Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

A Lively Discussion on the “Real” Sources of Terrorism

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on September 30, 2009


Don’s Argument:

The Washington Post yesterday made available an unclassified version of General Stanley McChrystal’s long-awaited report on the war in Afghanistan. Politically, the report is bold, in that it acknowledges the enemy has the initiative and we have been fighting the war – for eight years – in counterproductive ways. But intellectually, both as analysis and as prescription, it is five pounds of substance in a 50 pound bag.

The report’s message can be summarized in one sentence: we need to start doing classic counterinsurgency, and to do so, we need more “resources,” i.e. troops. In a narrow, technical sense, that statement is valid. Classic counterinsurgency doctrine says we need hundreds of thousands more troops in Afghanistan.

Past that syllogism, the report’s validity becomes questionable. Defects begin with the study’s failure to address Fourth Generation war’s first and most important question: Is there a state in Afghanistan? At times, the report appears to assume a state; elsewhere, it speaks of the Afghan state’s weaknesses. It never addresses the main fact, namely that at present there is no state, and under the current Afghan government there is no prospect of creating one.

The failure to acknowledge the absence of a state leads the rest of the report through the looking glass. For example, it puts great emphasis on expanding the Afghan National Security Forces (army and police). But absent a state, there are no state armed forces. The ANSF are militiamen who take a salary paid, through intermediaries, by foreign governments. How many Pashtun do you find in the ANSF?

Similarly, the report laments that Afghanistan’s prisons have become recruiting centers for the Tailban. It calls for getting the U.S. out of the prison business and turning it all over to the Afghan government. But who will then run those “state” prisons? The Taliban, of course, just as they do now.

In a curious passage, the report says, on page 2-20, The greater resources (ISAF requires) will not be sufficient to achieve success, but will enable implementation of the new strategy. Conversely, inadequate resources will likely result in failure.

However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced. Here we encounter the report’s most dangerous failing. It confuses the strategic and the operational levels of war. In fact, the report does not offer a new strategy, but a new operational-level plan.

How the war is fought, i.e. by following classic counter-insurgency doctrine, is operational, not strategic. America must find a new strategy, since the current strategy depends on an Afghan state that does not exist. But the report offers no new strategy. The passage on page 2-20 thus ends up saying, “If you don’t give us more troops, we will fail. But you shouldn’t give us more troops unless we adopt a new strategy, which we don’t have. And even if you do give us the troops we want for the new strategy we haven’t got, they will not be enough to achieve success.”

This reveals utter intellectual confusion.

The proper response of the White House, the Pentagon, and Congress to General McChrystal’s report is, “Back to the drawing board, fellas.” How might Fourth Generation theory help us re-write the report? At the operational level, most of what it recommends under the rubric of counterinsurgency is sound.

Drawing on the report’s concept of “proper resourcing” that allows for “appropriate and acceptable risk,” we would concentrate our counterinsurgency efforts in a few provinces, such as Helmand, to show the Taliban we can fight it to a stalemate.

We would endeavor to do so while gradually drawing troop levels down, not sending in more troops. The goal of these actions on the operational level would be to buy time both in Afghanistan and on the home front. We would use that time to implement a genuine new strategy. It would proceed from these facts: There is no state in Afghanistan, and none can be created by or for the current Afghan government.

Our strategic goal, as General McChrystal’s report states in its first paragraph, is to prevent al Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan. There is currently no evidence of al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan. One of the best open sources of intelligence, Nightwatch, recently stated this directly, and General McChrystal’s report hints at it.

Our strategic goal would be to see the creation of a state in Afghanistan that can and will prevent al Qaeda’s return. Who can do that? The Taliban. We would use the time bought by counterinsurgency operations to negotiate with the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin and other Afghan leaders, including some in the current Afghan government, toward a power-sharing arrangement.

A government that includes the Taliban can create a state. The risk is the Taliban’s willingness to keep al Qaeda out. Why should Mullah Omar agree to that? Because al Qaeda no longer needs Afghan bases. It has far more useful ones in Pakistan. That is why it is not in Afghanistan now. If President Obama and Congress accept General McChrystal’s report and adopt a new operational plan in support of the current strategy, building an Afghan state around the regime now in Kabul, they will guarantee an American defeat.

Sending more American troops to Afghanistan will only magnify the defeat.

Ironically, what Washington needs to do is follow General McChrystal’s own recommendation and refuse more resources without a new strategy. Let’s hope the politicians realize this is their last exit before a bottomless quagmire.

My Argument:

If the United States is really concerned about international terrorism, one would think that the Pentagon would devote more resources towards Africa and the Saudi Peninsula. Given the argument that the Al’Qaeda terrorist network has only a minor presence in Afghanistan (although Al’Qaeda Central remains just across the border), why is the President continuing to focus his “War on Terrorism” in Central Asia?

Intelligence sources for the past two years have argued that Al’Qaeda is establishing itself in areas where the United States either lacks control or has reliable allies. Omar Bashir’s Sudan, the fractious Somali state, and the deserts of Yemen are all examples of this phenomenon.

In fact, there is every reason to believe that joint U.S./NATO exercises in Afghanistan have been so successful (against terrorism) that Al’Qaeda was forced to retreat. While the upper-Qaeda management would certainly deny the success of American counterterrorism, there is no question in the minds of logical people that bombing raids and special-forces were devastating to Osama bin-Laden. In his mind, the only way his apocalyptic movement could survive was to fold back and create new bases on the African Continent.

Surely, the U.S. Military continues to use drone strikes and air-assaults on terrorist camps inside Somalia and Sudan. This was confirmed a few weeks ago, when Washington reportedly killed Somalia’s number-one Qaeda chief through a tactical air-campaign. However, if the U.S. security apparatus is intent on defeating terrorism, perhaps Afghanistan is not the best place to start.

Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, and sleeper-cells in Western Europe are all at risk…

P.S… Don, thank you for referring to my blog..highly appreciated

MAJ Chad Foster’s Argument:


Great points about where the “front” in the war against terrorism really is. There is at least some level of acknowlegement about the increasing importance of Africa and other areas outside of Afghanistan and Iraq within the Military (this is something that I have discussed with my peers at length on many occassions).

Perhaps it gets back to something that I tried (rather poorly) to address in an earlier reply. Namely, that Al Queda and the Taliban are not necessarily the same thing. Therefore, is the effort in Afghanistan really a war against the terrorists or is it a war against the Taliban? There are many who make a compelling argument that the two are indistinguishable, but it might be helpful to keep in mind Kilcullen’s “Accidental Guerilla” model: some of our “enemies” are only fighting us out of local concerns or merely because we are there in their backyard. Groups with a global agenda such as AQ often use them to fight us through proxy. The now de-centralized nature of AQ facilitates this, not by establishing central leadership or C2, but by offering an ideological umbrella for many different groups to rally beneath as they fight for their various “causes” and grievances.

