Lessons From Somalia

Not Mogadishu, of course. We learned those lessons — prepare the folks back home for losses, fund and arm our guys appropriately, talk the talk about staying the course, train and prepare for urban warfare operations, befriend the locals if you can.

Even better, this time we have lots of international and U.S. taxpayer loan backing, and American companies are locked in high and tight to get the lion's share of the Iraqi rebuilding, reorganizing and oil field development contracts.

Now that we are holding down the palaces in Baghdad, we might want to consider the other lessons of Somalia. These include Who's Your Buddy?, Looting 101, and Neo-Dependency Theory.

Said Barre in Somalia was a guy we supported for a time, like Saddam, because he was against some other guys we didn't like (after he switched from the Soviets in the late 70s). We weren't in love with Said, of course. We knew he was a corrupt cruel Marxist. Heck, we only supported Iraq against Iran so we could weaken both states – Kissinger, with prescient wry wisdom, said at the time “too bad they can’t both lose.” Sweet!

For 21 years, Said Barre ran Somalia a lot like Saddam ran Iraq. To promote popular support, Said employed various techniques including state-run propaganda, withholding federally controlled assets from non-supporters, establishing pervasive domestic intelligence apparatuses, and invading other countries. Hey, George! There might be something here you can use! Oh, wait…

Barre created several humanitarian crises in Somalia, by design, and when that wasn't sufficient, he also killed large numbers of people directly. In fact, in 1988 and 1989, about the time Saddam was gassing Kurds and Iranians during the long war with Iran, Said's military and police are reported to have killed as many as 50,000 civilians.

Fast forward — it's so boring anyway, all those dead civilians. Really, the big CENTCOM media center in Qatar has the right idea: "All contacts with Iraqis have been positive. Next?"

Somalia is today several countries. Somaliland, left alone with little help, has been stable and productive with a representative democracy for over a decade, at peace since 1991. No country or international body, U.S. and U.N. included, recognizes Somaliland. It receives very little aid or support from any country or international organization. It does not threaten its neighbors, except through competitive trade and market practices. The free trade environment in tiny Somaliland has indeed caused complaint by nearby statist entities of Ethiopia, Djibouti and to a lesser extent Eritrea. Efforts to gain international recognition for Somaliland as a country, or even to recognize its successful transformation as a democracy, languish.

Indeed, the U.N. supported Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is actively pushing to force Somaliland back into a dysfunctional "unified" Somali state. The latest IGAD report on March 6th, 2003, describes a key concern as "how to tackle the problem of the breakaway republic of Somaliland." Let it alone, perhaps, so the people might thrive and be free? Naaahhhh.

Then there is Puntland. It's not as peaceful or free as Somaliland. While Somaliland wants to maintain independence, Puntland's new President, with Ethiopian and international backing, desires to return to a single Somalia, perhaps as its leader.

Then we have the south — Somalia to the rest of the world. Not much changed from when we saw it last, the UN and other agencies worldwide are still trying to help. The clans understand how to use this, as they always did. As a social structure and sub-state, southern Somalia remains aid-dependent. As we watch Iraqis all over the new occupied territories loot like there is no tomorrow, we can't help but remember similar scenes from southern Somalia.

I'm sure Jay Garner and the United States Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance will be able to make it right.

Thomas Jefferson once mused "Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread." Well, never mind that, our man from the Pentagon will deliver.

The political and economic lessons of Somalia are echoed in Iraq. Decentralized government, free markets, a free press and lively competition of people and ideas help a country recover. Aid dependency, centralized management of everything, and international manipulation don't.

The Miracle-Gro for tender young countries is culture-driven self-government, absent outside military interference and manipulation from great powers and entangling alliances. It's kind of like what the founding fathers envisioned for this country. A variation of national socialism, administered by outsiders or their handpicked minions, will stifle and annoy any country, but especially one that has been promised "liberation."

Marc Grossman, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, recently said that he hopes, of the actions taken by the new leadership in Iraq, that recognizing Israel "will be among the first things they do." Grossman's neo-conservative salivation over the new state of Iraq and its true purpose in the region is embarrassingly obvious. Down, boy!

But I'd buy the neocons a big bag of premium doggie treats if, after recognizing Israel, the new Iraqi government would then recognize Somaliland, the one true regional role model of a self-made, free-market, peace-loving democracy.

April 10, 2003