Whack a Mole in Failed States

Yesterday’s air strike against terrorist Aden Hashi Ayro has met with mixed feelings. While some extoll it as a step forward for Somalia and a tactical victory for the United States, others claim it is another mistake leading to the further destabilization of the country. Yet, even if it amounts to a whack-a-mole tactic, the fact remains that if you stop playing the game, you lose.

David Axe at War is Boring claims that the presence of OEF forces in Djibouti and their occasional involvement in Somalia is actually destabilizing the country with hard to predict consequences. But how you can further destabilize Somalia seems unclear to this blogger. On the other hand, Somalia’s embassy in Kenya has the opposite to say noting that “This will definitely weaken the Shebab, [...] This will help with reconciliation. You can’t imagine how many Somalis are saying, ‘Yes, this is the one.’ The reaction is so good.” So which is it? According to The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, a new think tank, denying terrorists the befits of places like Somalia is a more realistic and achievable goal than stabilizing such places.

While a concern with security vacuums is warranted, the implication is not that we must consistently prevent security vacuums. That takes immense resources, as the largely unsuccessful effort to end the security vacuum in Iraq [prior to 2007] show. Indeed preventing all security vacuums would be a Herculean task involving American power in numerous failed and failing states around the world. However, denying terrorists the benefits of security vacuums is likely a more feasible strategy.

Indeed, this blogger would have to agree. Part of the US strategy in the Global War on Terror is not retribution for 9/11 but defending the United States by, among other things, putting the terrorists on the defense. While pundits like to joke about the “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” line of thinking, it remains a legitimate, feasible and worthy goal. While it won’t be useful against the newest generation of DIY terrorists, it is indeed effective against others. Neither the United States, nor all of the West can hope to stabilize and pacify the world’s myriad of trouble spots, but denying safe haven to terrorists is not only doable, it is the duty of the government. This is why criticism such as Axe’s seems naive,

Far from being a failed state, for several years prior to 2006, Somalia was actually getting better, with the spread of the hardline Islamic Courts regime providing a measure of security that enabled real economic investment and governance. While some Al Qaeda operatives were possibly hiding out in the countryside, it’s unfair to say that Somalia was becoming a terror haven under the Courts — or becoming a worse “security vacuum.”

One could additionally argue that Afghanistan benefited from Taliban rule and indeed in some ways did, however stability does not equal security, something Mr. Axe should remember. While he does offer important insight and analysis into the situation in the Horn of Africa, it would be prudent to consider the West has its hands full with Afghanistan and Iraq at the moment. And as those cases show, stabilizing countries with long histories of chaos or dictatorship require more blood, treasure and above all willpower by the public than we have at the moment. Denying terrorists free reign in a failed state may not be the ideal solution but it is the most realistic.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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