I sense that some of my conservative readers think I go out of my way to frustrate or irritate them when it comes to my views on either the Middle East, or the followers of Islam around the world. While I write and post exactly how I feel, I have for a long time concluded that the anger some have with me is more a case of their disgust over the misguided policies from a conservative White House that are now biting the world.
The latest such example is Somalia.
I strongly felt that when the proxy war started roughly two years ago in Somalia that it was a wrong-headed move by American foreign policy planners. To use Ethiopian forces to remove an Islamic movement that had governed with some effectiveness in that long blighted land was a short-sighted goal. But President Bush felt that any Islamic government in Somalia had to be bad. Bush had no ability to reason that working with more moderate elements within the fundamentalist end of Islam might be in our long-term interests. There is a large gap between the Islamists that were in Somalia in 2006, a group that had found power and some high degree of legitimacy, versus the seperate group of Islamists that are now threatening to take over that war ravaged country. Therein lies the whole problem with the policy that President Bush used in Somalia.
Today the New York Times echoes much of this argument, while outlining the obvious end result. Utter chaos in Somalia, and a place where Islamists who harbor a distorted view of the Koran can work over-time to create plots and plans for others. Not a scenario that we want. But thanks to President Bush we now have.
So when my conservative readers get miffed at me, let me just say I did not create the policies I muse about. However their votes for George Bush, in an indirect way, did.
In 2006, Islamist troops teamed up with clan elders and businessmen to drive out the warlords who had been preying upon Somalia’s people since the central government first collapsed in 1991. The six months the Islamists ruled Mogadishu turned out to be one of the most peaceful periods in modern Somali history.
But today’s Islamists are a harder, more brutal group than the ones who were ousted by an Ethiopian invasion, backed by the United States, in late 2006. The old guard included many moderates, but those who tried to work with the transitional government mostly failed, leaving them weak and marginalized, and removing a mitigating influence on the die-hard insurgents.
On top of that, the unpopular and bloody Ethiopian military operations over the past two years have radicalized many Somalis and sent hundreds of unemployed young men — most of whom have never gone to school, never been part of a functioning society and never had much of a chance to do anything but shoulder a gun — into the arms of militant Islamic groups.
The most militant group is the Shabab, a multiclan insurgent force that the United States classifies as a terrorist organization. Just a few weeks ago, the Shabab kidnapped a man it accused of being a spy and slowly sawed off his head with a dull knife, videotaping the whole episode.
Somalia is nearly 100 percent Muslim, but most Somalis are moderate Muslims. Many analysts expect that the militant Islamic wave will soon crest because Somalis will inevitably chafe under strict Islamist law, especially when the Islamists try to take away their beloved khat, the ubiquitous, mildly stimulating leaf that Somalis chew like bubble gum.
Then, many analysts say, the Islamist groups could slug it out among themselves, with Ethiopia and other neighboring countries backing rival factions, and with clan warlords jumping in. Osman Mohamed Abdi, vice chairman of the Somali Youth Development Network, a nonprofit group in Mogadishu, called this possibility the “worst man-made catastrophe.”