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Terrorists Don't Deal in Diplomacy

By Dennis Byrne

Now here's what should be a familiar story: One country--Ethiopia--got so fed up with waiting for the UN and the "international community" to do something about the threat of Islamic extremists in neighboring Somalia that it went ahead by itself and took them out.

If such unilateral military action sounds familiar, it's the game plan followed by President Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For six months Muslim extremists, calling themselves the Council of Islamic Courts, have been installing their oppressive and murderous version of fundamentalist Islam in parts of Somalia. The council did so in defiance of a "transitional government" that had been established last February following the requirements of the "leave-the-problem-to-diplomacy" model of foreign policy demanded by Bush-haters.

In that spirit, an international "Coordination and Monitoring Committee" was created in Stockholm (Where else?) in 2004 to "channel and coordinate multilateral support for the peace process in Somalia." Further, said former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, "The international community and the transitional federal government, with the facilitation of Sweden, [had] been working since late 2005 to refine the mandate of the committee so that it can serve as an effective mechanism of support for the nascent Somali institutions."

"Consultative planning workshops" and "joint-needs assessments" were conducted.

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Despite workshops and seminars, Annan was back just five months later lamenting the "territorial gains of Islamic militias" and some of the worst factional (what's called a civil war in Iraq) fighting "in nearly a decade." Annan pleaded for "greater international commitment" and for foreign nations to live up to their agreements "if the dire effects of the humanitarian crisis are to be mitigated." He warned that the "besieged transitional government must be fortified."

Yeah, and a lot of good that did.

The extremists continued to make gains and started to pose a threat to Ethiopia. Because there comes a time when enough is enough, Ethiopia sent tanks, planes and troops to dislodge extremists. What happened in the next 10 days was what the Associated Press called a "stunning turnaround for Somalia's government, which just weeks ago could barely control one town--its base of Baidoa--while the Council of Islamic Courts controlled the capital [Mogadishu] and much of southern Somalia."

Now, fleeing fanatics are being captured at the borders, some with satchels of cash, presumably to pull off terror attacks elsewhere. At least one had a Canadian passport, and it shouldn't take any explanation why that should worry Americans. At least three top Al Qaeda terrorists involved in the deadly bombings of American embassies in Africa were believed to have been holed up in Somalia. If they and other extremists try to flee by sea, they'll encounter U.S. Navy patrols waiting for them.

If we are, indeed, involved in a worldwide war against terrorism, you'd think that these developments would be hailed. Not exactly. Furrowed brows on PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and elsewhere warned of the "specter of an Iraq-style guerrilla war," of "destabilization" and other similar horrors, which we're to believe are worse than the murderous Taliban-like hell that's the dream of the council.

Missing, too, are the usual European, Democratic and other condemnations of this Bushlike unilateral military solution. Is such outrage lacking because it worked, at least for now? Because it got other countries off the hook for solving the Somali problems? Or just because it wasn't Bush who engineered the invasion?

Or is it because in this particular battle against Islamic extremism, the standard pap about the need for "multilateral," "diplomatic," and "negotiated" settlements failed to work. Not only did they fail to work, but they made things worse.

Comparisons to Iraq obviously are flawed in some respects, and there's no disagreeing that Somalia will be unsettled, even dangerous, for some time to come. But here's one thought that isn't flawed: It is dangerous to sit back and hope that study groups and meetings in Stockholm somehow will deter maniacs bent on terrorism and murder. Can the UN and the international community finally bring themselves to acknowledge that the same lunacy isn't any better at ending the genocide in Darfur?

Dennis Byrne is a Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist.

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