressure Ethiopia to not do what it was going to do, and Yglesias' proposed approach would actually have put us directly at odds with the EU and the AU.

As for whether Ethiopia would invade without US support, that's of course a supposition. It's hard for me to think how they couldn't, however, given the facts. (Trevino's piece contains a very good backgound on the matter.

Russel, again, intervening in the Somali conflict cost us close to 0 in world opinion. The AU supported it; most African nations supported it; the EU offered tacit support; China doesn't care; Russia doesn't care; South America doesn't care; NATO doesn't care; the UN offered tacit support. If you're primary consideration regarding whether to intervene militarily is world opinion on a subject, Somalia should be a no-brainer for you.

Wikipedia provides a reasonable, well-balanced account: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Somalia#Recent_history

what russell said

von: For my part, I am not tired of US interests. I do, however, think it's importnt to get them right.

In this case, a thuggish and brutal government was supporting a group of thuggish warlords against another group of thugs. Why it helps our interests to affiliate ourselves with any of them, I don't know. We have made calculations like this all over the world. It's how we ended up supporting Saddam Hussein in the 1980s: he was a thug, but he could be our proxy against the Iranians. It's how we ended up supporting UNITA in Angola, and why conservatives anted us to support RENAMO in Moambique, a group that nailed people to trees and boiled them alive.

If you want to claim that this sort of thing is "realism", you ought to be able to explain to me why the lasting damage that this sort of affiliation does to (what was once) our good name, in parts of the world where people will remember that we sided with the people whodid the thins in Randy Paul's cite, and did them routinely, long after we have forgotten all about it.

Also, you decribe Matt Y as being in favor of "granting legitimacy" to the ICU, apparently because he favors negotiating with them, and cooperating in a limited area of mutual interest (the handover of al Qaeda members.) Neither negotiating nor limited compromise "confers legitimacy" on anyone. You don't negotiate onl with people you regard as "legitimate"; you negotiate with people when you think that there's something to be gained by doing so.

I imagine that you, as a lawyer, have probably negotiated with some people you didn't particularly care for, or if not, that you know people who have. You might have negotiated a settlement with people you thought were jerks with an unreasonable case, because it was in no one's interest to take it to trial. Police negotiate with people in hostage situations; when they talk to them, and even when they cut deals with them (e.g., allowing them to talk to their Moms in exchange for setting a hostage free), they do not somehow signal that hostage-taking is "legitimate".

Viewing taking as talking, not as carrying some massive symbolic freight, is part of what I think of as realism.

Preemptive apology: I notice that the amount of pressure needed to get my new keyboard to register letters is slightly different from the amount my old keyboard needed. Thus, I seem to be losing letters here and there.

The only one in the above that might be misleading is: "viewing taking as talking", from the last para. That should be: viewing talking as talking.

What Hilzoy said.

It doesn't factor in my analysis, however.

As Hilzoy notes, Von, this is why we have as a nation supported some truly vile regimes. The one name I would add to Hilzoy's list is the Shah of Iran, our support of whom is probably the single greatest factor as to why Iran's governments have been so bitterly opposed to us.

If it doesn't factor into your analysis, what right do you have to complain when you reap the whirlwind?

Von,

If you "got it" then you wouldn't be using language like "the legitimate Somali government" to describe the collection of warlords that the ICU displaced, and you certainly wouldn't return to the nonsense about "being at odds with the European Union". It really strains credulity to believe that there would have been any significant diplomatic costs of "being at odds with the EU" over this point; do you honestly think that anyone in the EU cared a whit about what was going on in the Horn of Africa, or that they wouldn't have followed the US lead if that lead went, for once, in a diplomatic rather than military direction?

But that's not what Yglesias advocated: he wanted to intervene on the wrong side.

There is a non-subtle difference between negotiating with the ICU, which is what Yglesias proposed, and intervening on the side of the ICU, which is what you accuse Yglesias of advocating . . .