If that is the case, the perhaps we should shift to where the “real” enemy is trying to re-establish himself. The places that you mention (Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan proper, etc.) would then be the logical conclusion. Unfortunately, we are still left with the problem of what to leave behind in Afghanistan . . . whatever it is, there has to be at least some hope that it will not degenerate back into what it was prior to 9/11.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I always enjoy seeing different ways of thinking about these very wicked problems. That is why this blog and others like it are so valuable. We should always seek out those who “think differently about the things that we think about.” We, as a nation, haven’t really done a good job of that in the past. Discussion is essential to good thinking.

Another one of my responses:

Chad, thank you very much for your kind words. Unfortunately, our country is in quite a predicament. On the one hand, U.S. soldiers are fighting a Taliban insurgency that only appears stronger and more resilient by the day. On the other hand, Washington’s obession with Afghanistan is providing Al’Qaeda with a unique opportunity to expand their operations to other parts of the world (i.e. my point with Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, and Yemen). The question you raised is exactly what policymakers must ask themselves: is the War in Afghanistan against terrorism in general, or against the Taliban movement?

The President and his cabinet have yet to answer this query. Yet, any logical person familiar with terrorism studies can distinguish the Taliban’s main goals with Al’Qaeda operatives. Recently, I had the pleasure of watching a documentary focusing on Osama bin-Laden’s rise in Afghanistan during the mid 1990’s. Contrary to popular believe, Taliban Chief Mullah Mohammad Omar was highly skeptical of his presence; believing that the apocalyptic goals of Al’Qaeda could cause significant trouble for the Taliban Government.

And guess what happened…the Taliban Regime became a victim to an international coalition, thanks to Osama’s miscalculations. Is there any reason to believe that after a U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban would make the same mistake twice?


Thank you officers and gentlemen all, for a most
stimulating thread.

You see, I don’t have the benefit of sitting across
a table from you, and having a casual conversation,
and so I occasionaly out a mild sense of frustration
feel compelled to force the point.

Guess what, everyone one of you surprised me
pleasantly with the responses and analysis.

It’s good to know I’m in such good company,
and it’s an honor.




Max, Chad, all,

This is what I have been wanting to happen for the last year (started the blog March 2008), and hope it will be a lot more. I am devoting more time in managing it. But this went well as it should, with no guidance at all. I am posting another of Bill’s pieces soon. I myself, have been relentless on the think tanks and how at the cost of the nation, they push their own agendas.

Take Care, and keep up the fire. That is how we get better.



Is the U.S. Government Getting Rid of Counterinsurgency?

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on September 29, 2009


Should defeating the remnants of Al’Qaeda overshadow the traditional methods of counterinsurgency (and nation-building) in Afghanistan?

This is the controversial question that so many officials within the Obama administration have been asking themselves over the past few days.  With General Stanley McChrystal’s assessment calling for more U.S. troops and a sustained American presence on the ground, President Obama and his foreign-policy circle seem divided as to what type of policy would actually turn the Afghan quagmire around.  Whatever the case, a policy needs to be enacted quickly if the United States has any chance of taming the Taliban insurgency.

As I have mentioned earlier in my last post, Vice President Joseph Biden is leading a camp within the administration that is dealing exclusively with Pakistan’s role in the wider War on Terrorism.  According to a number of government sources, the VP’s office has been investigating options that would expand U.S. counterterrorism operations on Pakistan’s eastern border; that infamous tribal-area where Al’Qaeda operatives remain strong and relatively protected from ground assault.  VP aides are going so far as to determine whether special-operation forces should be introduced onto Pakistani soil, an action that would bolster Islamabad’s foothold in the country’s lawless region.

From what I can gather, Vice President Biden’s plan is gaining significant traction within the administration…so much so that the United States Congress recently passed a resolution increasing the amount of aid to Pakistan’s Government ($1.5 billion per year for the next five years).  Is this simply an extension of the eight-year security arrangement between Washington and Islamabad?  Or is this House-Senate bill a brand new package aimed at enforcing a doctrine of counterterrorism over counterinsurgency?  Based on news circulating around the Beltway, one could conclude that the U.S. Military is re-evaluating the very core of its terrorism doctrine.

Certainly, defeating Al’Qaeda should be America’s number-one priority.  President George W. Bush made his living in the Oval Office preying on Al’Qaeda militants, through enhanced domestic security and outright invasions.  President Barack Obama, while an anti-war candidate last September and November, has practically transformed himself into the Democratic-version of the former Texan president.  It would be a rather difficult task to distinguish Mr. Obama’s rhetoric from his Republican predecessor.  Both have vowed to use all the resources in the executive branch to disturb, disrupt, and dismantle Al’Qaeda terrorist cells wherever they may reside.

Despite the President’s anti-Qaeda goals, one has to question his methods at achieving them.  However valuable U.S.-drone strikes over Pakistan have been over the past year- and indeed they have been successful- an outright dependence on one course of action is not necessarily the best way to conduct the War on Terrorism.

One course of action did not prevent the loss of 3,000 American lives on September 11, 2001, and one course of action failed to stop a spiraling of sectarian violence in Iraq during 2005-2007.  The U.S. Military and the White House should both learn from previous mistakes, and the lesson is rather clear: a combination of initiatives- military force and diplomatic outreach- is the most likely method for a successful security policy.

Once again, just take a look at America’s experience in Iraq.  Immediately after U.S. troops marched into Baghdad and disposed of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq policy centered on defeating hostile elements and quickly establishing a functional Iraqi governing authority.  From the onset, Washington intended to place pro-American politicians in charge, regardless of tribal affiliation or cultural-sensitivity.  And what did the United States get out of this policy in return?  The result: a full-fledged insurgency against American troops that would only escalate into a devastating civil war.

The United States may have been able to take control of the situation in Iraq much sooner if it was not for a reliance on traditional-forms of military force.  Only after three years of violent conflict did the U.S. Military adapt to a new approach (counterinsurgency); cutting deals with local Sunni’s and making sure that the center of Iraqi political power (Baghdad) was cut off from major acts of terrorism and insurgent violence.

