Running Local

This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

Embracing An Islamist Regime?

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 29, 2009

David Axe’s brilliant blog, War Is Boring, yesterday explored what I view as a patently insane proposal from the Council on Foreign Relations to establish an internationally funded Somali Coast Guard to combat piracy. Somalia cannot govern itself, provide food for its people or police its own territory much less the oceans so yes, sure, let’s assume that the mythical Somali government not only would use the international funding to establish a hugely expensive and technically complex force structure but also that they would even have the inclination to do so.


Axe himself had a more interesting idea– is the answer to the Somali problem simply embracing the concept of a hard line Islamic regime in Mogadishu? For the sake of background, Somalia, long the victim of near total anarchy, was for a brief while in 2006 & 2007 effectively governed by a confederacy of Sharia-law courts, known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). That came to an end in 2007 when the Bush Admin encouraged and facilitated an invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia under the concept that the ICU was providing a home base for alQaeda and similar Islamist radical elements. The Ethiopian Army, supplied with intelligence and armaments by the US in addition to oft rumoured US Special Ops raids and operations, had little problem defeating the ICU’s armed militia, taking back Mogadishu and eventually driving the ICU out of its last strongholds, leaving Somalia once again ungoverned and the ICU reduced to a guerilla band.

The piracy problem grew out of control shortly thereafter begging the question of whether we would be better off with an Islamic regime that isn’t disposed to liking the West or the current mess which threatens international commerce and the flow of oil. A fuller description of the piracy issue and the US Navy’s lackluster response to it can be found in my previous entry, The Vaporware Navy.

As the American Presidency moves to Barack Obama, we are seeing a different attitude being taken towards the Islamic World. While the realities and exigencies of war still exist and have been accepted by President Obama, an effort is clearly underway to defuse hostilities by winning over the Islamic people. Could that effort extend all the way to the acceptance of a true Islamist regime in Mogadishu if it meant Somalia would be under some authority and the piracy problem would be curtailed?

A return of the ICU may be underway already, even without our help or acceptance. With the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces Somalia has reverted to form and become an anarchist failed state, while the ICU is starting to re-emerge in the south. That being said, if the Obama Admin backed a return of the ICU as a reversal and redress of the policies of the previous admin ICU could take control of the entire nation fairly quickly.

What are the risks of an ICU/Islamist Somalia? There is, of course, the risk that our enemies would find haven there; it is a questionable risk, however, given that they are just as likely to find haven in an ungoverned Islamic region such as Somalia is now; indeed our Special Forces have been very active in Somalia taking down terrorist camps and operations. There is the risk of severe human rights abuses, as seen from a Western perspective, of allowing a Sharia-court based system to govern the country. Clearly it will not be pretty– women in burkas, denial of human rights, the reality of Sharia-mandated punishments for adultery, etc. That entails political risk to Obama’s left flank as the women’s rights and Amnesty Internaitonal crowds will feel betrayed by their President on this issue– the reality that the people of Somalia are living with even less human rights and dignity now doesn’t seem to penetrate the dogma of these folks. There will also be risk to his right flank as the Limbaughs and McConnels of the world try to hang a “soft on Islamic terror” label on Obama if he reaches out to the ICU. Never mind that you cant win a war against a movement and that you need to find soft solutions to the problems.

On the upside, we would almost certainly see a huge reduction to pirate activity out of Somalia. The Islamic Courts greatly curtailed piracy when they had control in ’06 & ’07 and there’s no reason to think that they suddenly see piracy as being in keeping with Islamic law; for a change we’d be on the benefit side of Sharia. Obama would have the opportunity to really make an impact on the Islamic “Street”; it would be very hard to demonize America as the enemy of Islam if we very publicly came out in favor of returning a Sharia movement to its role as ruler of an islamic nation. This is the kind of move that would do what Obama hoped to do with his recent interview with al Aribiya Television– prove that America is not the enemy of Islam. Additionally, returning order to Somalia would make possible real foreign aid to a suffering people, including the safe delivery of food. One wonders if the solution of so intractable a problem as Somalia might not also lay the groundwork for real action in regional neighbor Sudan’s Darfur region.

Can Obama recognize the ICU and return it to power in Somalia? Clearly it is within his power to do so, but the political cost, both at home and in Western Europe, will be extremely high. So too would be the potential payout. The time is arrived for America to realize that the export of Democracy and western style human rights to unwilling nations or those simply not yet equipped to deal with them is not a reasonable or even desirable goal; “better dead than red” does not translate to “better secular than starving”. Somalia is an Islamic nation in a state of chaos; resisting the emergence of an Islamic government to fix the problems is a fundamentally unsound strategy.

To look at past as prologue, consider the fact that a young socialist by the name of Ho Chi Minh desperately sought the acceptance and support of Harry Truman in 1945 & 1946. Ho effectively controlled post-Japanese occupation Indochina and had instituted a workable governing structure that was feeding the people and keeping order; he petitioned the United States to recognize his government and stop the French from reoccupying Indochina in much the same way we were making it clear to other European nations that the colonial period ended with the cessation of World War II. Ho was, sadly, not politically acceptable to a Red Scare America despite his friendly overtures; the rest is history. It is important for America to learn from that oft forgotten lesson and not allow our Islamist Scare mindset to prevent order from returning to Somalia and security returning to the seas off of the Horn of Africa.

