Lebanon's current political upheaval resembles a mirror image of the strife that overwhelmed the country from 2006 to 2008, when Hezbollah and its allies embarked on a two-year effort to topple the government. But this time, the tables have turned: It's Hezbollah that has mustered the votes to form a government, which will reportedly be headed by former Prime Minister Najib Miqati. Meanwhile, Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his allies are on the outside looking in, left to express their displeasure through street protests and acts of violence.
Lebanon's political ground rules hold that the president must hail from the Maronite Christian community, the prime minister must be a Sunni, and the speaker of parliament must be a Shiite. A parliamentary majority, therefore, is theoretically able to elevate political figures that have little support within their own community.
But the recent reversal of fortunes has shown that the reality on the ground is somewhat different, and that the only real law in Lebanon is sectarian solidarity. Back in 2008, Hezbollah was appalled and outraged that the ruling coalition would consider replacing its resigned ministers with Shiite figures that had little support in their own community - now they're preparing to bring to power a Sunni prime minister that can count on only token Sunni support. Meanwhile, Hariri, who had defended the democratic legitimacy of the government when he had a solid parliamentary majority, now denounces the election of a new opposition-friendly government as "virtually a coup d'état."
All signs currently point toward chaos: The new Miqati government, once it is established, will vote to discontinue government support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is expected to implicate Hezbollah members in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. But as Elias Muhanna pointed out in FP last week, it's hard to see what the opposition gains from this maneuver. As the recent protests have shown, Miqati doesn't have the credibility to convince his community that the tribunal's indictments are flawed. And after he moves to disrupt the investigation of a murdered Sunni leader, his already meager support among his own community will likely fall further.
Hariri and his allies may be tempted take some solace in this dynamic. They will point to this fact as evidence that Hezbollah still needs them, and will therefore be forced to compromise. The situation, however, is not nearly so sanguine: Lebanese politics has a tendency to return to equilibrium only after no small degree of bloodshed and lost economic opportunity. Once again, it is the Lebanese people who will bear the cost of their fundamentally tribal and dishonest political system.
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In a fascinating feature in the new issue of the Boston Review, Oxford economist (and recent FP contributor) Paul Collier makes a radical proposal: What if instead of trying to find ways to promote economic development politely from afar, international actors considered full scale "interventions" to help poor countries jumpstart their development?
Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and the more recent Wars, Guns and Votes, argues that the two main obstacles for development in the 60 or so poorest countries are institutional inabilities to provide security or government accountability. Rather than keep trying to build these institutions first, Collier proposes that outside actors should supply them for an interim period:
Recall what the United States did last time it got serious about developing another insecure region. Its agenda was radically more ambitious then. The time was 60 years ago, and the insecure region was post-war Europe. The United States got serious because the consequences of Europe falling apart, given the neighboring nuclear Soviet Union, were so alarming. Washington brought the full range of pertinent policies to bear. There was a large aid program, the Marshall Plan. But aid was only a part of the solution. A massive security program, NATO, complemented the aid; more than one hundred thousand American soldiers were stationed in Europe for more than 40 years.
Along with Collier's admittedly provocative piece, the BR has shorter reactions from a host of aid experts: Stephen Krasner, William Easterly, Larry Diamond, Edward Miguel, Mike McGovern, and Nancy Birdsall. Collier then responds.
In contrast to Collier, Obama told allAfrica in an interview that with foreign aid he thinks "what [the U.S.] should be doing is trying to minimize our footprint and maximize the degree to which we're training people to do for themselves."
There is a lot to be said for reforming a system in which billions of U.S. foreign aid dollars go straight to contractors in Washington, but I think Collier has a point. Some countries like Somalia and the DRC are unlikely to put the pieces back together on their own. But while the idea of providing institutional strength for the bottom billion is attractive, it is still difficult to imagine how this could be implemented anytime soon.
Wathiq Khuzaie / Getty Images
Just months after the country's new Transitional Federal Government (TGF) was inagurated, the Islamist opposition (including the now-infamous al-Shabaab) is trying pretty hard to bring it down. In the last week, clashes between government and opposition Islamist forces have sent 30,000 people fleeing Mogadishu, UNHCR reported today. "Hundreds of mini-busses ferried people out of Mogadishu. As a result of the high demand, the cost of transportation is going up daily, forcing people with no money to remain in the embattled city."
It's the worst violence that the capital has seen in months, and the Islamist opposition looks in no mood to slow their campaign. Some think it might be close to winning. Foreign fighters are rumored to have come to Somalia to take up the cause (though, with few journalists in country, this is hardly confirmed.) But what is clear is that Eritrea is funding the opposition campaign. The Eritrean-based Somali opposition leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, blamed the United Nations envoy for destroying the country, and called the current situation a "political war."