In essence, what President Obama is doing today is casting away the doctrine that made the U.S.-mission in Iraq such a success after years of ethnic cleansing and Sunni v. Shia animosity.  Protecting the indigenous population and improving the Afghan Government is being sacrificed by another one-dimensional approach.  Surely the administration understands that bombs alone will not hamper Al’Qaeda’s capabilities over the long-term?

Once again, I am not disparaging counterterrorism as an ancient way to combat asymmetrical dangers.  What I am simply arguing is that counterterrorism, when pursued alone, has its limitations.  Assassinating leaders of terrorist networks will not eliminate the reasons why so many young-men join its ranks in the first place.  As long as the United States and its allies fail to realize this fact, Al’Qaeda and like-minded groups will continue to draw recruits- whether in Pakistan, the Middle East, Europe, or North America.

This is precisely why counterinsurgency is so precious in the 21st century.  The doctrine tackles the problems associated with the root causes of terrorism in general (a lack of security and governance, and feelings of desperation and hopelessness).  As the debate over General McChrystal’s assessment continues, I hope that the President will not prematurely displace the tenants of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual.  Rather, I pray the administration gives the Afghan population a second-chance before repeating past mistakes.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Robert Haddick of the Small Wars Journal and Josh Rogin the ForeignPolicy.com contributed to this blog.  Both articles can be found at ForeignPolicy.com

Ahmadinejad’s Tricky Proposal

Posted in Iran by Dan on September 26, 2009
October 1 is the next step in the nuclear drama

The next episode of the nuclear drama is coming up on October 1

One week to go before the U.S.-Iran nuclear drama either becomes part of the history books or escalates into a brand-new Middle Eastern conflict.

As everyone already knows, October 1 will be the beginning of a new phase in the whole issue of global nuclear proliferation.  In fact, this symbolic date could be the last chance for the United Nation’s Security Council to convince Iranian representatives to dismantle their clandestine nuclear program.  With this being the case, do not only expect long and tedious meetings between the two parties; expect the month of October to be one of the most historic moments for Barack Obama’s presidency.  After four years of stalemate with the Iranians, Washington and its allies will finally reach the breaking-point that so many policymakers have been hoping for since George W. Bush’s administration.

Unfortunately, the talks are set up in such a way that the Islamic Republic only has only two possible alternatives to choose from: 1) please the international community by abandoning its uranium-enrichment program, or 2) continue to stonewall the International Atomic Energy Agency by improving its homegrown enrichment capabilities.

So far, both sides remain steadfast in their proposals.  The United States and the Security Council are demanding Tehran’s full compliance through improved disclosure and a willingness to constructively engage for the sake of peace and security.  The Iranian leadership, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are remaining resilient in the face of western pressure…arguing that the “Iranian nation” possesses a sole-right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful use.  President Obama certainly has his work cut out for him.  So far, his policy of unconditional dialogue has failed to materialize anything beneficial or worthwhile.

However defiant Ahmadinejad has been in the past, it appears that he is willing to concede to some of the international community’s demands.  According to The Washington Post, Tehran has agreed to let the United Nations Security Council question its nuclear scientists as a good-will gesture preceding next week’s talks.

On a more controversial note, Ahmadinejad has also told reporters that he will be asking the United States to sell Tehran enriched uranium for medicinal purposes.

Both developments, however trivial, seem like a step in the right direction.  After all, Iran is making compromises on issues that were previously viewed as nonnegotiable.  Exposing the country’s nuclear talent to representatives from the United States, Great Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany could be perceived as an attempt to show the world that Tehran wants conciliation rather than confrontation.  Unfortunately, this type of sentiment is exactly what Ahmadinejad wants you to believe.

What others see as a show of good-grace I see as another campaign of passive-aggressive coercion from the Islamic Republic.  What Tehran has essentially done (by asking the United States for enriched uranium) is successfully boxed President Obama into a corner that will be extremely difficult to get out of.  If the President agrees to this concession (which I hope he does not), the decision would expose his passivity and weakness in the eyes of America’s adversaries…exposing to the rest of the world that the most powerful man on the face of the earth will capitulate if enough pressure is mounted against him.

On the other hand, if the President rejects the Iranian offer, Ahmadinejad would be given an ample opportunity to continue Iran’s nuclear development.  The Iranians would use this rejection as a much-needed excuse to toil towards uranium with a 20 percent enrichment rate…as opposed to the 3-4 percent that Tehran has produced in mass quantities for the past four years.

In a more catastrophic blow to the United States, Iran would be able to spin Mr. Obama’s rationale as yet another American administration disregarding the health of other people.  The United States would be painted as a jealous superpower opposing the progression of the developing world, namely for the sake of its own international agenda.  Such a declaration would do nothing but broaden anti-Americanism in the Middle East, at the same time President Obama is desperately trying to salvage his doctrine of “mutual interest and mutual respect” with Arab Governments.

When it comes down to it, Iran’s show of good-will is not necessarily the package being advertised.  Hidden behind an eagerness for international engagement and a rosy-picture of diplomatic outreach is a disguised version of noncompliance and resistance.

Here is my prediction as the month winds down: the October 1 talks will go nowhere, Iran will remain defiant despite the threat of additional economic sanctions, and the United States will be compelled to respond in ways that could have lasting consequences for the entire Islamic world.  One can only guess as to the magnitude of this response.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post contributed to this blog.  His full article can be read at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/23/AR2009092304168_pf.html

The Hole Is Getting Bigger

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on September 24, 2009
The President is torn over Afghanistan

The President is torn over Afghanistan

Can someone please explain why the Obama administration is dragging its heels on Afghanistan?  With the security situation in the mountainous Islamic country continuing to deteriorate and with America’s European allies beginning to talk about withdrawing from the campaign all together, one would think that the president would respond quickly and forcefully.  Instead, what we have gotten from Mr. Obama and his national-security team is a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

Throughout last year’s presidential campaign, Mr. Obama chose to speak candidly to the American people about the eight-year quagmire.  Among his conversation was the continued resurgence of the Taliban insurgency, coupled with the endemic corruption and inadequacy of Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul.  The President frequently talked about re-formulating a new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan; one that would provide commanders and policymakers with clear objectives and a set-agenda.

Months later, Mr. Obama enacted many of his Afghanistan campaign promises in a short-period of time.  The National-Security Council and the Defense Department outlined a reformed plan for the “Af-Pak” region; one that would rely on traditional methods of counterinsurgency such as protecting population centers from Taliban aggression and “winning the hearts and minds” of ordinary Afghans in the countryside.  Al’Qaeda bases within Pakistan would continue to be subjected to U.S. drone-attacks while American diplomats would pressure the Pakistani Government to crack down on Islamic militants on its western border.

