All sorts of newsworthy things have been happening over the past few weeks, most of which I have missed during my vacation away from Chicago and from blogging. One of the more interesting is Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia, ostensibly on behalf of the U.N.-approved TFG (Transitional Federal Government). In short order the Ethiopians have driven out the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu to re-introduce the city to that delightful pastime of clan warfare that had been so lacking in recent months. Like Free Kabul, Mogadishu will undoubtedly swiftly return to its fine, old traditions of civil strife, violence and chaos. Alas, this outcome seems to have made Michael Ledeen’s delusional fantasies of Iranian power-grabs in Kenya that much less likely. This is not exactly good news for the people of Somalia, but it is very far from bad news for everyone else.
Reaction to the invasion on the blogs has been mixed. More or less predictably, conventional righty bloggers cheer on the Ethiopians, usually because they are fighting Islamists, and the blog left sometimes tut-tuts and at other times applauds (you see, the war allegedly advances the interests of the multilaterally-approved transitional government and is therefore automatically good). Saith beckett at Daily Kos: “One should not support wars of aggression lightly…” Indeed. Not all Kossacks are happy about the invasion, but there is a surprising degree of support for Ethiopia among the rampaging hordes.
A few right bloggers suggest why this may not be all together desirable to sow chaos in an already stability-challenged part of the world or why it is dreadful that Washington is backing the dictator Zenawi’s regional power play. At least one has pointed out the sorry state of reporting on the fighting in Somalia.
My view of the Ethiopian invasion was initially entirely favourable, though I have to temper that with the acknowledgement that Ethiopian claims of any kind of self-defense are greatly exaggerated. It is entirely fair to call this a war of aggression. But, at the same time, Ethiopia is pursuing its legitimate interests under the colour of U.N. authority to support the “legitimate” government of Somalia, such as it is. As African wars go, it has a good deal more justification than most. It seems to have weakened the appeal and the reputation of these Islamist militias, and has therefore blunted the limited strength of organised jihadi forces in Somalia. It is probable that, in the short and medium term at the least, the Ethiopians’ momentary victory will cause greater upheaval within Somalia as Ethiopia, Eritrea and regional players from across the Red Sea seek to back proxies as well. Fighting their war in Somalia will suit both Asmara and Addis Ababa, since the two governments have fought fairly senseless, costly and inconclusive trench warfare before the current truce took hold. (For all those who are always convinced that liberation almost always yields good results, it might be worth keeping in mind that the current leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea were once allies in the fight to rid themselves of the heinous Mengistu dictatorship–such is the terrible irony of politics–and instead of one government killing both peoples, there are now two with each one aiming to kill the other’s people.)
Washington continues to back Ethiopia formally and supply their government with weapons, which I consider to be an unnecessary and misguided waste. If there is one thing that this episode confirms it is that regional actors can and will respond to their own security crises effectively and the interference of a hegemon is neither needed nor desirable. To that extent, Ethiopian intervention is preferable to endless dithering by regional powers that provides the pretext for American intervention.
The other major story of recent days was the execution of Saddam Hussein. As I had already noted before, the execution could only have ended up appearing as sectarian payback, which is what it was all along. (Show me someone on trial for human rights violations, and I will show you someone who has fallen into the hands of his blood enemies.) For some reason, many Americans are now shocked (shocked!) that Hussein’s executioners were effectively a sectarian death squad, when the entire Iraqi government is not much more than a glorified sectarian death squad with the squad leader Sadr at the top as he controls his handpuppet Maliki. Now that the full extent of the Shi’ite vendetta in the execution has become public knowledge, the execution has made the dead Hussein into a communal symbol and will, in time, make him a hallowed martyr to Sunnis as they find themselves on the receiving end of other Shi’ite death squads. Now that he is dead at the hands of Shi’ites, all that many Sunnis will remember about him is that he was one of them and his fate represents the fate that they fear. Those who wish to accelerate the destruction of Iraq have just received a great gift in Hussein’s execution. As much as he deserved to die for the atrocities he ordered, executing him–or, rather, allowing the Shi’ites to execute him–was the latest phenomenally stupid thing the government did in Iraq in 2006. We will be paying for it in 2007 and after.