What's to be done? If the United Nations moves forward with its tentative plan, the world could be on the road to sending peacekeepers to Somalia. In the first phase, the UN would support the ongoing African Union mission. Then, a "light footprint" of UN peacekeepers would take shape. Finally, security permitting, a true peacekeeping force would hit the ground.
Forgive my skepticism, but this is a pipe dream. Sending in piecemeal peacekeepers will be a certain disaster, as the ongoing African Union mission has been (through no fault of the resource-strapped troops on ground). And as I wrote weeks ago, finding the troop numbers to do anything more serious will be politically impossible.
Maybe Aweys has a point. This is a political war, and ignoring that will only make matters worse. Somalia is going to have to find a way to get al-Shabaab and its fellow opposition groups happy with the political arrangment. Until they are, we can expect more updates like this.
MUSTAFA ABDI/AFP/Getty Images
Sen. Russell Feingold sent an interesting letter to Barack Obama about Somalia yesterday, cc-ing Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and Dennis Blair. The senator, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, urged the U.S. president to engage Somalia, but carefully: work with the Somali government; improve support for the country's internal security apparatus. No quick fixes here:
[There is an] essential need to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to stabilize Somalia and support effective governance. With the strategic review now underway, I reiterate my belief that expanded U.S. support for the new unity government must be a central component of that strategy. Furthermore, we must seize the opening that lies before us by publicly declaring our commitment to high-level, sustained engagement that could help Somalia overcome the many challenges to peace and stability."
Feingold proposes stronger U.S. engagement with the Somali government -- not only to stamp out piracy but to "establish security and functional, inclusive governance within the country." Obama, he suggests, should start by calling Somali President Sheikh Sharif.
Most interesting of all, though, is Feingold's reference to the last time that piracy was notably halted in Somalia -- under the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. That regime, later ousted by Ethiopian troops (with U.S. support...) brought the only calm to the seas that the country has seen in recent years.
The ultimate solution to the problem of piracy, then, is the establishment of a functional government that can enforce the rule of law. During the rule of the Council of Islamic Courts in 2006, there was a notable decline in piracy that can be attributed, in large part, to the rise of a central authority in southern Somalia.
Without replicating the repressive rule of the Courts, we must keep in mind that establishing a central governing structure in Somalia is critical to resolving, not just stopping, the problem of piracy."
Now that's an idea, unlike airstrikes, that I feel militantly supportive of.
The International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce, keeps up-to-the minute maps of global piracy, with linked data on the attacks. It's definitely worth checking out.
Above, the purple tags denote "suspicious vessels," the yellow "attempted attacks," and the red "actual attacks."
Parsing the data, I counted that of 45 attempted attacks in the Gulf of Aden, 7 succeeded; in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, of 31 attempts, 11 succeeded. This implies a pirate strike's more likely in the Gulf, and more likely to succeed in open waters.
Peter Pham takes a closer look at the technicalities of pirate attacks, and stopping them, today on FP's website.
(Hat tip: Global Dashboard)
In my five pirate predictions yesterday, I wondered if the pirates would become more audacious and brazen, or if they would humble at their recent defeat at the hands of the U.S. Navy. This morning, I seem to have my answer:
Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed five bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the waterway at the center of the world's fight against piracy.
A greek ship and two Egyptian fishing vessels are now added to the handful of ships and 260 hostages the the Somali pirates claim on the coast. True to form, the hijackers adapted their tactics in defiance of the international naval patrols, this time striking at night.
Also yesterday, I worried about an escalation on the part of the world's navies -- moving from naval patrolling into all out battle. Now it appears that escalation is coming from both sides.
If this attack is indeed in retaliation against the Americans, the world might be entering into a whole new kind of asymmetric warfare. Stay tuned on FP today.
The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said.
Does the United States know what they're getting into? Piracy experts have long suggested that the root of the problem is indeed on land. But air strikes on Somali bases would be dangerously close to a U.S. military operation in Somalia -- the kind that the country has avoided since Blackhawk down in 1994.
Let's think hypothetically about what might happen if strikes go ahead. U.S. onland intervention will surely anger al Shabaab, the Islamist militant wing that controls an alarming percentage of Somali territory and is the biggest single threat to Somali stability. Already, the Somali government is struggling to convince the country that its relatively pro-Western stance is for the greater good. That argument will lose all weight if and when the U.S. starts airstrikes. Forget about the government's effectiveness, and forget about any hopes that al Shabaab will disarm. This would fuel the fire. No, we shouldn't kneel to the demands of al Shabaab, but nor should we ignore that their ire will be taken out on the already dilapidated Somali population.
Talk about an escalation.
To be fair, the rumored U.S. plans includes the creation of a Somali coast guard, and support for the Somali government. U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, long a Somalia pragmatist, made a daring visit to Mogadishu today to talk about how the U.S. can help the Somalis fight piracy. But the fact that his plane was shot at only proves how difficult a situation we are walking into.
