Princeton Lyman - Somalia edges closer to war each day. Ethiopia and the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) have positioned troops just a few miles from each other inside Somalia. Ethiopia and the United States have meanwhile staked out increasingly belligerent positions toward the CIC. Ethiopia's Prime Minister has scoffed at moderation as only encouraging "terrorists." The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer has charged that the CIC is now controlled by Al Qaeda cell individuals. American intelligence personnel are seen increasingly in Addis Ababa, suggesting the U.S. will back an Ethiopian military action. A war in Somalia would easily spread throughout the Horn, with refugees streaming into Kenya and Djibouti. War could once again erupt between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The U.S. has pushed through a UN Security Council resolution that authorizes an African peacekeeping force that would presumably offer an alternative to Ethiopian troops in the country. But the CIC is firmly opposed to any such force. It is hard to see how any African country could deploy troops against the determined opposition of the CIC without furthering the prospect of war.
The U.S. seems to be playing a dangerous game with few chips. What is needed urgently is a diplomatic initiative with moderate supporters of the CIC, in particular Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They must be as concerned over a potential Al Qaeda outpost in the Red Sea region as is the United States. Getting their influence to bear on the CIC to moderate its belligerent positions, along with similar openings to the Somali business community that supports the CIC, is a way to step back from a war that will not serve American purposes at all.
Princeton Lyman is Adjunct Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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