Getting Past Somalia Inanity
Being Right Today For The Wrong Reasons Makes For Bad Tomorrows
By Steve Schippert | April 13, 2009
There is something going very wrong in Washington, and you need to be aware of it. You don't have to be a Somalia expert or even a national security or counterterrorism expert to follow along here. And follow you must. For the thinking you are about to witness is hazardous to your - our - national security.
The Somali pirates' attempted hijacking of the Maersk Alabama has captured much of America's collective attention this past week. It has also likewise commanded much attention within the national security community as well. Crises tend to have that effect. This is a good thing.
But, regarding the greater issue ashore in Somalia, it is difficult to just cast aside the pointlessness of the pondering by "several" anonymous "senior national security officials" afforded space by the Washington Post story, "Obama Team Mulls Aims Of Somali Extremists".
The very first graph stops you so dead in your tracks that you find yourself reading it over and over just to be certain you haven't fallen to sudden temporary dyslexia. But the text, in fact, appears just as it was written.
Senior Obama administration officials are debating how to address a potential terrorist threat to U.S. interests from a Somali extremist group, with some in the military advocating strikes against its training camps. But many officials maintain that uncertainty about the intentions of the al-Shabab organization dictates a more patient, nonmilitary approach.
Not sure about al-Shabaab's intentions? And "many" officials? Who are these people?
The al-Shabaab terrorist group is (not was) actively recruiting from within the United States and threatening attacks, possibly through newly trained terrorists returning to America. Al-Shabaab has concrete links to al-Qaeda. In fact, it was widely expected in counterterrorism circles that al-Shabaab would finally just come out and officially announce its franchise status within al-Qaeda early this year.
Shabaab's military commander - until he was killed in a US missile strike in May 2008 - was Aden Hashi Ayro, who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and maintained close ties. Al-Qaeda has been trying to secure their foothold in East Africa through first the ICU and now it's offshoot al-Shabaab ('The Youth'). It regularly publishes video propaganda of its aims and deeds, and draws praise from the highest echelons of al-Qaeda's senior leadership. What 'uncertainty' causes such pause?
Wading into Somalia guns-ablazin' in short order is not an option. That said, it is one thing to pause and weigh options and paths to address the situation based on resources available, running contingencies, and the pressing context of the nexus of global counterterrorism operations. But to pause because of "uncertainty about the intentions of the al-Shabab organization"?
Want more on the battle of the brains holed up in DC?
Some in the Defense Department have been frustrated by what they see as a failure to act. Many other national security officials say an ill-considered strike would have negative diplomatic and political consequences far beyond the Horn of Africa. Other options under consideration are increased financial pressure and diplomatic activity, including stepped-up efforts to resolve the larger political turmoil in Somalia.
Financial pressure? On quite possibly the poorest country on Earth? Is this not akin to threatening a burn victim with fire? And how in the world can anyone see the light at the end of the "stepped-up efforts to resolve the larger political turmoil in Somalia" tunnel without first (or coterminously) physically defeating radical al-Qaeda-linked Islamists armed to the teeth, blowing up anything in their path and running half of Somalia?
You seriously cannot make this up.
Is this not akin to our Secretary of State saying early on in the Maersk Alabama hijacking incident that the Somali piracy problem requires another "international resolution" from the United Nations? She must mean like the Iran and North Korean crises are being justly solved through paperwork. Feckless resolutions are not the answer. They just happen to be what Secretary of States do, so they are the first words out of their mouths in crises. "UN resolutions" in fact more often hinder actual "conflict resolution" in such instances because they breed inaction by others assuming there is already some sort of action afoot, and often prohibit action by others who see otherwise.
When you read the whole of the Post article, even the marginally informed must walk away realizing that some otherwise smart people talking to the Washington Post are hard at work out-thinking themselves into a position of indecisiveness, inaction and uncertainty when they ought not.
With all of the critical information, details and data floating around in their heads, it appears the obvious is obscured and sacrificed for the self-indulgent quest to find a nugget of brilliance in some nuance that simply does not exist. Surely not to the degree that "uncertainty of intentions" is the cause for "a more patient, nonmilitary approach."
These folks tossing the Washington Post their DC-insider nugget may be right to at least pause, even if wrong to outright exclude a clearly necessary military component. But they would be right for all of the wrong reasons. And this means that the next decision with the next crisis is just as fraught with calculable error as this one. And the odds of hitting the right output with the wrong input twice in a row are stacked heavily against them.
And that means odds stacked against your security, not just some obscure analytical counterterrorism scorecard tucked away in a file cabinet.