This was all well and good a few months ago, when the American people were still relatively optimistic about stabilizing Afghanistan.  Yet, a few suicide-bombings and ambushes later, the current political climate is rapidly shifting towards a high-degree of pessimism.  And with good reason…the country’s own military establishment is starting to question whether the President’s counterinsurgency doctrine is workable in a country as anarchic and poor as Afghanistan.  This is precisely why the White House has asked General Stanley McChrystal to reevaluate America’s mission.

The results have been predicted for weeks.  McChyrstal is asking President Obama to send thousands of additional troops to the front lines in the hopes of protecting the Afghan population.  Doesn’t this sound pretty familiar to General David Petraeus’ recommendations for Iraq only three years ago?  Regardless of a few minor details, McChrystal’s advice is essentially a déjà-vu of America’s Iraq policy.  Sounds simple enough.  Yet, there is a widespread defect to this approach:  the President, his cabinet, and the military are divided as to whether this would really do the trick.

Apparently, Vice President Joseph Biden (among others) is leading one of these camps.  In his eyes, a troop increase for Afghanistan would not accomplish the objective that the White House seeks to achieve in the broader War on Terrorism: diminishing Al’Qaeda’s offensive capabilities.  Only by refocusing American efforts towards Pakistan and expanding drone-assaults on terror bases would U.S. national security be enhanced.  In this case, counterterrorism would replace counterinsurgency and nation-building…two activities that made Iraq a success despite four years of sectarian conflict.

As expected, some in Congress are arguing for a full-scale withdrawal from Afghanistan within a short period of time.  Instead of pouring billions of dollars into a lost war, the United States should cut its losses and concentrate on domestic security.  War-critic John Murtha could be viewed as the chairman of this faction.

With so many choices, it is expected that President Obama would take his time to assess the pros and cons of each policy.  As Commander-in-Chief, it is Mr. Obama’s duty to analyze every possible alternative for the safety and security of American troops.  General McChrystal said the same thing only yesterday: “a policy debate is warranted.  We should not have any ambiguities, as a nation or coalition.”

Despite the necessity of patience during periods of warfare, commanders base success on a swift and timely response.  Rumors are circulating that the U.S. Military is frustrated and disappointed over the slow and cumbersome White House process.

Many are wondering why it is taking the administration so long to change course and sign-off on the 40,000-soldier contingent. Perhaps domestic politics is a factor, with low-approval ratings dominating the story-lines of the American media.  Perhaps the President believes that shifting strategies is a sign of weakness, a decision that could undermine his credibility as a man who understands the asymmetrical challenges the United States faces in the 21st century.  Another possibility could be the prevalent fragmentation within the administration, virtually making it impossible to foment an internal consensus on the “Af-Pak” mission.

Whatever the grounds for delay, our Commander-in-Chief needs to start acting like the Commander-in-Chief he campaigned for in 2008.  Whatever the decision, communicating with the military in an efficient and effective manner is a prerogative that must be sustained.  Conveying goals that are unambiguous is often the difference between success and failure.  How is General McChrystal supposed to live up to his obligations if he hasn’t got a clue as to what is going on behind the closed-doors of the Oval Office?  The longer the President waits, the more difficult it will become to turn the page.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Lara Jakes of the Associated Press contributed to this blog.  Her full article can be read at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090923/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_us_afghanistan

America’s Pathetic Excuse Of An African Policy

Posted in The Conflicts of Africa by Dan on September 22, 2009


If you are familiar with the work of Stephen M. Walt (as I am sure you are), you may want to take a look at his most recent post regarding the ongoing violence plaguing the nations of Central Africa.  While his post is relatively short for such an acclaimed scholar of international relations, it accurately demonstrates America’s ignorance towards some of the worst sadism that the world has experienced since World War II.

No, this conflict is not in Iraq or Afghanistan…in fact, it does not involve the Middle East is any way, shape, or form.  Rather, the 5.4 million deaths that Mr. Walt is talking about is located right in the heart of the African continent; that improvised swath of land that American policymakers have neglected for far too long.

For the ordinary American, discussing violence in a place as foreign and distinct as the Congo is relatively low on the agenda.  Most people nowadays are concerned with finding the next job and putting food on their family’s table.  And of course, I do not blame them.  However, while this casual sentiment represents the mainstream opinions of the American electorate, this is not an excuse for the United States Government- the most powerful and most influential authority in the world- to blindly ignore the atrocities that have been occurring in the Congo for the past decade.  Just because Washington has over 200,000 troops in two theatres does not mean the United States should caste this extensive conflict aside and pretend that genocidal activity is not going on.

Not once have I seen the western media discuss or even mention the violence in the Congo.  Certainly, they have other priorities at this time.  Major media conglomerates would get heavily criticized if reporters failed to cover America’s offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan or America’s reconstruction efforts in a post-Saddam Iraq.  When American boots are on the ground, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC have an obligation to cover the story.  But, once again, why does this enable networks to pass over the ethnic wars that have come to dominate African politics?

The only possible explanation I can muster is what Steve Walt coins as “strategic ethnocentrism,” a term that describes western passivity on issues outside the Anglo-American sphere of influence.  As Walt states, “Western elites pay a lot more attention when people like them are killed in large numbers, and look the other way when the victims are improvished Africans.”  If this is the case, I am ashamed of the current administration…not to mention the CEO’s and executives of our country’s news corporations.

Now on to the argument that Africa is not a part of the American national interest, and thus should not warrant resources from the U.S. Government.  As disturbing and flawed this view has become, this “do-nothing” mindset has unfortunately come to dominate African policy for nearly two decades.  Ever since the 1993 Somalia fiasco, both Republicans and Democrats have been more than reluctant to push through much-needed reforms on the continent.

Democracy promotion and international humanitarian missions are seldom to none, with the exception of some U.N. peacekeepers on the ground in places considered vital to western interests.  Politicians routinely view Africa as an aimless cause, a messy-area where intra-state warfare will always occur regardless of western commitments and devotion (just take President Clinton’s failure to act during the Rwandan genocide as an example).  Americans simply have no incentive to help out, thus the conflict is an internal affair that needs to be solved by a combination of the United Nations and the World Bank.  Such is our nation’s great African policy.

