Now I don't mean to sound dismissive about all of this, but what exactly does the Post want to have happen? As noted in the article, the USG is already providing aid to Somalia and has undertaken strikes against al-Shabaab targets on African soil. American personnel are also providing training and support to the Ugandan forces that make up the bulk of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu. So what else?
Such a campaign poses, at the least, a serious risk to the stability of Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, which all have tried to prevent an al-Shabab takeover in Somalia. Given the U.S. passport holders known to have joined al-Shabab, an attempt to attack the U.S. homeland -- such as that attempted by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen last Christmas -- is entirely plausible. The Obama administration hasn't ignored the danger: In addition to providing aid to the Somali government and army, it has ordered raids by U.S. forces on terrorist targets in Somalia.
But Kenya's foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, was right when he said last week -- before the Uganda bombings -- that the United States was not doing enough to combat the threat. The Somali government and army need more help, and ideally, more foreign forces; more should be done to stop the flow of weapons into the country. More U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Shabab leaders should be undertaken. The situation in Somalia, Mr. Wetangula told the Associated Press, is "very, very dire." It is time for the United States to recognize that -- and to respond before al-Shabab can escalate its foreign attacks.
Well, "ideally, more foreign forces," says the Post. The U.S. obviously isn't going to be the one to provide those forces, so one can only presume that they're asking for more international peacekeepers. The AU force is holding on by a thread, but it's hard to imagine NATO or UN troops going in to push back al-Shabaab forces. So this means more Africans. Is the U.S. really best positioned to go asking for others to participate, considering extant suspicions about our intentions vis-a-vis AFRICOM, U.S. mil presence in Djibouti, and so on?
Furthermore, are more Africans really going to do all that much? I'm not suggesting that the AU force is incompetent, or that more forces couldn't tip the balance, but are there any really good reasons to believe that they will?
What else does the Post have in mind? "[M]ore should be done to stop the flow of weapons into the country." Ok, fine, fair enough. But why? Between this and the plea for more foreign troops, it's clear that the editorial is focused on preventing AS from making further gains in its military campaign against the Transitional Federal Government. But does that really have all that much to do with AS' ability to launch terrorist attacks against the U.S. or its interests abroad? Does AS need to hold the capital in order to have the much sought-after "safe haven" apparently so essential to mounting successful terrorist operations with global reach?
Is the AS-TFG military struggle really all that meaningful to U.S. interests? Don't get me wrong, I think it's probably a better scenario if we can shrink the list of states that are categorically and irreversibly opposed to everything the U.S. says and does, rather than extending it. But from a concrete, tangible perspective, does it really matter all that much who is "running" Somalia (to the extent that it's ever being run at all)?
This line of reasoning (and questioning) is obviously very relevant to the war in Afghanistan. After all, if we've concluded that we have to fight a war in south Asia to eliminate a possible terrorist safe haven, then it shouldn't come as any great shock that others would conclude that such a safe haven needs to be eliminated in east Africa. But even if the TFG "wins," is the safe haven gone? And even if the safe haven is gone (as it apparently is in Afghanistan, at least within that state's borders), does that mean that terrorists can't operate effectively?
So the Washington Post wants action. So does Kenya's foreign minister, apparently, for whatever that's worth. But can someone tell me exactly why it's so essential that we intervene? And if it is so essential, how we're going to do it? Because it we're going to keep zapping known AS guys with AC-130s and UAVs and Tomahawks and whatnot, fine with me. But it seems like that's about our only option, and it seems like a pretty good way to get the rest of Somalia to pick sides, too.