Rescue Somalia?


There's an eerie retro look to international affairs this year, a fin de siecle fashion for Balkan wars, colonial mandates and interventions to establish democracy all over the world. The promise of peace at the end of the cold war seems increasingly elusive. And what's most frightening is that many of those who spent the last long era opposing intervention are leading the band of expeditionary forces destined for quagmires all over the globe.

It's understandable that even the most stalwart opponents of American military interventions would waver when images of starving Somaii children leap into comfortable living rooms each night on the TV news. Nor have the correspondents and commentators making the obligatory trek to Mogadishu presented any analysis or, for that matter, any reportage that would show that intervention will have political consequences beyond the supposedly simple humanitarian goal of feeding hungry people. In the absence of any serious arguments to the contrary, most Americans jump to the conclusion that massive military intervention in the service of humanity is not only a good thing but a necessary one.

But there are serious arguments to the contrary, at least against the probable plan, which is to send some 28,000 U.S. troops to occupy Somalia, under American command and control with only the thinnest U.N. Security Council aegis. First of all, a military force of that size and command structure, and with a virtually open-ended mission to secure Somalia until order and democracy are restored, is by its nature a significant political enterprise. It gives the United States a presence in one of the most strategically sensitive spots in the world today: astride the Horn of Africa, where oil, Islamic fundamentalism and Israeli, Iranian and Arab ambitions and arms are apt to crash and collide. Any intervention, in that scenario, would likely project American power in the region into the next century.

Second. a substantial armed occupation could not be neutral. It will inevitably come to support not only one or another "warlord" (a loaded term) but also the merchant class, which is already making a Somali bundle off the misery of the poor. The soldiers or Marines sent to guard the food convoys for the poor will in effect be doing the job for the rich, whose position is precarious in the state of chaos and deprivation that now obtains. The United States has no interest in creating democracy with social implications; only elections and stability. When the starving stops, America's chosen warlords and merchants will have secured their local control, nothing basic will have changed and the stage will be set for the next act of civil strife and famine. …

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