However common, this traditional outlook is riddled with falsities.  Africa, despite the stigma attached to the continent, is in the U.S. national interest, just as the pool of oil called the Middle East is in the U.S. national interest.  As the world’s remaining superpower, and as the country with the most diplomatic leverage, it would seem that our government has an obligation to work with those in the Congo; using every tool within the State Department at our disposal to negotiate a ceasefire.  Such an action would only bolster President Obama’s “open hand” strategy: reaching out to others in a tolerant fashion in order to boost international peace and mitigate the dangers associated with terrorism and political extremism.

Ironically, we can learn from one of our most trusted allies in the Middle East.  Egypt, despite its authoritarian tendencies and its frequent abuses of human-rights, has been known to accept the role as the Middle East’s most dedicated power-broker…mediating issues as diverse as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Arab-Israeli land dispute.  If a quasi-dictatorship can perform functions associated with dialogue and negotiation, why not the world’s greatest democracy?

When millions of innocent people are continuously slain by semi-automatic weapons and machetes, it becomes part of the U.S. national interest to intervene and assert ourselves in the situation…regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or tribal affiliation.  It is time for us to start acting as the peaceful humanitarian that we have all-too-often come to define ourselves.  It is time to back our rhetoric with concrete action.

Note to the White House: mobilize a coalition of the willing to deal with the worsening situation in Central Africa.  If you continue on your present course, expect a rising amount of anti-Americanism among the Sub-Saharan African population; a situation that our country cannot afford.  Surely, limiting hatred towards the United States is in our best interest.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-This post was based on Stephen M. Walt’s “Strategic Ethnocentrism.”  His full article can be accessed at: http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/09/14/strategic_ethnocentrism

Obama Scraps Eastern-European Missile Plan

Posted in European-Russian Relations by Dan on September 19, 2009
President Obama's decision to eliminate a proposed U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe is a victory for pragmaticism

President Obama's decision to eliminate a proposed U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe is a victory for pragmatism

What is really behind President Obama’s plans for scrapping a U.S. missile defense shield in Eastern Europe?  This question has been repeated many times over the last two days, so much so that Republicans inside Congress have begun to cry foul over the president’s “real” intentions.  Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, vowed that he would “work to overturn this wrong-headed policy,” while Senate Republican Jon Kyl labeled the decision “dangerous and short-sighted.”  Is this just another instance of partisan rhetoric on Capitol Hill, in an attempt to delegitimize the Obama administration’s record on national security?  Or do Republicans actually have a convincing case?

Readers of this blog know quite well that I am frequently opposed to many of President Obama’s foreign-policy decisions; engagement with Iran, de-escalation in Iraq, and a lack of priorities in Afghanistan to name only a few.  Yet, while a registered Republican, I cannot help but support Mr. Obama in this specific case.  However valid Mr. Cantor and Mr. Kyl’s press-releases are, their views are based on an outdated version of the international order; a philosophy that takes on a Cold War attitude at a time when multi-polarity is creeping up in significance.

The main objective of the U.S. missile shield was to protect Europe against a possible Iranian attack, most likely from long-range ballistic missiles.  The Czech Republic and Poland, two countries that are still recovering from decades of Soviet occupation, perceived this same program as a military deterrent against a resurgent Russian power.

As ridiculous as this may sound, the missile shield would have had that exact effect: showing Russia that the United States will not tolerate aggressive behavior towards its European allies.  Of course, none of this would have been an issue if Russia decided not to invade Georgia in the summer of 2008…a campaign that lasted a few months and reeked significant damage on Georgian infrastructure.

Certainly, a buffer-zone against Moscow would have been beneficial to Eastern and Central Europe, further enhancing their security in the face of the “Russian beast.”  Yet, there is no basis for arguing that the defense program would have protected American interests in the wider region…despite consistent claims by anti-Russian hawks that this would have been the case.  Russia, while authoritarian in many respects, is not a direct descendant of its former Soviet past.  Russian institutions have changed markedly during Boris Yelstin’s tenure, taking a more democratic turn at the expense of the old autocratic traditions of coercion and forceful repression.  Obviously, there is still work to be done…Moscow is still heavily authoritarian in its political process, and the Communist Party is still regarded as one of the most legitimate parties in parliament.  Yet, this does not dismiss the fact that the Cold War is long gone; another piece of history that we can all learn from.

The Czech and Polish governments will be especially angry at this decision.  Eastern European officials have waited a long time for a missile defense deterrent against Moscow, only strengthened by President George W Bush’s proposed plan during his second term.  Yet, anger aside, common-sense dictates that the Czech and Polish people have nothing to worry about.  Their fear is the equivalent to a child scared of a monster in the closet.  We are currently living in the 21st century, an era where a major economic or political catastrophe would have worldwide effects.  A Russian “invasion” on its eastern flank is just as impractical as suicidal; such an act would surely provoke the wrath of the United States, Europe, and the international community all at the same time.  Taking its position in the system today, I severely doubt that the Russians would sacrifice their future as a major power on an issue as trivial as Eastern European control.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Anne Gearan and Desmond Butler from the Associated Press contributed to this blog.  The full article can be found here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090917/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_us_missile_defense

The Frustrating Aspects of Multilateralism

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on September 17, 2009


Ever since President George W. Bush’s controversial tenure, commentators and political scientists have been calling for a more open, tolerant, and compassionate American foreign-policy.  Many have laid down the argument that the United State has lost the good-graces of the international community; dictating to other states how they should act and what issues they should be of concern.

The War on Terrorism is perhaps the best illustration argument.  American military maneuvers over the past eight years only demonstrates this commitment; using all the policy tools at its disposal to track, resist, and eventually defeat terrorism in all ways, shapes and forms.  Whether this includes the use of military force (as in Afghanistan and Iraq), tactical U.S. air-strikes (as in Pakistan and Somalia) or the use of humanitarian and diplomatic intervention (as in Africa and the Middle East) is beside the point.  It is Washington’s ultimate goal that matters: safeguarding American power from the constant threats of non-state actors.

Unexpectedly, combating terrorism has often led to international disapproval towards the U.S. image.  European governments often claim that Washington relies too much on guns and bullets rather than values and human rights.  Many European countries overwhelmingly oppose U.S. Foreign policy, a figure that Fareed Zakaria alleges is close to 80 percent.  Even pro-western Arabs have complained about America’s aggressive intrusion into the internal affairs of Arab politics, suggesting that Washington is re-creating the region without taking into account the demands and grievances of the Islamic people.

With America’s image bruised, and with anti-Americanism spreading in areas as diverse as Central Asia and Latin America, political pundits have begun to mobilize around a peacenik approach…re-introducing compromise, respect, and geniality back into U.S. foreign-policy.  One of Zakaria’s comments serves as a microcosm to the culturally-sensitive viewpoint often endorsed by former State Department officials:

“What the United States is lacking in a place like Pakistan is a broader effort to assist that country in its modernization and an effort that makes it clear that the United States wants to ally with the people of that country and not merely its military.”

