Is Somalia Next?
in the bad old days academics and spooks called "Kremlinologists"
worked assiduously to try to decipher the meanings and intentions
of cryptic statements and portents from the central governing institutions
of the secretive and security-minded masters of the Soviet Union.
Although the attempts to predict what the Kremlin might do next
were often backed up by sophisticated analysis done by people with
long experience and sometimes by the kind of intelligence gathered
by espionage Kremlinology was never an exact science.
the results of all that analysis were about as accurate as what
might be derived from reading tea leaves or the entrails of animals and sometimes less so. The predictions were as likely to reflect
the assumptions and biases of the analysts as to grow from a dispassionate
analysis of the usually all too sketchy available facts.
Americans seeking to figure out what their own government
you remember, the institution designed to be our servant rather
than our master will do next in the vaunted war on terror.
To be sure, the difficulty may well be because the government itself
(remembering that this term is in some sense an abstraction or oversimplification
to describe a maze of institutions populated by ordinary human beings
who sometimes have difficulty figuring out what they personally
want to do next) hasn't decided yet. And there are wheels within
wheels, backstage maneuvering, even personality quirks that are
likely to affect ultimate courses of action not to mention
the fact that what has gone before will influence what comes next.
given all that and more, however, it is fascinating that the government
of a supposedly open and democratic society is so often a mystery
to its citizens. In part this is because the government that has
grown so massively in recent decades is unnecessarily large and
complex. But in part it is because those who work in government
feel little or no need to let mere citizens in on the secrets they
hold as markers of power in the curiously insular and self-contained
world that is official Washington.
trying to figure out what comes next is always something of a guessing
game. Nonetheless, I can't resist the desire to participate.
have available no secret sources, no esoteric knowledge, just the
ordinary tools of a working journalist. I call lots of people and
read a lot. I also have some working assumptions that it seems only
fair to share.
most important working assumption is that the current war is only
secondarily about finding, punishing or stopping actual terrorists although those making policy generally are constrained by the
necessity of preserving the illusion that this laudable motive is
the primary and only goal. As Randolph Bourne, one of the few liberal-to-radical
American intellectuals not caught up in the exciting war fever surrounding
the Great War (now downgraded to World War I) explained succinctly
(and in more depth in articles too long to quote at length), "War
is the health of the state."
I operate on the assumption that the main purpose of the current
conflict (I still dislike calling it a war despite the de facto
truth so long as Congress doesn't have the gumption to do the constitutional
thing and declare war) is to expand and perpetuate the power of
the permanent government, the ruling class, the people who think
ordinary human beings are an unruly lot that need a whole lot of
supervision and imposed discipline and they're just the folks
to handle the job. This class has an abiding interest not in a short
war with clearly specified objectives that might yield a decisive
victory, but in a long-running war with inchoate and constantly
shifting objectives that will provide justifications for expanded
government power for years and even decades to come.
be fair to this class, it hasn't exactly hidden its designs. Everybody
from George Dubya to Rumsfeld to Colin Powell to the most junior
spokesperson for the most insignificant department has hastened
to assure the American people that fighting terrorism or better
yet, evil will take a long time and require great sacrifices
on the part of the noble American people.
a disinterested outsider this might not seem all that sensible,
or at least not the only possible course of action, but for the
most part the American people have bought it. They seem to want
to trust their leaders in the wake of terrorism, even though some
might argue that successful terrorist attacks amount to a massive
failure by the very institutions that are now seeking even more
power over ordinary American citizens.
leaders have been assisted by the fact that those running the government
have also run the schools for more than 100 years. Thus eager young
minds have had it drummed into them that being suspicious of powers
and influences outside government business, the media, genuinely
independent scholars that might serve as countervailing forces
against overweening government is the very essence of sophisticated
analysis, keen intelligence and cutting-edge progressive thought.
At the same time the attitude has been fairly thoroughly inculcated
that being suspicious of government is the sign of a reactionary,
overwrought, paranoid and not very bright ideologue (Beelzebub,
what a useful word! apologies to C.S.
