Like the lyrics to the once popular song “Bali H’ai” from the musical South Pacific, the next U.S. intervention in a failed state to defeat Al Qaeda may be calling to advocates of counterinsurgency warfare. According to reports from the Associated Press (AP), the Al Qaeda-linked insurgent group Al Shabab is tightening its hold over large parts of Somalia. The Al Shabab group is a poster child for another U.S. counterinsurgency campaign. The group’s founder, killed in a U.S. missile strike in 2008, was trained by Al Qaeda in the 1990s. The AP reports that the group is imposing their radical brand of Islamic law in Somalia. Just like the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Shabab is persecuting Christians, punishing thieves by amputating their limbs and stoning women accused of adultery. Moreover, the group shares Al Qaeda Central’s vision of creating a 21st century Islamic caliphate.
What is even better for the counterinsurgency mafia in Washington, Somalia is a country that appears to cry out for a major U.S.-led stability operation. A battleground for decades, Somalia’s social structures have collapsed and its physical infrastructure is all but nonexistent. This makes Somalia an obvious breeding ground for terrorism. According to the AP reporter who observes Somalia from the relative safety of Nairobi, Kenya, “So, when you have populations that are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, who are constantly displaced, it is very problematic to address issues of moderation when their concern is stabilization and if Al-Shabab can provide them with public order and some sort of opportunity for sustainable livelihood. Then, it is not a question of if they support Al-Shabab’s ideology and extremist views, but it is a survival mechanism. In Somalia, whoever is perceived as being the winning force is the one that is going to get support.” Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
How tempting for the counterinsurgency/stability operations crowd that dominates strategic thinking in the Pentagon. The 2009 Quadrennial Defense Review is ready to enshrine as a force sizing metric the ability to conduct a large-scale protected, opposed stability operation somewhere in the world. What better place than Somalia. Pay no heed to the clear indications from the political class that they want little to do with the difficult and thankless task of rebuilding failed states. The Pentagon leadership is firmly committed to the idea of conducting irregular warfare on any scale from small unit deployments to massive, combined stabilization, counterinsurgency and reconstruction campaigns. When it comes to the latter, Somalia sure looks good.
The Pentagon and the military services have signed on to a view of future warfare that places problems such as Somalia front and center. It is a failed state that is becoming a hotbed for Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism. Never mind the compelling evidence that nation-rebuilding is just too hard and costly for the United States. To paraphrase the lyrics of the song “Somalia may call you, any night, any day, in your heart, you’ll hear it call you: ‘Come away…Come away.’” Does the Pentagon hear Somalia calling? Let’s hope not.
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