Jeremy Kahn: Time to Accept Defeat in Somalia


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.


6 comments on “Jeremy Kahn: Time to Accept Defeat in Somalia

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  5. Den Valdron says:

    I dunno. This whole series of ‘guest blogs’ that Steve has had on seems to say very important things about the American political community.
    My first observation is how stunningly mediocre much of it is. Sure, there are individuals, as there are individuals everywhere, who display flashes of brilliance.
    On the other hand, the dominant theme is a pretty middle of the road unexceptionalism which at times verges on being trite and dowdy.
    For all that we are being exposed to the views of the deep insiders and heavy thinkers, the guys who map out the course for America, or who would like to, I’m astonished at how uninformed, uninspired, uninteresting and how remarkably pedestrian… perhaps inept, so much of it is.
    I’m not saying this to slag Steve’s guests. This is merely how I see it. The level of play is not impressive, the talent pool is thinner than I would have imagined.
    I’ve always seen the United States as basically a meritocracy, but in terms of the range of intellectual qualities or abilities on display, I could pretty much find the same in any small town bar on a Saturday night.
    In the end, they seem gifted by circumstance rather than ability, merely drawing the particular lottery numbers that put them where they are.
    The second thing that disturbs me, apart from the bland ordinariness, is the remarkable narrowness of many of the opinions.
    The ideological spectrum of the United States has never been terribly wide, but what is on display runs the gamut from A to B(1)(b)(ii). Which makes me wonder. Where is the true range of opinions? Don’t they exist? Does the narrowness of the political/ideological/intellectual spectrum mean that there is some self selection going on? No niggers invited to the debate, as it were? This may explain the relative mediocrity of so many of the guests, the talent pool for the ‘meritocracy’ has been ‘pre-thinned.’ Something to think about.
    Moreover, it strikes me that a narrow ideological range may hamper discussion as it breeds complacency and an unwillingness to rock the ideological boat. In such an environment, mediocrity triumphs and brilliance is castigated.
    Finally, I am appalled by the ongoing process of enlistment on display here, and which I have seen on an evolving basis in Steve’s own blog posts.
    Essentially, my argument is that in trying to deal with the Bush junta, these intellectuals discuss their positions. In discussing them, they legitimize them. In legitimizing them, they essentially compromise with them and begin to adopt them. The slippery slope continues and eventually it turns into an impassioned debate by ‘moderates’ insisting on sanitary conditions at concentration camps. Whether there should be concentration camps at all has long been ceded away.


  6. Zathras says:

    How much does Jeremy Kahn really know about the current situation and recent history of Somalia? How much attention had he paid it before, say, last week?
    Just because we have a 24-hour news cycle doesn’t mean we all have to be slaves to it. Commentary on a subject to which one has not recently devoted much attention is not required just because the subject hits the headlines for a few days. A decent interval in which to gather more information than any Metro rider can gather by scanning the front page of the Post may be allowed.


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