Don’t Forget Failed States…

Seems that our counterterrorism operations in Somalia are causing a bit of a problem. This from the abstract of a new International Crisis Group report:

Since 2003, Somalia has witnessed the rise of a new, ruthless, independent jihadi network with links to al-Qaeda. Based in lawless Mogadishu and led by a young militia leader trained in Afghanistan, the group announced its existence by murdering four foreign aid workers in the relatively secure territory of Somaliland between October 2003 and April 2004. Western governments, led by the U.S., responded to the threat of terrorism in and from Somalia by building up Somali counter-terrorist networks headed by faction leaders and former military or police officers, and by cooperating with the security services in Somaliland and neighbouring Puntland. The strategy has netted at least one key al-Qaeda figure, and as many as a dozen members of the new jihadi group are either dead or behind bars.

Despite these successes, counter-terrorism efforts are producing growing unease within the broader public. Few Somalis believe there are terrorists in their country, and many regard the American-led war on terrorism as an assault on Islam. Unidentified surveillance flights, the abduction of innocent people for weeks at a time on suspicion of terrorist links, and cooperation with unpopular faction leaders all add to public cynicism and resentment. Without public support, even the most sophisticated counter-terrorism effort is doomed to failure.

As Stygius reminds us, the battle against al-Qaeda, such as it is, won’t succeed so long as the Bush administration worries more about “rogue” states than it does “failed” states. Obviously it can do both, but the focus over the past four years has very clearly been on the behavior of state actors like Iraq, Syria and Iran. In Somalia, meanwhile, some counterterrorism operations are being conducted, but nothing connected to a larger project that transforms the country from a place where terrorists and other militants might gather into a stable and functioning government. Without that, it’s hard to see any sort of long-term success here, as ICG notes. Thinking beyond al-Qaeda, you get people like Thomas Barnett who argues that the United States can either deal properly with these failed states now, or wait until they burst into some major conflict down the road. Handling a country—and that term’s used loosely—like Somalia quite obviously isn’t all strawberries and cream; all the same, as Susan Rice pointed out two years ago, the administration doesn’t even seem to have a strategy for dealing with failed states.