I am glad to see that the Bush administration, having backed the losing side in fighting between Somalia’s Islamic militias and secular warlords, has — according to a story by Karen DeYoung in today’s Washington Post — chosen to offer an olive branch to the Islamic factions that seized control of Mogadishu yesterday. The U.S. is understandably concerned about an Al Qaeda cell that they believe may be operating out of Somalia. But U.S. interests in checking Al Qaeda may be better served at this point by working with the Islamic factions as they try to form a government — perhaps in conjunction with the transitional government in the southern Somali city of Baidoa that is backed by the international community — than in working to undermine them. I think John Pendergrast has it about right in his Washington Post op-ed today.
It is unclear that in the near term the U.S. gains much by continuing to back the secular militia. Instead, maintaining a supply of weapons to these groups would likely only prolong a civil war that has brought Somalia such terrible grief. It would be good if the Bush administration kept in mind some of the interesting academic research that has been done in recent years on the ways in which civil wars end and the kinds of endings that are likely to result in enduring peace [pdf]. Monica Toft at Havard has done research that indicates that decisive victory, particularly by rebel factions, often results in the most lasting peace settlements. And it is certainly clear that outside assistance for one faction enabling it to keep fighting when it otherwise would be forced to sue for peace is not a good way to end a civil war [pdf].
Jeremy Kahn is managing editor of The New Republic.