A LENGTHY WAR
the assumption that the powers that be desire a long, inconclusive
conflict that justifies long-term and gradually increasing restrictions
on American liberties, it seems only sensible (to me) to figure
that there will be other theaters once the conflict in Afghanistan
is declared over whether bin Laden's head is presented on a silver
platter or not. Nation-building in the wake of bombing is rather
boring, after all, with few dramatic photo-ops or opportunities
for correspondents to feel like courageous heroes. Furthermore,
although they would never admit it and wouldn't accept the reasons
I gave in my
column last week, at some level I believe most of the powers
that be know that nation-building as they will practice it is bound
useful idiots at the Weekly Standard and New Republic
have been beating the drums for going after Saddam Hussein and Iraq
for years, and with special intensity since 9/11, although Syria,
Lebanon, Yemen, the PLO and even Iran have been touted as worthy
that Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has been all over
cable television for the last week or so, receiving more public
attention than before, might serve to reinforce the idea that Iraq
will be next. Wolfowitz has long been a special favorite of the
neocons and neo-whatevers, a hawk on regimes that build weapons
of mass destruction. The fact that he's being pushed forward might
be an indicator that everybody's favorite worst guy since Hitler
will be the next target.
I talked to Ted Carpenter at the Cato Institute last week, however,
he suggested that it might not be so straightforward the corridors
of power are filled with confusing mazes and secret passageways,
after all. He reminded me that what Wolfowitz has actually been
saying now that he's more in the public eye, is that there's still
a great deal of unfinished business that will demand intense American
attention in Afghanistan. I may have missed things, but I don't
think he has even mentioned Saddam Hussein in public.
it be that Wolfowitz is actually distancing himself from his neocon
coterie and the Saddam-next scenario? Rumors abound that the neocons
and the Standard crowd are not held in great favor by the
Bushies. Dubya is said to have been annoyed that they called him
a wuss during the China spy-plane incident earlier in the year.
Papa Bush has publicly criticized Kristol and others who have complained
that we didn't march on Baghdad during the Late Great Gulf War.
administration officials are said to have been annoyed at criticism
from the Standard and New Republic crowds that they
weren't being aggressive or decisive enough in the early stages
of the Afghan conflict, waging only a sissy bombing war. Serendipitously
enough, harsh editorials and articles from both magazines hit print
the day Mazar-e-Sharif fell to the Northern Alliance and the Taliban
(apparently) began to come apart.
don't doubt that many in the administration still want to go after
Iraq with a full-scale attack eventually. But the Bushies, more
than the Standardites, value allies and semi-decent relations with
the Europeans and it isn't just Colin Powell. The French
are dead-set against attacking Iraq right now, and the British have
offered demurrers. Dubya's new best friend, Vladimir Putin, is said
to have weighed in against doing Iraq right now. Even the Israelis
have said that their intelligence hasn't been able to find a direct
link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terror attacks.
all this, my guess and I am the first to acknowledge that it
is a guess, though I think it's a reasonably informed guess is
that Saddam won't be next. Maybe later. Or maybe they'll keep him
around as a handy focus of hatred whenever some other phase of the
all-consuming war on terror isn't going very well or is lagging
ON TO SOMALIA
my best guess and it's hardly exclusive to me, is that Somalia
will be next. Several administration officials have mentioned Somalia
as one of the possible targets. There are apparently still some
pockets of people in Somalia who may or may not be closely affiliated
with al-Qaeda, but are widely believed to be. A recent
Time.com article notes that Somalia might be a likely operating
base for al-Qaeda if Afghanistan is made truly inhospitable.
semi-amateur but somewhat respected Internet intelligence service
Stratfor.com did a
piece last week on Somalia as a base of U.S. operations in the
extended war on terror. The Washington Post on December 11
piece noting that a five-member US delegation visited Somalia
a couple of days earlier. A day later the London Telegraph
piece saying flat-out that, "America is planning to attack
al-Qaeda fugitives in Somalia and has relied on Britain to persuade
neighboring Kenya to allow special forces to use bases there."
might be perfect in several ways. It is the site of a major American
embarrassment that began under Bush pere. It has virtually no central
government. Most authorities believe that the al-Qaeda affiliates
there are relatively small and unsophisticated, so it shouldn't
be all that difficult to achieve a few mediagenic victories.
Somalia campaign would validate the claim that the US is serious
about a worldwide war against terrorists wherever our doughty intelligence
agents find them without moving first on some Arab or Middle Eastern
country that would cause controversy among the putative allies.
It would keep the justification for increased security measures
and other restrictions on American liberties active. It would lengthen
the war without great risk of unacceptable American casualties.
short, it would be the health of the state.
course, that's just my guess.
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