The Diplomatic Mindset

Sunday, December 24, 2006
Somalia is back in the news. Bill Roggio has been following it for a while and now Powerline references an article in the Washington Times and a talk by Terrence Lyons sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. It is the latter I wish to talk about, but first I can't help but notice this bit in the Times article.
One area that came under heavy attack was the town of Baledweyn, 220 miles south of the capital Mogadishu...
Baledweyn is in fact 220 miles north of Mogadishu. South of Mogadishu is the Indian Ocean.

Anyway, on to the CFR talk. One point that Terrence Lyons makes is that the events in Somalia are connected to the stalemated peace talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea in Algiers.
So in other words, the dangerous escalation of conflict in Somalia is inherently, and in important ways, connected to the breakdown of the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace process, the Algiers process.
I am not convinced on this point. One of the things missing from the talk is any mention of Iran, Hizbollah, or the conflict all around the borders of Islam. No doubt there are local factors involved, but it seems to me that in modern war the most important things are ideology and means. In this case Islam, arms, money, and training. Terrence fails to make the case that Eritrea is supplying any of these, although it is certainly possible. Bill Roggio, on the other hand, points to the use of anti-tank methods also used by Hizbollah in the recent conflict with Israel as an indication of Iranian involvement. So in this case I suspect that Terrence has too narrow a vision. As the saying goes, when you have a hammer every problem looks like a nail, and I think the hammer Terrence has in hand is his own participation in the talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Continued...I also find Terrence's proposed solutions curious.
The first is that I believe what is needed to contain the potential conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea is a much stronger, multilateral diplomacy that is energized by key players like the United States, but also the European Union and the Africa Union, that will reinvigorate the Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Commission, and UNMEE, and this group that's called the Witnesses to the Algiers Process -- these multilateral mechanisms that were moribund for a while, revived to some extent in the last year, but now seem about to pass, we really need to get that piece right because without that multilateral constraint, the prospects for war between Ethiopia and Eritrea are much, much higher.
I simply don't see what impact multilateral diplomacy can have in this situation. The Islamic Courts Union is experiencing victory and I think it unlikely that a winning army, an army that has called for Jihad against Ethiopia and has the support of Al Qaeda, is going to sit down and have productive peace talks with Ethiopia. Things just don't work that way. I think Terrence's point of view is influenced by his profession.
TERRENCE LYONS, Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution. Regional dimensions of conflict, conflict management, political transitions, and peace keeping.
It strikes me that Terrence is deeply invested in a specialty that has no successes to speak of. He also makes no mention of a possible role for military force in any solution, yet it seems to me that political settlements in these situations depend almost solely on the threat of force and the potential for loss. Terrence will speak softly but he carries no stick nor wishes to purchase one. No stick, no solution, so say I.

Terrence does supply some extra information that I didn't know. Ethiopia itself is about 50% Muslim. I had always thought of it as a Christian nation, so this changes my view of the dangers to Ethiopia in the developing situation. Terrence says that the Muslims are of a moderate sort, but that sort of thing is always subject to change when the historical winds kick up. Terrence does acknowledge the potential for a wider conflict.
And so the real explosive potential of conflict in Somalia, in my mind, is less because of a fight between the TFG and the Union of Islamic Courts, but rather a region-wide war that brings in Ethiopia on one side, Eritrea on the other, and has the potential to spread across the border into Kenya and Djibouti, and really creating a region-wide conflict and humanitarian emergency. The Islamic Courts Movement is very, very diverse, has many elements in it. The hardline Islamists, who the Americans often point to, are indeed one element of the Islamic Courts, but they're not the only one. But there are some within the Islamic Courts who would very much like to provoke a fight with Ethiopia. That would allow them to use the Somali Nationalism to combine with Islam into a very powerful movement. So -- and Ethiopia has been -- is having great difficulties in resisting those provocation
I think there is going to be a region wide conflict if there are arms and money available. I would also point out that northern Kenya is also Muslim. So even if there aren't a lot of arms involved there is always the possibility of low level guerilla war developing like those currently taking place in southern Thailand and the Phillipines. It just looks to me like we are headed into that sort of historical cycle. The US has important regional bases in Djibouti, sort of inherited from the French, and I keep waiting for some word about what we are doing there to prepare for eventualities. I am sure something is going on.

