Sunday, November 23


Jonathan Stevenson, of the US Naval War College, says Bam should make a soft-power initiative in Somalia a foreign policy priority (New Republic)
Soft rather than hard power should be the United States' instrument of choice on the continent, and in Somalia. So what about an audacious diplomatic American approach to Somalia? The fraught 1992-93 U.S.-led humanitarian intervention, U.S. backing for Ethiopia, and civilian casualties caused by recent American counterterrorism strikes have eroded Somali respect for the United States. But Obama's singular status as the first African American president substantially renews American diplomatic credibility with all Africans, including Somalis.

Expending political capital on such a knotty problem--over a dozen transitional governments have tried and failed over the past 17 years--might seem imprudent at first blush. But the Somalis' very recalcitrance has yielded such low expectations that very little would actually be at risk. Moreover, an earnest attempt at conflict-resolution in Somalia would enable Mr. Obama to showcase the differences between him and his predecessor.
Most important, he says the US needs to engage the Islamist militias, rather than the labeling them terrorists, lobbing missiles at them, and sending unwelcome Ethiopian troops after them. Worth a try. Not to mention that piracy off Somalia's coast reached a low point during the few months in 2006 when the Islamic Courts Union was in control of the country.

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