Salt Lake Tribune
The U.S. decision in 2006 to send Ethiopian troops into Somalia was one of the stupidest moves in a very stupid decade. This week, some of the chickens spawned by that decision came home to roost.
On Monday, the al-Shabaab militia launched a “massive war” against the 6,000 African Union peacekeepers, most of them Ugandan, who are protecting the so-called government of Somalia. In reality, however, all it actually governs is a few dozen blocks in Mogadishu, and its members are just a group of Somali warlords and clan leaders who proclaimed themselves to be the “Transitional Federal Government” in 2004.
Six TFG “members of parliament” were among the 40 people killed when an al-Shabaab suicide squad stormed the al-Muna hotel in Mogadishu on Tuesday, but there will be no by-elections to replace them. They were never elected in the first place. The TFG made no progress in reuniting the country, and now its surviving members sit surrounded by al-Shabaab fighters who control most of the sprawling capital.
Southern Somalia has been trapped in an unending civil war since the last real government collapsed in 1991, but the current round of killing was triggered when the United States invited Ethiopia to invade the country in 2006. This was a bit high-handed, especially since Ethiopia was Somalia’s traditional enemy, but Washington’s aim was to destroy the “Islamic Courts ” in Somalia.
The TFG failed utterly to impose its authority and restore order in Somalia, but the Islamic Courts Union took a different approach. Its roots were in the merchant class in Mogadishu, who simply wanted a safer environment to do business in, and they understood that Islam was the only common ground on which all of the country’s fissiparous clans and militias might be brought together again.
The Islamic courts, applying Shariah law, were the instrument by which the society would gradually be brought back under the rule of law — and for about six months, it worked amazingly well. The zones of peace and order spread throughout southern Somalia, the epicenter of the fighting, and trade and employment revived. A made-in-Somalia solution had spontaneously emerged from the chaos.
Inevitably, some of the younger supporters of the Islamic Courts movement enjoyed ranting in public about the virtues of al-Qaida, the wickedness of Americans, and other matters of which they knew little. Almost every popular movement has a radical youth wing that specializes in saying stupid and provocative things. It is the job of the adults, inside and outside the organization, to contain their excesses and not to panic.
Alas, the United States panicked, or at least its intelligence agencies did. The mere word “Islamic” set off alarm bells in the Bush administration, which had the lamentable habit of shooting first and thinking later.