In other words, the United States Government needs to start strengthening its connections in ways other than coercion and self-interest.  By using Pakistan as his case-study, Zakaria is essentially stating that Washington is more concerned with fighting terrorism in the Afghan-Pakistani border than in improving the lives of Pakistani’s themselves.  In large part, he is right…most of the financial aid that the U.S. donates to the Pakistani Government is in the form of military hardware and logistical support.  There are very few instances when the White House sends money towards Pakistan’s educational system, or delivers aid for infrastructure development.

However valid, Zakaria’s statement fails to recognize the universal consensus within the political science community.  The international system is composed of hundreds upon hundreds of states, each of which possesses their own goals and ambitions.  The objectives of Pakistan are sharply different from the objectives of Sweden, while the world-view of Venezuela is starkly different from its Columbian neighbor to the north.  This is precisely why it is so difficult for states to successfully get what they want through compromise, dialogue, and “mutual respect.”

The U.N. Security Council is perhaps the best analogy, an agency that is composed of divergent opinions on issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to the situation in Darfur.  The reason why so little has been done on these respected issues is, in large part, due to multilateral frustration.  The unwillingness of Russian and China to support western-backed sanctions on the Islamic Republic is a case in point; when diverse cultures collide, confrontation and stalemate is often the result.

Most people wish for a unified international community, where cordial discussion can easily solve the world’s outstanding problems.  It would be amazing if the Israeli-Palestinian peace process could be resolved through negotiations, minus spoiler violence and religious animosity.  It would be outstanding if Mr. Zakaria’s dreams were realized by all actors in the system.

In spite of this optimism, this is simply not practical in the world we are currently living in.  Multilateralism is difficult precisely because of the hidden motivations of individual member-states.  In the end, when the main priority of national governments is the enhancement of pure power, the consultation that Zakaria backs only reinforces stalemate.  If the United States and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have thus far failed to agree on their roles and responsibilities in a post-Saddam Iraq, how can we expect the world’s many cultures to sit down at the same table and forge a harmonious relationship?

As long as the international system is dominated by states with particular interests and concerns, no amount of mutual respect can produce cooperation on every matter of global significance.  Just look at the War on Terrorism.

-Daniel R. DePetris

The State-Defense Department Spat

Posted in Somalia by Dan on September 15, 2009
Disagreeemnts over Somalia pin the State Department and the Pentagon in opposite corners

Disagreements over Somalia pin the State Department and the Pentagon in opposite corners

To anyone who is remotely interested in African politics, particularly in that violent-prone and contentious nation-state called Somalia, this may be of interest to the casual observer; the U.S. State Department has donated several million dollars to President Ahmad’s Transitional Federal Government.  Of course, the headline by itself is not very interesting…Washington has been known to support its fair share of pro-western coalitions (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Ethiopia and Columbia to name only a few).  What makes this story jump out is the internal lobbying that has apparently divided the State and Defense Department over this policy.

As might be expected, any policy that deals with an extensive issue in foreign-affairs will produce debate and concern.  Post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is perhaps the most noteworthy, where officials from the State Department have complained of too few resources, funds, and manpower from the national government to perform the reconstruction mission adequately.  At least before Secretary Robert Gates took over the reigns at the Pentagon, defeating Iraq’s Islamic insurgency through military means was viewed as the main priority…a far cry from the “hearts and minds” strategy that U.S. soldiers have now advocated for the past two years.  Therefore, divisions within the U.S. Government are not particularly worrisome.  However, the Somali example is a distinct case-study; one that is slowly destroying any prospect for a unified and comprehensive African policy.

Reports, analysts, and editors of ForeignPolicy.com have been claiming that both the State Department and the Pentagon are up in arms about what should be done about Somalia’s ongoing trouble.  Obviously, the main concern for diplomats is the rebuilding of the Somali Transitional Authority; a loosely-held coalition composed of a number of factions, clans, and ideological dispositions.  In fact, the only possible way that President Ahmad could form a workable government was by including a number of different elements in the coalition; including Somali warlords, western sympathizers and members of Salafi Islam.  The mainstream perception among State officials is that only a strong central authority will be able to tame the country’s ongoing insurgency to the south; a policy option that many hawks label as unnecessary and nearly impossible to implement.

In contrast to the arduous task of nation building that the State Department traditionally focuses upon, Defense officials tend to look at Somalia through a narrow-lens; using every tool at its disposal to ensure that Somali violence does not threaten or endanger U.S. interests in the wider region.

Of course, the issue of terrorism is one of those main concerns.  With the southern portion of Somalia quickly becoming one of the world’s foremost breeding grounds for Al’Qaeda proxies, the president has not hesitated to aggressively pursue America’s asymmetrical adversaries in all ways, shapes, and forms; either through covert action or tactical air strikes (take yesterday’s reported killing of Saleh Ali Nabhan, top Al’Qaeda leader in Somalia, as an example).  With help from Ethiopian intelligence, the United States has actually been relatively successful at keeping a closed lid on Al’Qaeda activity…making sure that a devastating spill-over effect does not occur in Sub-Sahara Africa.

While there is reason to believe that U.S.-led air-attacks have accomplished their objectives thus far, this policy is yet another demonstration of inter-agency disagreement.  The Pentagon is continuing to concentrate on the short-term, while the State Department is working extensively for long-term development.

(Unfortunately, all of the hooting and hollering in the world has thus far failed to reach the ears of President Obama.  Mr. Obama’s obsession with Afghanistan may be part of the problem.  The African Bureau’s inexperience is certainly another)

Is a stable Mogadishu even possible based on the country’s fragile circumstances?  Would security in the capital eventually pave the way for a resurgent Somali state; a miracle that Somalis of all religions and ethnicities have been hoping for since the early 1990’s?  Or is Somalia simply a lost cause, a state where violence and mismanagement will further inflame the passions of the Islamic insurgency?  All of these questions need to be asked if the United States is genuinely interested in establishing peace in one of the world’s most dangerous areas.

While all of these queries have yet to be answered, we are fortunate enough that the State and Defense Departments are attempting to solve them in their own distinct ways.  Lobbying the White House is certainly an arduous task, and it appears that President Obama is finally experiencing the frustrations (and benefits) associated with inter-departmental rivalry.

