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Why intervention is not forthcoming in Somalia

From a good article in Macleans, the Canadian weekly:

"It comes down to this question: can we intervene without doing harm?" says Brownwyn E. Bruton, an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If you want to deal with it properly, you’re looking at an Iraq-style investment, where 20,000 peacekeepers isn’t going to do it—maybe 40,000, maybe 60,000. You’re talking about building a government and security forces from the ground up. It’s going to be a 10-year effort. And there’s going to be a lot of violence in the short term, as there was in Iraq." [emphasis mine]

And that, in case the bolded parts don't make it clear enough, just ain't gonna happen. The article also makes the very valid point that such a force, wherever it came from, would require a substantial contribution from the United States. And even though the U.S. did recently contribute 168 million very important dollars to the African Union mission in Somalia, a 10-year investment in 60,000 troops would cost, um, a little bit more.

So where to look? The UN?

Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, a former resident of Ottawa and deputy prime minister of Somalia until Sheik Sharif Ahmed’s government was sworn in this year, hopes that the international community will shoulder this burden. In an interview with Maclean’s, he drew comparisons between Somalia and Afghanistan and argued that the international response should be similar. He wants the United Nations to send troops. While some Somalis would reject any international presence, Adan believes most would accept it as necessary. "Somalis are killing each other every day here on the streets, so why wouldn’t they accept anyone who is coming to save them?"

We've previously argued why a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia would not be a good idea, and the situation remains such that UN deployment would be much more likely to inflame tensions and exacerbate conditions on the ground than to achieve any sort of forced pacification. Adan's logic is misguided (there are in fact no UN peacekeepers, only a small political team, in Afghanistan, his proposed parallel case), but his language is revealing: any UN blue helmets that might deploy in Somalia could not be there to "save" Somalis. Peacekeeping missions, even the ones with mandates to protect civilians, are not rescue missions. That requires a whole different (and more substantial) investment, one that, given Somalia's history, is not likely to be forthcoming.

Does this mean there is no way for the international community to help improve the situation in Somalia? No, but it does mean that we should be candid about what full-scale protection of Somali civilians will entail. We can keep supporting the country's government, conducting anti-terrorism operations, promoting peace processes, and providing vital humanitarian aid, but if we want to talk about making sure that everyday Somali civilians are safe, we'd need to be honest about what that's going to take.

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Tanks keeping the peace in Somalia

Danger Room's David Axe has the skinny on the kind of weaponry that (U.S.-backed) African Union peacekeepers are using to keep a few blocks of Mogadishu out of the control of insurgents:

The A.U. troops are low-tech, by American standards. But compared to Al Shabab, they’re freakin’ Stormtroopers. "We have the arsenal," Capt. Paddy Ankunda told me during my visit to Somalia, two years ago. He gestured to the A.U.’s machine-gun nests, its mine-protected trucks, and the handful of T-55 tanks stationed at the palace and the seaport. I asked him if the tanks were truly useful, considering the A.U.’s already overwhelming firepower. "We have them so that people know we could use them," Ankunda explained. But it wasn’t until this week, that the A.U. needed to use them. "Our troops were in an imminent danger, so we had to take some limited action,” A.U. spokesman Bahoku Barigye said. “That does not mean we are fully involved in the combat."

Axe makes a good point that using the tanks shows that the Obama Administration is serious about protecting Somalia's vulnerable government -- and that it is doing so in a smarter way than prodding an ill-advised Ethiopian offensive to occupy the country.  Still, even outfitting AU peacekeepers with tanks is relying on a military solution, and I don't expect anyone to be able to explode Somalia's enduring culture of violence away.

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Does microfinance make up for war crimes?

Well, no. When there are 300,000 Tamils languishing in IDP camps, even a $26 million investment in microfinance loans won't erase the human rights violations that many of these civilivans faced in Sri Lanka's frenzied campaign against the Tamil Tigers.

But, even if Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's resettlement plan (180 days) is a little uncomfortably ambitious, microfinance seems a reasonably good idea -- better, at least, than simply pretending that ethnic distinctions don't exist, and that there are "only people who love their country and people who don’t love their country."

Then again, on the more cynical side, it seems that Rajapaksa is pretty eager to pick up tactics favored by his Western trading partners, without dealing so much with the attendant difficulties. He's followed George W. Bush's maxim to root out terrorists pretty much to the letter, and his military offensive steamrolled over supposed values of freedom of the press, proportionality, and the human rights of civilians.

Is providing microfinance loans a gambit to stay in the West's good graces? I wouldn't be that derisive, because it does seem like a good step forward.  But I do wish that Rajapaksa was more willing to look backwards, at his own military's conduct; it's difficult to hold a truth and reconciliation process when he doesn't want to "dig into the past."

(image from flickr user aquaview under a Creative Commons license)

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Congratulations, Russia and Georgia

Your wrangling over the name of the UN mission that was scheduled to be extended last month, in a fairly de rigueur process, has resulted in the departure of the 130-odd UN observers that many in Abkhazia -- from government officials to everyday people -- trusted as the only effective objective presence in the border region.

"We were interested in the mission continuing its work," Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said.

"(The mission) opened contacts for us, making it possible for us to participate in the international (diplomatic) process; our problem would be discussed at U.N. Security Council meetings." There are more than 200 E.U. observers in Georgia itself, but they are not allowed to enter Abkhazia. The E.U. observers only patrol the Georgian-controlled part of the conflict zone.

"The U.N. cars used to patrol our village, and we would feel more secure," said a 72-year-old woman who lives in Nabakevi in Abkhazia and declined to give her name. "The end of the mission to me means the end of the hope for peace." [emphasis mine]

The concerns about Georgia and Russia gearing up for a another war should not be taken lightly. Last year's confrontation was completely unnecessary, a result of foolish provocation from both sides. The short-sighted step of forcing out UN observers is a rash move down the same counterproductive line. Their departure may not be the end of peace prospects, but it certainly makes them look a lot dimmer.

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U.S. names Great Lakes Special Envoy

Will a new U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region (that's Congo-Rwanda-Burundi, not Michigan-Wisconsin-Illinois) solve MONUC's difficulties?  Well, no, but it's still good to see the United States engaged in the oft-neglected region.  And the man tapped for the job, Howard Wolpe, is, as his informed introductions of many a speaker over at the Woodrow Wilson Center indicate, one of the more knowledgeable Africa hands that President Obama could have picked.