Presented by the Council on Foreign Relations: What Role Should the U.S. Play in Somalia?
: Professor Lyons:
Five months after the Somali Transitional Federal Government and Ethiopian troops ousted the Union of Islamic Courts, it appears initial hopes of a stable regime have been replaced by disappointment and frustration. Conditions in Somalia have deteriorated and there is evidence that an organized insurgency has coalesced in Mogadishu. The TFG remains narrowly based and unpopular. Violence in March and April reached tragic heights as Ethiopian troops used heavy artillery and mortars against neighborhoods it claimed housed Islamic militants. According to UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, 300,000 have fled the city and “in terms of numbers and access to them, Somalia is a worse displacement crisis than Darfur or Chad.”
With the process of political reconciliation yet to begin and with the prospect of a viable AU force to replace Ethiopian troops dimming, it seems that the window of opportunity opened in early 2007 has virtually closed. The lack of a workable political or security plan is leading events to spiral toward greater violence with the potential that conflict will spread further.
Sadia Ali Aden:
I am of the opinion that Washington still has a golden opportunity to help restore peace and order in Somalia and re-cultivate a relationship based on mutual respect and indeed interest without sending American soldiers to Somalia.
This golden opportunity does not exist because the TFG might be willing to hold a “reconciliation conference” in Mogadishu (when the said entity itself is a party to the conflict), but because the U.S. is the only stakeholder who has the necessary capacity and clout to bring both the TFG and the UIC to the negotiation table. It is the only actively involved external stakeholder whose strategic interest is directly dependent on the stability and the reconstitution of the Somali state.
Both the timing and the environment are conducive to constructive engagement. All attempts to enforce peace through military might have proven a failure. The only opportunity remaining is through direct diplomatic engagement.
Sadia Ali Aden and I agree on the interlinked imperatives to make the transitional government more inclusive and to find a mechanism to withdraw Ethiopian forces from Somalia. A robust UN peacekeeping force with a strong mandate could play a constructive role but the challenges in deploying the Africa Union force and the memories of the UNOSOM experience in the early 1990s make this an unlikely outcome. Furthermore, I remain more skeptical than Ms. Aden that Washington is likely to play the key role in sponsoring talks between the TFG and elements of the UIC.
And so forth. By the way, the U.S. seems to be both the cause and the cure. Again.
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