May 28, 2009

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, analyzes the persistent cycle of conflict and violence in Somalia and warns of its implications for both regional security and United States interests.

The article reviews recent developments on the battlefield as al-Shabaab, Hisbul al-Islamiyya, and other jihadist elements expand the area under their control and encircle the Somalia’s weak “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) in Mogadishu as well as the entry into the conflict of both increasing numbers of foreign fighters inspired by the same Wahhābist ideology as al-Shabaab and a loosely-organized Sufi militia, Ahlu Sunna wal-Jama’a, opposing them. Dr. Pham concludes:

While most Somalis loathe the jihadists (especially the foreigners), dislike of the extremist agenda should not be confused with support for the TFG. In truth, the TFG’s continuing existence on life support says more about the international community’s stubborn refusal to admit the failure of its top-down approach and general lack of investment in any alternatives than it does about the interim regime’s viability. In short, the TFG’s chances of success are non-existent: the only effect outside support can have will be to stave off an inevitable collapse of a regime whose only legitimacy was that conferred on it by outsiders unable or unwilling to move past the repeated failure of their top-down approach to remedying the collapse of the unitary Somali state nearly two decades ago (one is at a total loss to find any empirical evidence for the “tremendous progress made to date” by the TFG “in restoring a semblance of normalcy and peace in Somalia” about which Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson regaled the U.S. Senate last week). The real question is whether the eventual failure of the latest “solution” will be followed by a total sweep by al-Shabaab and its allies or whether, as they have repeatedly shown themselves inclined to do, the extremists will prematurely overplay their hand and ultimately fail achieve control, opening the way for a conflict of a different sort between rival clans. In any of these scenarios, without a significant shift in policy to engage legitimate authorities and other effective local actors, short- to intermediate-term prospects both for stability in the Horn of Africa—and the surrounding waters—and for the advancement of U.S. security interests in the region beyond possibly containing Somali chaos do not appear especially promising.

To read the full text of the article, “ Somalia’s Persistent Violence Threatens Regional Security, U.S. Interests,” click here.