I would note this situation shows bin laden was right - all they have to do is spend $500 to send two schmucks to some far end of the world and raise the flag of al Qaeda, and the U.S. go rushing over there like people clambering into Wal-Mart for a $10 DVD player.

There is a non-subtle difference between negotiating with the ICU, which is what Yglesias proposed, and intervening on the side of the ICU, which is what you accuse Yglesias of advocating.

That's true. But there's a slippery slope argument here. Any time you agree to negotiate there's a chance you'll come up with an agreement. And the other side won't agree unless they get something they want. And if we give them something they want then we're supporting them some.

What if in return for giving us all the al qaeda masterminds they want us to give them arms and ammunition? That might be a good deal for us, but we'd be arming them. What if they want israeli mercenaries to train them? Satellite mapping? Our promise not to do airstrikes against them?

Anything we give them helps them. So any time we think about negotiating with them in good faith, we're considering the possibility of aiding the enemy.

This is true whenever we negotiate with anybody we don't like. The morally unambiguous position is to never negotiate anything with anybody, unless it's their unconditional surrender. I don't think that's practical very often, but it is morally unambiguous. YMMV.

discussing the minutiae of this situation while ignoring the larger picture is pretty useless.

Under the guise of the 'war on terror' the US has been pouring money, weapons and forces into the region for a couple of years now. The horn of Africa will soon be the new Great Game and everybody is trying to secure their piece of the pie. The US does it in Kenya and Ethiopia, the Chinese in Sudan.

The setup mirrors a classic cold-war style proxy war scenario. The corrupt elites will be coddled, the natural resources plundered and the population neglected. It's a recipe for disaster and that's why I'm tired of "US interests", or "Chinese interests" or whoever else is going to play for that matter.

Unless we find some way to move beyond these 'realistic' nation-state policies, there will be no hope for the region anytime soon.

Von-

Thanks for once again taking a reasoned position at odds with the conventional wisdom around here. Your main argument seems to be:


  1. The Ethiopian government had good reasons, and the power, to intervene against the ICU in Somalia
  2. It should therefore be presumed that they'd likely have intervened, successfully, even without our support
  3. The costs to US interests of supporting the intervention are outweighed by the benefits
  4. Therefore, from a realist perspective, supporting the intervention was a good decision.

I'm perfect willing to accept your arguments for (1) and (2). But (3)? You elaborate on that as follows:


My view is that, on balance, offering measured assistance to Ethiopia was the right thing to do. We helped destroyed or, at a minimum, diminished a nascent jihadi regime; received sorely-needed goodwill from the biggest regional power in a bad neighborhood; helped reestablish the only Somali government that is likely to be at peace with its neighbors;* and took out suspected and actual terrorists. This was a better option. There's also a legit case that our involved had the potential to reduce the bloodshed, although it's highly questionable whether that actually occurred. (Nor, however, is there any evidence that our actions increased the bloodshed.)

By your own arguments, the Ethiopians were perfectly capable of accomplishing all of these things on their own except gaining for us "goodwill from the biggest regional power in a bad neighborhood" and possibly (although you don't seem too convinced of this) limiting the bloodshed. So, the net US interest in this decision was acquiring goodwill from the Ethiopian government, and that was worth the downside of associating ourselves with another unsavory regime? Shouldn't a realist save his chips for better bets?

Whatever else it is, I doubt the horn of Africa is the site of the next "Great Game" at least not any time in the near future. It just isn't economically productive enough.

Other than that I'm not super-excited to try to figure out which thugs is marginally better when you combine the fact that they are all so awful with the fact that there is little to no strategic interest in getting involved.

Just want to express my awe at the multi-layered Vonnian title. US friends with Ethiopia? Pajama folks ostensibly on Von's side? Tacitus 'befriending' Yglesias? Folks, ya gotta give it up for that kind of ambiguity...