Terrence then addresses U.S. foreign policy.
The first is that U.S. foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa has been episodic, has been not focused on questions like Ethiopia-Eritrea, but rather Darfur and counterterrorism issues and that what is needed is a comprehensive policy that recognizes the regional linkages, looks for opportunities in one part of this conflict system, the central link set of conflicts that will have positive impacts on other parts of the conflict system.

Let me also say about the -- well, the U.S. action, rather than pursing such a diplomatic, political, regional approach, has in fact been pushing a very narrow sense of U.S. national interest and particular concern with counterterrorism issues. That led the United States to push for this Resolution 1725 in the United Nations.

I say in the paper that I think that resolution was both provocative but also largely symbolic; provocative because it's unambiguously designed to try to constrain, contain, if you will, the Islamic Courts, but largely symbolic because once Ethiopia was -- Ethiopian troops were no longer authorized by this resolution -- the neighboring states were excluded -- there became very little chance, very little prospect that Uganda's really going to send a meaningful force into Baidoa in the kind of time scale that is necessary to avert some -- a crisis.

And so the resolution helped link the United States ever more closely to Ethiopia -- which is dangerous for the United States; and, frankly, I don't think it's, in this case, particularly good for Ethiopia or the transitional federal government -- and in that way has made conflict and the implications of such a conflict in Somalia for U.S. interests in greater danger.


Hmmm, the U.S. pursuing its own interests doesn't strike me as a bad thing in itself. Nor do I think Ugandan troops would have made any difference anyway. Those sort of African peace keeping missions don't have a history of success. And note again the centrality that Terrence places on the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict. I just don't see it. Nor do I see any solution in sight. I do find it interesting that the U.S. is said to be tied to Ethiopia. What is this resolution 1725? Ah, here it is. Nope, I don't see it. The main thing I see is support for the Transitional Federal Institutions -- the government in Ethiopia under attack by the Islamic Courts and a product of Kenyan negotiations -- and a request that the Islamic Courts cease fighting. Looks pretty benign to me except that it doesn't recognize the Islamic Courts as the legitimate government of Ethiopia. I think engagement with the Islamic Courts is what Terrence wants. He justifies it this way.
But within Somalia itself, and recognizing that policymakers are facing a really difficult short-term set of conflicts -- of crises, I would urge the Bush administration and other international actors to treat the Islamic Courts within the Somali context. First of all, they are not monolithic. There's a lot of different forces that are coalescing at the moment around the Islamic Courts. But there's other -- to see them as a monolithic al Qaeda cell is to misunderstand the nature of the movement, misunderstand how clan politics still cut across Somalia and shape, at least in part, the Islamic Courts movement.
So, he says we can work with them. Hmm, didn't Carter have that idea about Khomeini? Wasn't that the justification for throwing the Shah to the wolves? Come to think of it, hasn't Terrence worked with the Carter Center? I am not convinced.

I have been reading Bryan Ward-Perkins' The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization. Interesting parallels keep coming to mind. One is the demilitarization of the Roman population, with civilians forbidden to possess arms. That sounds like current day Europe, athough I would like to know more about the Roman law before jumping to conclusions. A second is the role civil war played in weakening Rome at a crucial time. I think that is analogous to the current political civil war taking place here at home with the Democrats and Progressives aligned against the President and his supporters. So much energy expended on internal conflicts and paralysing U.S. power can't be a good thing. The main solace I have is that Rome and the Germanic tribes were more evenly matched in power than the U.S. and the Islamic world and that there are large areas of the globe unaffected by the current conflict. Still, the sense of civil war here at home is disquieting.


Update: There are reports that several thousand Eritrean troops are fighting with the ICU. Weren't the Eritreans sort of Marxist-Leninist back in the day? I seem to recall women fighting in the trenches with the men and all. Ah, well. Times change and Marxism ain't what it used to be. A new religion is in town.

3 comments:

Seneca the Younger said...

Yeah. See the thing Terrye just posted: nothing is ever, ever connected to Iran or al Qaeda.

terrye said...

yes well remember Blackhawk down. There are some crazy people in Somalia and they are going to create problems for other countries in the region if someone does not do something soon. You can not talk to head hackers. Waste of time.

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