In my own view, there is no magic formula for Somalia’s political landscape.  As I have said in previous blogs, Mogadishu tends to operate under the banner of ethnic competition than a unified sense of Somali nationalism.  Clans and sub-clans hold grudges for power and privilege; using historical animosities and a generalized sense of fear to safeguard their prospects for the future.  Al’Qaeda, a minor force only a decade ago, is now firmly entrenched in the Somali-way of life…bolstering their ranks through the exploitation of war-weary men, women, and yes…children.  With everything going wrong, tactical air-strikes on ‘targets of opportunity’ will not markedly alter the situation towards America’s advantage.  Nor will a reliance on President Ahmad’s coalition, due to its structural instability and its inability to expand order through Somalia’s major metropolitan centers.  The only thing that could possibly improve the Horn of Africa is by formulating a detailed plan; something that the U.S. Government has neglected to do over the past two decades.

Giving money to the TFA is fine, but when the amount is both insufficient and irresponsibly spent, its effects are virtually meaningless.  Bombing Al’Qaeda targets is fine too, but when the missiles kill civilians, it further inflames the local population and risks pushing them on the road towards violence.  Both approaches have their faults, but unfortunately, this is what the State and Defense Departments have continued to do.  In both realistic and moral terms, we cannot expect Somalis to unify if we cannot unify ourselves.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Elizabeth Dickinson of ForeignPolicy.com contributed to this blog.  Her full article can be accessed at: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/09/10/arming_somalia

The Hawks Have It Right

Posted in Iran by Dan on September 13, 2009
Past negotiations and frustrations with the Iranians have proven that the time for diplomacy is over

Past negotiations and frustrations with the Iranians have proven that the time for diplomacy has past

I do not know about the rest of the country, but as a young American who hopes to one day enter into the U.S. national security community, I have become sick and tired of the nuanced tone concerning Iran’s nuclear capability.  Of course, it would be incorrect to assert that the United States Government and its think-tank associates are wholly unconcerned with a potential Iranian nuclear power.  For months, even years, policymakers, diplomats, military commanders, and security analysts have devoted an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and resources towards this very issue; assessing Tehran’s uranium enrichment process, formulating responses to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s defiance, and projecting when Iran will acquire the bomb to name only a few.  Just mention the concept of nuclear proliferation to officials within President Barack Obama’s administration (in addition to former officials of the Bush White House) and they will certainly tell you that the issue is at the top of the foreign-policy agenda.

The work ethic of Washington is not the concern in this particular case…what is the problem is the consistent arguments by moderates and doves alike calling for the elimination of the military option.  FP’s own Stephen Walt (his views can be seen here http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/09/10/theyre_baaaaack) is a prominent leader in this camp; a host of academics who claim that the only way of fully persuading the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear program is through a genuine campaign of unconditional diplomatic engagement.  In the words of President Obama, “mutual interest and mutual respect” will result in far more compliance from Tehran than threats of aerial attack and aggressive rhetoric.  One only needs to take a look back at Mr. Obama’s speech during the Persian New Year- when he directly and publicly addressed his desire to include the Islamic Republic “in the community of nations”- to firmly recognize the strengthened position of this movement.

Yet, however bold and honorable all of these approaches are (and indeed they are), this peacenik-plan has failed to achieve exactly what it sets out to achieve: a more moderate change of behavior from Iran’s clerical establishment.  In fact, dialogue and “mutual respect” has translated into opposite results.  Ayatollah Khamenei has used (and is continuing to use) his Friday sermons as a venue to lash out against western powers, all the while issuing religious decrees stating that the Iranian people will never forgo their absolute right for nuclear energy.  The International Atomic Energy Agency- the primary nuclear authority in the international community- is nothing but a laughing-stock to the Iranian leadership…a U.S.-puppet that is simply an extension of western intervention and imperialism in an otherwise susceptible region.  Stonewalling international inspectors has become a common practice for Tehran, viewing its presence as a hindrance to Iranian power and perceiving its duty as a western sabotage of Iranian national interest.

Perhaps more dangerous to international peace and security as a whole, the “dialogue-first” method is giving the Iranians an ample opportunity.  By using the diplomatic process, the Iranians have been able to improve and bolster their enrichment capabilities…all the while claiming that they are cooperating with the U.N. Security Council through the long and doled out process of negotiations.  Unfortunately, this reality is only buttressed by U.S. Envoy Glyn Davies; reporting that the Iranians already possess (or will soon possess) enough low-enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon.

With Iranian-U.N. negotiations at the lowest point of its existence, advocating further dialogue seems like a rather contradictory option for both the United States and its global partners.  Formulating policy on the false hope that the Iranians will eventually ‘see the light’ is an ignorant basis to go upon.  If Tehran has neglected, thus far, to show signs of reconciliation on their nuclear program, let alone cooperate extensively with IAEA inspectors, can we really expect that Khamenei will participate in some radically progressive way?  Experts hate to say it, but the time of a renaissance-like period of diplomacy has already reached its peak.

Absent the threat of military force, there is virtually no inducement for the Islamic Republic to constructively engage.  Sanctions, minus a few breakthroughs, have proven to be a catastrophic failure.  Thanks to the unhelpful behavior of Russia and China, the Security Council has been more of a frustrating obstacle to disbarment than a proponent of it.  For months, the agency’s five permanent members (the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China) have been unable to pass tougher economic punishments on those Iranian officials associated with nuclear development.  Crediting David Rothkopt’s scholarly-reporting, Russia appears to be in no mood for American pressure…as is obvious based on Sergei Lavrov’s declaration that his country would not support a timetable for Iranian compliance.  Indeed, Russia is even calling for a halt to the proposed Iranian oil and gas embargo; a devastating setback considering that the Iranian Government is heavily dependent on refined petroleum for a mobile economy.

Where does this leave the United States and its allies?  The answer is relatively straightforward:  in a position of weakness and desperation.  Following the present course is therefore a terrible policy decision, one that will hopefully be diverted if Tehran decides to exercise its nuclear-breakout capacity.  Label us hawks, neo-conservatives, or war-mongers if you so choose, but nothing has worked through the avenues of diplomacy.  Sometimes war-like jargon is the best option.  In a variety of cases, history has proven that intimidation is often the precursor to moderate behavior.  Just ask Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2003; a terror-supporter turned ‘good guy’ after he strategically decided to scratch Libya’s weapons of mass destruction research.

