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Black Hawk Up Again

By David Warren

Yesterday, at least 200 Ethiopian troops formally pulled out of Somalia, having in the course of the previous month participated in a remarkable military operation, well behind the lights of either Western or Muslim media. They chased an Islamist government out of Mogadishu, and re-installed the government the Islamists had chased out last June.

The Ethiopians have presided over the surrender of a considerable amount of weaponry from miscellaneous "warlords", to the forces associated with Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gheddi. Militias are being theoretically disbanded. The bulk of the Ethiopian force cannot move until an African "peacekeeping force" arrives to take their place, for which Europe has characteristically offered to pay. It cannot arrive until it is formed, however, and African governments are not hurrying to volunteer troops.

But with discreet American help, apparently including not only special forces but firepower from the fleet off the Horn of Africa, something was accomplished. From the confusing and contradictory reports I've seen, the Islamists made the mistake of becoming too open, massing too large, and being too menacing against the Ethiopian frontier. They suffered, as a consequence, devastating casualties. Their leader, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, fled to Kenya where he is under arrest.

Western diplomats are, naturally for them, trying to negotiate his return to Somalia, and his inclusion in some "government of national reconciliation". As argued in this column, passim, the thing to do instead is shoot him.

I have hesitated until now to write anything at all about recent developments in Somalia, partly because it is hard to see what is happening from this distance. One might wish to draw attention to a remarkable success, for the U.S. and allies, in the world war against Al Qaeda and allies. But the more attention one draws to such things, the more our media will feel the need to subvert the victory, and at least portray it as a setback, a quagmire, an embarrassment for the Bush administration. For all practical purposes, we are compelled to remember that they are working for the other side, and that "loose lips sink ships" as our fathers used to say.

The victory is not yet secured, and cannot be secured in any short period. Somalia has been ungovernable since time out of mind, and in the last generation had become, like Afghanistan, open territory for Islamist terrorists to assemble and organize international hits.

The term "warlord", used earlier, deserves the tweezer-quotes, because it is heavily loaded. To a Western reader, unfamiliar with the histories of countries lying beyond the range of bourgeois intelligibility, "warlords" sound like a threat to some established order. But they have been the only established order, in states that have never been effectively centralized. We forget how novel our own ideas of representative democracy are, to much of the world. We forget, more consequentially, that domestic order is not something that just happens, but is itself the product of the gradual accumulation of a monopoly of force (which may also bring unspeakable tyranny).

We could look back at our own ancestral Europe to realize how many centuries it took, for the modern nation-state to emerge from the feudal fabric of mediaeval Europe, and what an improvement feudalism had embroidered on the tribal fabric before it. Yet nation-states also raise inter-tribal conflict to the international level, and the customary gallantries of wars confined to mercenary soldiers to the "total war" that Clausewitz first analyzed.

In short, warlords have not always been a bad thing. In certain circumstances, they are the only security the individual tribesman can rely upon, and the justice a warlord dispenses is the only earthly justice there is.

Today, we are dealing with a world war, as President Bush reminded last night, unlike anything we have seen before, in which the chaos of remote tribal arrangements breaks into the chaos of international arrangements, with weapons of incredible destructiveness available to all sides. As we realized, or should have realized, on Sept. 11th, 2001, we no longer have the luxury of not thinking about what goes on in remote Afghan caves. We no longer have the choice of indulging even benign warlord arrangements. For our own good, we have to create "normal" governments (in our sense), to rule places like Afghanistan and Somalia, to say nothing of Iraq.

What has been achieved in Somalia is step one: routing the Islamists. What hasn't been achieved is the much larger task of establishing an order wherein they can't return. But it is encouraging that they were routed without anything like the build-up of forces before the Iraq invasion, or the commitment of Western troops it required. The Muslim Somalis may despise their Christian Ethiopian liberators. But really, who cares? -- the Ethiopians have guns.

To be candid, "we" (the West) did this in the old-fashioned Imperial way, using local forces one against another, mostly out of view of the urbane sophisticates, prattling away malevolently back home. I don't know whether that is more moral than doing the whole job ourselves, but if it works, I am for it.

© Ottawa Citizen

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