When Meles Zenawi said that the US had no involvement in the war in Somalia, he spoke too soon. The US bombed an area of Somalia where it suspected there was a wanted Al Qaida operative (and where there definitely were civilian casualties).
The most worrying thing about the episode was the Somali government’s response.
President Abdullahi Yusuf told journalists in the capital, Mogadishu, that the U.S. “has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies.” Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aideed told The Associated Press the U.S. had “our full support for the attacks.”
But others in the capital said the attacks would only increase anti-American sentiment in the largely Muslim country.
If the Somali government’s response was negative, the situation would be attributable purely to the American penchant of thinking the US military has the right to bomb every piece of land on the planet. But the positive response suggests something more pernicious at stake: that the Somali government isn’t a real government.
Real governments are invariably squeamish when it comes to bombing their own territory, especially if the bombing is being done by another government. Israel has never let the US bomb any Palestinian target even in the Occupied Territories, let alone in Israel proper. Even if 9/11 had turned out to be a Palestinian job, it’s likely Israel would’ve insisted on being the primary bombing force.
Now, Israel differs from Somalia in having a functioning military. But the same situation holds even for countries that are unable to control their own territories. Cambodia was so unwilling to let the US use its territory to engage the Viet Cong, which used it as a supply route, that the CIA overthrew its government. The general rule is that governments would rather see their states crumble than officially consent to being bombed.
That formulation doesn’t make the Somali decision seem that bad. After all, Cambodia’s actions were irrational. But there are two complications here. First, trying to solve terrorism by bombing people is almost always bad. A real government would insist on an approach based on cooperation in policing, which would get better results and kill fewer people.
And second, sometimes the rational course is inherently tainted. That excessive guarding of independence is one of the structural defects of government. When it’s not present, it means something else is there, like a puppet state; hence, a government that doesn’t have that inherent irrationality will necessarily have far worse defects, like being too pro-American to maintain popular support.
If that’s too abstract, consider a specific analogy: racial identities. Any kind of identity politics is bad; at best, it alienates the mainstream from an equal rights cause, and at worst, it kills people. But when a white Congressman complains about black nationalism, it’s not because he’s concerned about excessive nationalism. If he were, he’d be opposed to mainstream nationalism, making him too unpatriotic to get elected in the first place. Rather, it’s because he hates black people.
So Somali civilians got killed and, as I understand the article, the wanted terrorist eluded capture, simply because the Somali government can’t stand up to the US. It’s not just that anti-Americanism makes sense about Iraq; lately, it seems as if pro-Americanism is a serious defect of a government, like corruption or failure to keep poverty rates low.