A radical Islamic regime bites the dust: In Somalia, "regime change" works smoothly, without much cost to America. There are some lessons there.
Last summer, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) took over the Somali capital, Mogadishu, as well as much of the rest of the country. It displaced what had passed for the formal government of that country, which has been wracked by civil war for the past 15 years.
The UIC was the real Taliban-like deal, forcing women into veils, banning movies -- it even outlawed watching World Cup soccer games on television. In addition, the UIC was accused of establishing links to al-Qaida terrorists.
So America was confronted with a situation far worse than that of 1992, when President George H.W. Bush first sent U.S. troops for "humanitarian relief." As everyone remembers, under President Bill Clinton that mission soon "crept" into a more warlike endeavor, which in turn led to the "Black Hawk Down" Mogadishu debacle in 1993 that ended in the deaths of 18 American soliders.
During that time, Americans were reminded that the combat presence of our forces is, in and of itself, inflammatory to many in the Third World. As the Duke of Wellington once observed about imperial Britain: "For a great power, there is no such thing as a small war." And so today, conflicts always grow big and controversial if Uncle Sam puts his boots on the ground.
America has had to relearn that lesson periodically. The nation went in with a light footprint in Afghanistan in 2001, but then heavied up its presence in the years since. The result was predictable: a significant guerrilla war. And, of course, America went in even heavier in Iraq, and the results there speak for themselves.
Happily, the latest Somalia experience demonstrates that the United States has learned a valuable lesson about dealing with Muslim radicals. Specifically, using surrogates, as opposed to U.S. troops, to do the fighting works better. Not only is the cost to America lower, but prospects of success are better -- because, as we have seen, the American flag is a red flag in many parts of the world.
Predictably, the Somali UIC found itself in border skirmishes with its mostly Christian neighbor, Ethiopia. On Dec. 20 the Ethiopians mobilized their air and armored power against the Muslims and in just nine days drove all the way to Mogadishu.
How did Ethiopia get to be such a powerhouse? Let’s put it this way: The Americans and also the Israelis -- who have their own reasons for seeking to check the power of Islamic radicals -- had a lot to do with beefing up the Christians of Africa. And, as the fighting raged, Americans provided diplomatic help, too; Washington insisted that Ethiopia was fighting merely in "self-defense."
In addition, Americans and Ethiopians did something else that was smart: They put a Somali face on the whole operation. As noted, the Somali government had been defeated and exiled, but it had not entirely disappeared. So when the Ethiopians took Mogadishu, they were sure to put Somalis out front.
And these "good" Somalis have been good to us in return: The restored prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, has pledged to eliminate the UIC and turn over to the United States any al-Qaida types he catches -- including those linked to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 257. Sweet. Meanwhile, other African countries and the European Union are stepping forward to provide peacekeepers and reconstruction aid.
There’s no guarantee that the Somali mission will be a success in the long run, but so far, so good. More fighting is certain, although "world opinion" is not likely to worry much, so long as the 82nd Airborne is not involved. Nor is there much chance that Somalia will emerge as a democracy.
But, for the time being, America has succeeded in eliminating a hostile Muslim regime while suffering zero casualties. Of course, some CIA types no doubt suffered sunburn.