If we have learned anything about Somali over the last two decades, surely it is that military escalation (this one included) will inevitably breed more chaos. And if we have learned anything about the pirates, it is that chaos on land breeds impunity at sea.
Photo: MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
There's a lot of competition for top crises these days -- what with Somali pirates going overboard, Pakistan and Afghansitan looking increasingly perilous, Mexico's chaos scarily peering over the border...
But I vote for adding Nigeria to that very pressing list of concerns.
A new report released today, puts last year's death toll from unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta region at 1,000. The almost-guerrilla war dragged the economy down by $20.7 billion in lost oil revenue, with little sign of abating in 2009. With oil prices already lower, government revenues are falling. More worrisome -- the rebels in that region who earn most of their cash from oil bunkering will be short on dough, inspiring more of the kidnappings-for-ransom that already breached the 300 mark in 2008. NGO workers on the ground tell me that things will really heat up if the prices (or the oil production levels) drop much lower.
To add another twist, the main rebel group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), today e-mailed a statement rejecting an amnesty offer that members of the ruling party allegedly proposed. In classic form, the rejection is colorful:
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta rejects this evil agenda by the [ruling party] PDP and its cohorts and vow never to sell our birth right [to Nigeria's oil] for a bowl of porridge."
The deal itself was even more interesting: the government would provide fighter amnesty, prisoner release, and huge payouts to MEND in exchange for a rebel promise to help rig the coming elections in favor of the ruling party. That offer may well be an exaggeration on the part of the rebel spokesman. Then again, given Nigeria's rather wretched election history... it might not.
Why should this mess end up in the top echelon of global worries? Don't forget: Nigeria is the third largest oil supplier to the United States. And when regional powerhouses go down in flames, it can't bode well for any of the unlucky neighbors -- many of whom are recovering from their own bouts of conflict.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP
The New York Times reports, following the Mexican media, that Hillary Clinton's visit to Mexico is in danger of being upstaged by concerns over Obama's reported pick for ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual. Pascual, who is director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and former ambassador to Ukraine, has written extensively about failed states and ran the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization under the Bush administration:
That could raise hackles among some Mexicans, who take umbrage at recent assertions by American analysts that drug-related violence has so destabilized Mexico that it is danger of becoming a failed state.
Pascual's views on state failure are state laid out in this 2005 Foreign Affairs piece (subscribers only) co-written with Stephen Krasner:
In today's increasingly interconnected world, weak and failed states pose an acute risk to U.S. and global security. Indeed, they present one of the most important foreign policy challenges of the contemporary era. States are most vulnerable to collapse in the time immediately before, during, and after conflict. When chaos prevails, terrorism, narcotics trade, weapons proliferation, and other forms of organized crime can flourish. Left in dire straits, subject to depredation, and denied access to basic services, people become susceptible to the exhortations of demagogues and hatemongers.
Most of Pascual's work concerns post-conflict scenarios like Iraq and Afghanistan and doesn't quite apply to Mexico's current situation. I haven't been able to find anything he's written specifically on Mexico and he didn't mention drugs or Mexico as major concerns in his Brookings "memo to the President.
It'll be interesting to see if he shares the view, put forth by Niall Ferguson and Sam Quinones in the most recent issue of FP, that the Mexican state is in danger of being overwhelmed by a "criminal-capitalist insurgency." His appointment does seem to indicate that the Obama adminsitration is taking that possibility seriously.
Photo: Brookings Institution
Writing for Foreign Policy's Axis of Upheaval, Jeffrey Gettleman refers to the "ethereal pan-Somali dream": a long-held national desire to grab back Somali-speaking territory in neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, and Djibouti. "Pursuit of that goal would internationalize the conflict and surely drag in neighboring countries and their allies," Gettleman warns.
Many fear that the Islamist militia Shabaab, which control an increasingly vast territory in Somalia, might try to live the dream. Today is a very good example of how bad that could turn out. The BBC reported this morning that clashes between a local ethnic group and a Somali one in Ethiopia left 300 dead and as many as 100,000 fleeing the site.
This flare-up is just one of Ethiopia's trouble spots -- in fact, it's not even the worst. Miles to the East, an ongoing Somali insurgency by the rebel group Ogaden National Liberation Front has been brutal on both sides. Somalia and Ethiopia have fought civil wars over the territory, and today Ethiopia holds on to it dearly. The State Department's recently released Human Rights report for Ethiopia, for example, describes a campaign to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in the insurgent region.
Ethiopia is intent on crushing pan-Somali ambitions on its territory -- part of their motivation, in fact, for invading Somalia in 2006. Worries over the Ogaden insurgency in particular provided a convenient historical grievance. So in case you needed further reason for concern, clashes today are a mere taste of what could follow if Somalia -- a linchpin in the Axis of Upheaval -- goes regional.
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