Possibly of interest: a recent speech by Senator Feingold. There's also a video (God bless Russ Feingold for making a speech on Somalia the first video clip listed on his website) It's not really either pro or anti Ethiopian invasion as such--he doesn't seem enamored of the the ICU, the Ethiopian gov't, OR the Bush administration's strategy, but it's all very measured.

I remember reading about that war when it first broke out. It basically was just one Christian warlord vs an Islammist warlord, right? I really do forget the characteristics those warlords, but I think MAYBE we chose the lesser of two evils.

What do you call people who keep advocating mass death and destruction for their percieved "national interests"?

politics forum: the "legitimate Somali government" is basically a bunch of warlords who have been tearing the country apart for several decades, and who were induced to form a "government" in exchange for a cut of the power. (No elections that I know of; government is in scare quotes since this group has had trouble with some of the basics of government-hood, like controling territory and having a monoploy of force. It's in that murky middle ground that separates e.g. our government from a cabinet in exile put together by the heir of Bonnie Prince Charlie.) The Islamic courts are a bunch of Islamists, some more radical than others, none (to my knowledge) all that great. They took control in large chunks of Somalia. This made the hateful government of Ethiopia nervous, so they invaded.

As before, I have no idea why we should ally ourselves with any side.

Also: the situation in Somalia would be a lot easier to get a handle on if it were just one warlord against one other.

But that's not what Yglesias advocated: he wanted to intervene on the wrong side.

I have to give you points for chutzpah; you made exactly this argument the last time this came up, and hung it on exactly the same slender reed as you're using now.

What you seem to be missing both times is that Yglesias' comment about negotiating with the ICU was in direct response to the administration saying that having the jihadists turned over was the (or a) rationale for supporting the Ethiopians. Pointing out that we'd be more likely to get what we (claimed to) want by following a different path in no way constitutes support for the ICU.

I don't have much in the way of knowledge of this situation compared to most of the commenters here, but after reading through it seems to me that it boils down to something like this from the perspective of the U.S. (or the Bush admin): "Oh, look! Two giant turds! Well, I guess I have to take a bite from one of them."

Josh,

Thanks for saying at least part of what I have twice deleted comments because I could not tone down what I wanted to say into something clearly within the posting rules.

They stated that they would attack Ethiopia; their public statements also indicated that they regarded swaths of Ethiopian territory as their own.

Von, as I've shared with you before, almost every Somali regime claims Ogaden as their own, and vows to fight over it. Such statements do not capacity or threat make. This time was no different.

On the flip side, successive Ethiopian regimes have viewed keeping Somalia weak, divided and destabilized as a primary objective. This time was no different.

Anyone who thought, pre-invasion, that Ethiopia's experience in Somalia would be both great and grand -- or, God forbid, offer useful "lessons" for us -- likely can't find Ethiopia or Somalia on a map.

You do realize, of course, that this wasn't limited to the Pajamas set. Also on the list: Mark Steyn, Cliff May and John Miller to name a few (actually, are any of those guys Pajama Medias? - I know Daveed Gartenstein-Ross hangs a shingle there now and again and he belongs on the "lessons to be learned" list).

This course would have put us directly at odds with the European Union and the African Union, both of which backed the legitimate Somali government.

I find this statement, and the suggestion that we had zero influence over Ethiopia to be dubious. What Rob Farley said.

If the US lobbied the AU and EU, we could have swayed either or both fairly easily. Neither were resolutely "committed" to the cause of the TFG - but were more likely following our lead (or acting out of cynical self-interest). Further, Ethiopia is extremely reliant on our military and economic aid. A clear message to them could have had some effect.

And at the very least, it would have made us more popular in the region, and saved us from becoming a lightning rod - and scapegoat - for a spider web of conflicts that have been plaguing the Horn for decades. I don't agree with you that we have been made more popular in Somalia and the Horn in general by our military involvement. Actually, in Somalia itself, we have been taking a beating.

