August 7, 2009

AK's and M-16's

From high above an apple can look like a tomato, a potato like a yam, lettuce like cabbage. Upon closer inspection they have different tastes and textures. Wars are like fruits or vegetables, similar and unique at the same time. While sharing qualities and experiences, Somalia isn't Afghanistan.

President Obama must keep it that way.

Blindly grouping insurgencies is a basic error of counterinsurgency, yet undeniable similarities between the two ravaged nations invite comparison. Both have defied foreign powers for over a century, repulsing British forces multiple times in the 19th century and American forces 100 years later. Civil war was fomented only for foreign powers to withdraw and watch them burn.

Now, apparently, America is back in Somalia with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Kenya, where she spoke with Somali Prime Minister Sheikh Sharif. Clinton had come to rain bills and bullets in Somalia; she pledged to double humanitarian assistance and weapons shipments from 40 to 80 tons. Glowingly praising Sharif’s government, Clinton gazed beyond the horizon and mundanely proclaimed, “Somalia is a future haven for global terrorism."

Time to apply a lesson from Afghanistan: don’t go into Somalia, directly or indirectly. While many believe America never should have invaded Afghanistan in the first place, they also believe the job must be finished now that it’s begun. In essence, America has no choice except to stay and fight in Afghanistan. Retreat is defeat, a desperate position, but informative for Somalia where America still has the opportunity to stay out.

Entering now would be the real defeat, despite obsessive fears of al-Qaeda. Obama is entering the 9th inning down 15 runs, hoping for a miracle.

The primary similarity between Afghanistan and Somalia is the effort required to stabilize them, not the threat of al-Qaeda. Both states go far beyond counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency. This cursed pair is the pinnacle of nation-building and require trillions of dollars in military and economic aid. America has only provided 150$ million to the peacekeeping operation in Somalia over the last two years, along with $319 million in USAID, mostly food and medicine. Doubling these figures isn’t even a starting point.

Afghanistan and Somalia of course share a connection with al-Qaeda because they're both victims of botched American military operations. Another similarity is artificially generated as political cover- fear mongering. To downplay how much assistance Somalia truly needs, Clinton told reporters, “There is also no doubt that al-Shabab wants to take control of Somalia and use it as a base from which to influence and even infiltrate surrounding countries and launch attacks against countries far and near.”

State spokesman Robert Woods shadowed Clinton with a simple, “We do not want to see terrorism spreading.”

No one wants terrorism to spread, but a solution to Somalia, like Afghanistan, requires American troops on the ground to protect massive infrastructure projects. Obama could drain billions into the transitional government without a noticeable effect; Somalia’s needs are infinite and its government corrupt. America also lacks an established intelligence network. Whether solo or with international help, Obama doesn’t have the resources, time, or strategy to go into Somalia when he can only tread water in Afghanistan.

An influx of arms and military trainers is false hope.

President Obama should stay out of Somalia, ensuring it remains a cousin of Afghanistan, not a twin. Though this strategy may sound counter intuitive, it may be safer than what Obama is planning to do. Increasing weapons and cash at an insufficient rate will fuel the conflict and continue gathering anti-American sentiment. Obama isn’t going half way but one-20th of the way, a strategy of high risk, low reward.

When Clinton foretells of countries “near and far” being attacked, she conveniently leaves out why al-Shabab would carry out such attacks. Its leaders openly explain their rationale to the world. Though they despise foreign intervention, they’re greeted with more intervention. American weapons legitimize al-Shabab's motive for global jihad, and outgunning Somali militants is futile. Obama is stepping on a lose-lose land mine.

"Counter-terrorism" doesn't exist in Somalia; total war would be more accurate. Somalia has already been Talibanized, but it hasn't been invaded, a difference that must be preserved. Somalia, in cruel truth, is nothing but a trap.

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