3 Responses to “Embracing An Islamist Regime?”

  1. Chancellor said

    Gosh, I love it when you stop being mushy, go all realpolitk, and swing hard to my right. 😉

    The Ho Chi Minh analogy just doesn’t work, though. Based on my reading of Vietnam history, Ho was definitely socialist – but highly pragmatic. There’s a very high probability that their government would not have become as radicalized as they were in later years if Truman had bucked his advisers and recognized Ho’s government.

    Put a Sharia-wielding, hard-line Islamic government in Somalia, and pragmatism goes out the window. Radical Islam can’t even be controlled in countries that are theoretically our allies – Wahab’bism runs rampant in Saudi Arabia, radicals run some of the military and much of the intel arms of Pakistan, and Egypt spins harder and harder to the Wahabi influences. It’s not a question of whether our enemies would find refuge there, it’s merely a question of how many of them would show up and grow more terror operations. It’s not a question of risk of gross human rights abuses, it’s simply a question of how much and how publicized.

    And, we’ll really, really anger Ethiopia. Egypt will go positively bonkers – the last thing they need is a “legitimate” radical Islamic government to further screw things up for them on top of the support Libya and Sudan provide to the radical breakoffs of the Islamic Brotherhood. Tanzania – with whom Mark Green did a great job in improving relations – will not be happy about it, either.

    Even in the coldest blood realpolitik terms, I just don’t see how this will work.

  2. Bob Kohm said

    How it works is by acknowledging that we will need to pick the most palatable of a list of lousy options, in my opinion. The reality is that Somalia right now is a haven for anyone who wants to show up there and has enough guns to secure their perimeter, putting in a Sharia government can have no more a negative impact on that front. The terror operators are already there and are wholly unchecked by anything other than our own covert operations. If an ICU government won’t check them we still maintain our options in terms of physical interdiction; it’s not like the ICU is going to be able to stop our Special Forces or, in a worst case scenario, Air Force or Navy from carrying out ops on the their soil. I also believe that a very clear understanding of that, emphasized during negotiations to allow their government to form, would go a fair distance towards obviating the need for that kind of thing in the short and mid terms.

    To me the reality is becoming that there is no military grand strategy that will put an end to the existence of radical Islam short of genocide which clearly isn’t something we can contemplate; we’re going to need to find a way to coexist with these people and their ideas of governance of their lands. Trying to prevent an Islamist regime from cropping up in Islamist lands is tantamount to our current Quixotic endeavor of stopping everyone else in the world from putting two and two together and developing nuclear weapons– the genie is, as they say, out of the bottle on these issues and it isn’t going back in. How better to start a process by which we can find a way to coexist than by aiding an Islamist government in forming in a nation that clearly favors and arguably needs one? Give it enough support with a clear threat behind it and you aren’t going to see Somalia turn into Waziristan, in my opinion. We gain the benefit of causing the Islamic world to reassess the United States under Obama and start to deradicalize the Islamists with respect to us. It won’t be a process without bumps, but it is at least a process that moves us towards an eventual solution. A Sharia government in Somalia is akin to a vaccination– sure we inject some live virus into our arm, but it should work to prevent the virus of unchecked Islamism from spreading throughout our body politic.

    Ethiopia will be pissed? Isn’t that what the term “acceptable casualty” was coined for? Ethiopia will indeed be angry, but so what? They aren’t going to start hosting pirates kicked out of Somalia by the ICU, and in the space of a year they’ll be back to being rather friendly after we offer them continued arms packages and the like. Egypt going bonkers is a fait accompli, unfortunately– Egypt is lost to us already, I think you’d have to agree. There’s no way that Mubarak, Jr. grabs the throne after Hosni goes and the Islamists will take the nation by default. Moving towards acceptance of the ICU actually works well with this inevitability– let the Egyptian people see that we aren’t a threat simply because they are Islamic and we, again, can start defusing problems.

  3. Chancellor said

    “How it works is by acknowledging that we will need to pick the most palatable of a list of lousy options, in my opinion.”

    We’re in agreement on lousy options, and agree that our probable answer isn’t “good” or even “bad”, it’ll be “least awful”. I just don’t think a radical Sharia government is the right answer for the “least awful”.

    We’ve been down this road before. In the early ’80s, amidst the Cold War, everyone thought it would be a wonderful idea to put those Afghani conservatives in a position to give the evil Russians a bloody nose. We gave them some arms, a little money, but in realpolitik terms, very limited amounts of both, and they merrily went their way and supposedly did our bidding. The Russians were beat up, suffered a humiliating defeat, left Afghanistan, and had an armed forces that was seriously compromised by the defeat for a period of time. Like many dictatorships we sponsored during that era, the Mujahideen crushed their competition, promulgated gross human rights abuses, and stomped on culture that opposed their belief set. That was bad. But we then moved from bad to worse with the Mujahdiheen sponsoring terror groups that did directly contribute to multiple terror events culminating in 9-11. Why did that happen? Well, IMO, it ties into your money quote:

    “Give it enough support with a clear threat behind it and you aren’t going to see Somalia turn into Waziristan”

    If were willing to execute a “clear threat behind it”, we’d have dealt with Afghanistan sooner. Mind you, this isn’t a partisan accusation, either. Reagan, Bush Sr., and the Clinton administration dropped the ball WRT Afghanistan, due in some blend to political expediency, poor intel, and perceived military challenges.

    I lack the confidence you have that this situation will be rectified for the situation you outline here for Somalia, and the downside risk – which probably wouldn’t happen under this administration – has simply proven to be too large to ignore.

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