The thought that sticking our finger in such a socket for little gain is "realism" degrades the word.

And what does this mean:

...received sorely-needed goodwill from the biggest regional power in a bad neighborhood?

The Meles regime thanked us, while the rest of the region (even many actual Ethiopians) view us as negatively?

And by the way, we didn't need this to make Meles like us. All the money and arms we were funneling his way had already cemented our BFF status.

Hilzoy, your position seems to be "Why should we support any side in Somalia when they're all bad?"

On the one hand, I can see why it's a good idea for the US to stay out of a situation like this in order to maintain clean hands and avoid giving people (more) good reasons to resent the US.

But might it not also be a good idea to support one side in a civil war, hopefully the least bad side if that can be identified, in order to bring about a result in which at least somebody wins and there is less violence and more stability?

But I think maybe stability does more to improve ordinary people's lives than clean hands do. Plus, the trouble with the ICU being "jihadist thugs" isn't just that they could personally decide to attack the US, but that a Somalia under their control is more likely to be a safe haven for al Qaeda.

Tom: sure, if there was something we could do that would make it more likely that people could live in peace, and the likely benefits outweighed the costs of allying ourselves with goons, and we were pretty sure of our judgment, bearing in mind the number of times we've done stuff like this, then sure. I'm not arguing for clean hands; just for not being stupid.

To pick a concrete example: I've said before that I was in favor of intervening in Rwanda during the genocide. I can't recall exactly, but I think there were concerns about Paul Kagame's human rights record. In any case, suppose for the sake of argument that there were, but that whtever they were, they were not in the same league as the Hutu genocidaires. I would have supported intervening to stop the genocide in cooperation with Kagame and the RPF, and then using our influence to at least try to persuade him to improve his (hypothetical) human rights problems.

But here it's meant to be clear that there's a big, big difference between the two parties, one of which is flawed and the other of which is genocidal. The truer that is, the more likely it is that our intervention will be seen more as stopping the genocide (or whatever) and less as supporting this human rights abuser, and thus the less likely it is to do damage.

But might it not also be a good idea to support one side in a civil war, hopefully the least bad side if that can be identified, in order to bring about a result in which at least somebody wins and there is less violence and more stability?

But I think maybe stability does more to improve ordinary people's lives than clean hands do.

Yet ironically, Somalia is less stable today than when Ethiopia invaded. They have suffered a massive refugee crisis. Mogadishu is once again the playground of warlords and checkpoint extortionists. Economic activity has ground to a halt. And the violence is flirting with levels not seen since the all out civil war of the late 1980s and early 1990s (which is significantly worse than the warlord-related violence in the interim).

Now that all suits Ethiopian interests to a tee. But if we intervened to create stability and lasting peace, the record thus far indicates abject failure.

Plus, the trouble with the ICU being "jihadist thugs" isn't just that they could personally decide to attack the US, but that a Somalia under their control is more likely to be a safe haven for al Qaeda.

As Somalia is today - without the ICU in charge.

I agree almost completely with Eric. The one thing we can be reasonably sure of is that the ICU brought law and order to the streets of Mogadishu. Obviously, that can come with a severe price and the ICU had little time to show the price it would extract. I do not see what benefit we derived from supporting Ethiopia, except they have been an ally in the past and are willing to use rendition to help out an ally, a valuable commodity for this administration.
The AU does not seem all that fired up to get non-Ethiopian troops into Somalia (I think a handful of Ugandans are in or on the way at present) and there is absolutely no indication of grassroots support for the TFG, which was ousted with surprisingly little bloodshed.
In the end, maybe a tempest in a teapot, and a lose/lose, but I find it hard to see how Ethiopia's little Iraq is making it any safer for the US.

intervening in the Somali conflict cost us close to 0 in world opinion

That's likely true. My guess is that there are few folks anywhere on the globe who give a rat's behind what happens to Somalia or the Somalis.

