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An Ethiopian Lesson on Will

The reversal of fortunes against the Islamist offensive in Somalia that Ethiopia has provided is a welcome surprise. The surprise is not so much that driving back the ICU was possible following their roughshod over the majority of Somalia. It is rather that any nation mounted the resolve to do so with the determination necessary, sans apology. At hand is a lesson for the West in the invaluable nature of both will and principle in this conflict as well as an opportunity to evaluate the West’s own arrogant definition of peace.

Setting the stage, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Richard Miniter have collaborated to provide a well written report at Pajamas Media outlining precisely Why Ethiopia is Winning in Somalia.

The American intelligence officer who earlier predicted the transitional government’s defeat tells Pajamas Media that there are two major reasons why both he and the ICU underestimated the Ethiopian military.

First, Ethiopia’s air power was decisive. Over the weekend, Ethiopian jets attacked several airports used by the ICU, and struck recruiting centers and other strategic targets in ICU-run towns. Professor Ali reports that the ICU’s shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons are unable to hit Ethiopia’s aircraft at high altitudes. While the ICU may have some surface-to-air missiles, these devices would be quite old—and complex Soviet weaponry tends to degrade.

But even more important than the fighter jets, the intelligence officer said, is Ethiopia’s use of Mi-24 Hind helicopter gun ships that can target the ICU’s ground forces. While the ICU might use rocket-propelled grenades against helicopters, as we saw in the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident, thus far the ICU claims to have shot down a single Ethiopian helicopter.

Second, the military intelligence officer said that he underestimated Ethiopia’s willingness to commit to the fight against the ICU. “This campaign is far more far-sighted than we expected,” he said. “They didn’t just do this on the fly; they had to have been planning this for several weeks. This is a major commitment.”

Outlined are major reasons for both the current success and the likely future difficulties a beaten Islamic Courts Union al-Qaeda 'franchise' will have in mounting an insurgency on par with that in Iraq. It is Thursday's Global Conflict 'must-read.'

But the most important lesson that Western observers - Americans in particular - must clearly understand is that the decisive factor is no more complex than a matter of will.

For all the tactical and strategic military (and Somali social) elements that have contributed to the recent and continuing reversal of events, it is this steeled Ethiopian will that lies at the heart of each success as the days unfold.

Too often, the West cedes the battle of will to the Islamist enemy. Though rarely directly or openly, the tenor of Western discourse bears this truth self-evident. It is wholly unnecessary and a potentially fatal flaw that is not irreversible.

Perhaps the West is due the conscious acknowledgement once and for all that surrendering populations to the rule of fanatic Islamists who "threatened to behead citizens who failed to pray five times a day" is not a 'peaceful' resolution to the citizens in question. In instances such as this, non-violent and equally fruitless negotiation - such as that being called for now, even by the US State Department - is only 'peaceful' to those who display reluctance to engage their violent oppressors in the manner which the terrorist enemies engage the populations and governments they seek to dominate.

The absence of our engagement is a wholly arrogant and self-serving definition of peace and devoid of principle. Those who are guided by a fear of perceived American arrogance through her actions often arrive at the same result through their guidance toward inaction, comfortably removed from remaining conflict with clean and distant hands, eyes averted.

Take from the Ethiopian advance the lesson of will.

For to cede will firmly grounded in principle is to cede victory to the enemy and embrace defeat for ourselves, sentencing entire populations to violent defeat today in an emboldened enemy's march toward us tomorrow.

We avert our eyes and distance our hands at our own peril - and theirs.