Muddy Notebook

February 9, 2009

Another chance in Somalia

Here’s a report worth reading from the genocide-prevention group, Enough, a project of the Center for American Progress, on the window of opportunity for stabilizing Somalia and its region now that the Ethiopian troops have withdrawn. The United States botched its handling of the Islamic Courts party’s rise to power, treating everyone in the conservative Muslim group as if they were the same as the Taliban. Rather than wooing the more centrist leaders of the group, the U.S. encouraged Ethiopia to invade in 2006 and install an interim government that never, ever had popular support. More than two years later, Ethiopian troops have withdrawn, the interim government has (not surprisingly) failed, and the Islamic Courts is in charge again. Oh, and of course in these events, civilians once again were caught in extreme violence and a leadership vacuum, with the turmoil spilling over into neighboring countries. Enough’s John Prendergast predicted this from the start, so it’s worth hearing what the organization he co-founded has to say about how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can do to try to stabilize Somalia, rather than make matters worse.

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January 22, 2009

New tone with new administration

I listened this morning to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak to State Department staffers on the first day of her new job. She hit all of the right notes to a civil-service staff of diplomatic professionals who had every right to feel beleaguered by the infighting and the disrespect for dipliomacy that marked so much of the Bush administration. She made clear that US foreign and national security policy had three legs — diplomacy, development and defense — and that the first two were thebest ways to keep America safe and promote its values and leadership around the world.  A visit to the State Depatrment by President Obama today will also be powerful proof of the new attitude in Washington toward what’s called ‘soft power.’  How I have longed to see this switch. You can’t take military options off the table, but war should be the last option when vigorous attempts to use the others have failed. 

Considering the well-publicized bickering between Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department and Secretary of State Colin Powell in the first bush term (with Rumsfeld usually the winner), State Department staffers – and world leaders – needed to hear from Clinton and President Obama that the diplomats in his administration are equals, not junior partners, in this White House.

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