If you're primary consideration regarding whether to intervene militarily is world opinion on a subject, Somalia should be a no-brainer for you.

My primary considerations regarding whether to intervene militarily are (a) is there a threat to the US, and (b) is there an alternative to military intervention that will answer the mail. The case at hand fails to justify military action on both counts, IMO.

I think, however, that you miss, or simply don't care to address, the larger point.

The world is not our toy to play with, or not, as we choose. The reason it is not is because it is full of other people, and we are not God. Nor do we speak for him, current political fashion to the contrary. Whether those people are influential or not, whether they have something to offer us or not, whether they can hurt us or not, people is what they are.

Every one of our pragmatic "interventions" effects some of those people, for good or ill. Every time we deal carelessly with the lives of others, it undermines our credibility as an actor in good faith. Every time we back another murderous prick, that murderous prick is our face to those who are abused.

This is fundamentally a moral and ethical argument. This may tempt you to dismiss it as less than pragmatic, but I'd say it would be a mistake to do so. Morals and ethics exist precisely in the relationship between people, and those people have long memories.

What goes around, comes around. You can only be jerk for so long before it's just not worth the other guy's time to put up with you.

Think we're so far above the pack that the rules simply don't apply to us? China and Japan own our debt. Indian pilots outflew our boys in a recent war exercise. Every other OECD country has better stats for public health.

We're resting on our laurels. If we don't stop doing so, it's going to bite us in the ass real soon now, perhaps in a big way.

At any rate, if for reasons of "realism", you prefer to leave the ethical or moral dimensions out of it, I think the hair shirt hedonist has summed up the pragmatic analysis perfectly:

Oh, look! Two giant turds! Well, I guess I have to take a bite from one of them.

P.S. -- two l's in Russell. Ask any Russell, they'll tell you the same.

Thanks -

russell: I agree with you that it's a moral argument, but it's also a pragmatic one. When you tot up all the places in which we have intervened on behalf of thugs, it's a lot of places. We don't remember most of them, since hey, i's not our country or our lives we're trashing, but the people who live there surely do. And they are not an insignificant part of "world opinion."

What I still can't abide is the statement that you didn't factor the Ethiopian government's horrendous human rights record into your analysis.

You're a smart guy, so I find it difficult to believe that you are oblivious to the history of blowback in the horrible groups with whom we have allied ourselves in the past.

For what it's worth, here's the response of one of our bloggers at Three Wise Men:

http://threewisemen.blogspot.com/2007/06/right-is-wrong-on-somalia.html

It would not be over-stating the case to say he disagrees with Von about almost every substantive point he makes on Somalia.

The word Idiota radiates the atmosphere whenever I heard a comments about Ethiopia helping Somalia!
If one bothers to look the history of Horn of Africa they will learn that Ethiopia is the source of Somalia civil war. Ethiopia and Somalia fought more than six hundred years, which Ethiopia always lost but managed to bounce back by playing the religion card (Christian Ethiopia against Muslim Somalia), thus bringing Europeans colonies to Africa. 1st was Portugal when in 15 century Ethiopia was almost destroyed by Somali warriors, 2nd time they brought Britain then Russia and Cuba and now USA by claiming that there are Alqaida in Somalia which is a ridiculous. Turban wearing Alqaida will not survive a minute in Somalia remember in Somalia the clan comes before Religion. Here are the facts that Ethiopia cannot fight Somali people, I's a well known fact: Ethiopians are cowards by nature,while Somali version of child baptism consist of
a one hand on the Quran and the other hand on a AK47 which of course stands for defending their country.
Somalis are warrior people they are genetically programmed like that in order to survive the clan based violent environment they grow up, the only think that seem to always unite clan based Somalia is a Ethiopia war. So Ethiopia's invasion in a sense is a blessing for Somalia its going to unite all the clans to fight their common enemy.

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