Opponents of military force against Iran have also centered their arguments on false pretexts.  Some claim that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would only strengthen conservatives within that country, uniting moderates under the banner of Iranian nationalism.  The reality is that an increase in popular support is highly unlikely, given Khamenei’s harsh crack-down on Iranian citizens and the systematic purging of democratic opponents within Iranian society.  Just because the Iranian people support nuclear research does not necessarily mean that they will blindly stand behind their repressive government in the event of U.S.-led air-strikes.  This is the equivalent of saying that Al’Qaeda and Hezbollah, two terrorist organizations with starkly different ideological and religious beliefs, will form a unified coalition based on a common enemy.  It is simply not a convincing argument.

In addition, the belief that air-strikes would only temporarily halt Iran’s nuclear development withholds a dramatic piece of the puzzle; military action has the capacity to destroy a significant amount of Tehran’s nuclear sites.  More importantly, such an act would establish an Iranian-precedent; the United States, Israel, moderate Arab Governments, and indeed the world will not accept a belligerent state with highly catastrophic weapons.

Stephen Walt, despite his conventional opinions, is right in one respect…the hawks are “baaaaack…”  The thing he fails to accept is why the hawks are resurging back into the public-consciences: the solutions they hold are the most realistic with respect to the Iranian question.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Stephen M. Walt, David Rothkopt, John P. Hannah, and the British Broadcasting Service contributed to this piece.

Stop Bashing the Somalis

Posted in Somalia by Dan on September 9, 2009
Mainstream Pessimism only hurts Somalia's chances for a hopeful future

Mainstream Pessimism only hurts Somalia's chances for a hopeful future

As I was doing my usual channel-surfing on the internet, killing some time by staring at the clock and reading today’s news, I ran across a thoughtful (yet analytical) piece by Purdue University professor Michael Weinstein about the ongoing political stalemate in Somalia.  Mr. Weinstein starts his article in the same manner as every African analyst seems to do nowadays; going through the laundry list of violence occurring between Somalia’s Transitional Federal Authority and the Islamic opposition.

He claims that Somalia’s situation is too “complex, convoluted and fragmented” to draw accurate conclusions regarding the status of the country’s insurgency.  Fair enough…I agree somewhat.  The pictures and reports of civilians feeling Somalia in order to escape the barbarism of their homeland is only proof of this well-recognized fact.

Next, the political science professor goes on a full-fledged rampage, defaming the United States and the United Nation’s as weak and passive actors towards the conflict in Somalia; reinforced only through their ignorance of Somali politics and society.  So he concludes, one of the main reasons why the TFA is unable to resist Islamic factions in Mogadishu is because its main donors- the United States and Western Europe- do not understand the nature of Somali infighting.  Washington has formulated and expanded its Horn of Africa strategy on the assumption that the TFA is battling a large and united Islamic insurgency; when the fact is that many clans, sub-clans, terrorists, militias, and Sunni radicals are involved.

This, too, is a statement worth considering.  Somalia has always been a divided and decentralized society; operating solely under the flags of clan-loyalties rather than the united banner of nationalism that so many other countries take for granted.  With this complicated history virtually dominating the behavior of Somalis since their independence from western colonialism, it would be natural for Mr. Weinstein to shed light on the various factions contributing to Somali instability.  Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmad, the president of Somalia’s governing authority, has been placed in a unique, although difficult, situation; forced to combat a number of small-scale insurgencies aimed at establishing an Islamic State.  Once again, Mr. Weinstein seems correct on this point.

It is his next argument- that the TFA is an inadequate government only exacerbating Somalia’s domestic problems- that I personally take issue with.  Unexpectedly, there is no denying President Ahmad’s reluctance in taking the fight to the enemy (or in this case, the enemies).  With the government-bankroll all but dried up, he simply lacks the money or resources necessary for an effective counterinsurgency and counterterrorism plan.  The strength of Islamic factions in the southern part of the country, both in numbers and in morale, is another factor that should be highlighted.  Government troops are underfunded and undermanned, lacking the same type of resolve that defines the character of the opposition.

In a similar vein, Ahmad is meshed into a loosely-held coalition, consisting of former Islamic fighters, pro-western sympathizers, and Somali nationalists.  From a purely political standpoint, Mr. Ahmad may not want to marginalize himself from a sizeable portion of the TFA by cracking down on Muslim populations.  Such an action would prove to be suicidal for his personal career and his ambitions for the future.   Finally, Ethiopian meddling within Somali society (even after Ethiopian troops withdrew from Somali soil in 2008), does not help the capabilities of the TFA either…there is a widely-held belief that Ethiopia is training warlords who have contrary interests to Ahmad’s transitional government.

I have no qualms about Weinstein’s timeline of events.  In fact, it would be extremely difficult for anyone to disprove many of his points.  Everyone recognizes that the TFA’s has its fair share of faults and weaknesses.  What I do find disturbing is his harsh rhetoric towards the governing authority in general, claiming that it is a “concocted…improbable hybrid that is engineered to fail.”

What Mr. Weinstein fails to consider is the alternative to this situation; a marginalized state ruled by hundreds upon hundreds of tyrannical warlords who wish to promote their own autocratic agenda.  Americans have already witnessed this unfortunate scenario, as was apparent in the botched 1993 military operation in Mogadishu that resulted in 18 American casualties.  From a personal perspective, it seems as if this academic wants Somalia to enter into a time-machine and recede back to the days when warlords used natural resources, food, and water as bargaining chips.  With violence spreading throughout the state, the last thing Somalia needs is another African atrocity, reinforced by millions of starving and malnourished people desperately clamoring for a faint-hope of life.  If Weinstein had his way, Somalia would become more of a government-less society than it already is, opening up a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism.  In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, a third-front in the War on Terrorism would be created; stretching an already overburdened U.S. Military further.

There is no disputing the fact that the TFA has its problems.  Its presence in Somali political life has failed to lay the groundwork for an Al’Qaeda retreat, nor has its authority delivered much-needed services to Somali men, women, and children.  Yet, inadequacy in the present does not mean dissolution in the future.  The Transitional Governing Authority is a step in the right direction.  It attempts to foment peace by including Islamists in a power-sharing agreement, all the while pushing for the defeat of hard-line radicals to the south.  With more funding from western-donors, and with international peacekeepers on the ground, who knows how improved TFA capabilities will become?

In the world’s most dangerous state, the absence of a governing body would kill any chances for a genuine peace-deal and a more hopeful future.  While not perfect, President Ahmad’s coalition is at least working towards the other end of this spectrum.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-This blog was based on Michael Weinstein’s article, entitled No Simple Narrative in Somalia Drama.  His full article is published through the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank.  A full version can be accessed at:  http://csis.org/story/no-simple-narrative-somalia-drama