Friday, November 21, 2008

Why Obama will not try to solve Somalia

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. -Jonathan Stevenson
The solution proposed by Stevenson involves talks with al-Shabaab, the strongest Islamist group in Somalia, removing them from the terrorist organization list and involving them in the peace process. That is all good advice; if a durable peace is to be established in Somalia, the USA needs to talk to all parties involved.

But where Stevenson's argument is weak is when he claims that attempting to solve the Somali puzzle would be low risk because expectations are low. This shows his total incomprehension of the domestic political environment Obama has to live in. The right wingers, the neocons and all the hawks perceive Obama as more "dovish" in foreign policy -- which is hogwash -- and they will go up in arms if Obama starts talking with "terrorists", even more if they have very low expectations of him achieving something. If he talks to al-Shabaab, it will cost him politically, because the US is still, by and large, uneasy about the necessity of talking with terrorist groups.

He could do it, but it would mean holding back on some other foreign policy problems, where there is at least a small chance of success. And it is not as if Obama was desperately trying to find things to do in January...

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