the portions of Somali his government con-trols. But it was a moderate form of sharia calculated to avoid alienating moderateSomalis and Western powers. Under Ahmed’s brand of Islamic law, girls canattend school, and television and music areallowed.
These are all positive steps for Somalia—the most positive in years, or even decades.But the government resurgence has sparked a backlash by the major insurgent groups, par-ticularly the powerful extremist group alShabab. This armed group was once allied to Ahmed’s Islamic Courts Union, but splitaway as it grew increasingly radical and vio-lent, even proclaiming itself an ally of alQaeda (although al Shabab apparently remains a strictly internal insurgency with noaspiration to export terrorism).In May 2009, al Shabab launched an offen-sive from its bases in southern Somalia withthe intention of rolling back the government’srecent territorial and organizational gains.The fighting was the worst in months and wasthe first serious test for Ahmed’s administra-tion.
Al Shabab characterized its attack as anattempt to liberate Somalia from an illegiti-mate “stooge” government, dominated by Western powers.
(The umbrella organizationfor the most powerful Somali insurgentgroups even calls itself the “Alliance for theReliberation of Somalia.”) But AhmedouOuld Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, de-nounced the offensive as a “coup attempt.”
After two weeks of fighting, Ahmed’s govern-ment counterattacked, and succeeded in dri- ving back al Shabab. By June the violence hadebbed but not ended, as al Shabab seemed toredirect its efforts toward Ahmed’s allies incentral Somalia.
One challenge for Washington will be to tai-lor its support of the Somali government toprovide the assistance needed without slippinginto old interventionist habits that, in East Africa, especially, have proven to be counter-productive. The Obama administration hasseveral options. It can adopt a largely hands-off approach, reasoning that other global chal-lenges warrant more of its attention, and callon regional governments to play a larger role. Itcan back Ahmed’s government with financialand diplomatic support, or it can pledge suchsupport in the future provided that Ahmed’sgovernment meets certain conditions. Theleast appealing option would be to continuethe failed policy of military intervention thatbegan in the early 1990s and continuedthrough the Bush years.Nonmilitary support for Ahmed would bea major reversal for the United States, whichonce unfairly branded the Somali president’sIslamic Courts Union as terrorist sympathiz-ers. By allying with Ahmed, the Obama ad-ministration would demonstrate that it canaccept that a peaceful and prosperous Somalia probably means an Islamic government inSomalia—but not a Somalia that represents a serious terrorism threat. For the United States,learning to live with an Islamic government inSomalia would be a useful precedent forapproaching fragile, rising Islamic statesacross the developing world.
U.S. Interests in Somalia
American interests in Somalia are several.Most immediately, the United States wants a Somalia that does not harbor or produceinternational terrorists. Similarly, Washingtonwants a Somalia that no longer functions as a safe haven for pirates. More broadly, Ameri-cans hope that Somalia, and all of East Africa,grows economically and better integrates intothe global economy. They are wary, however,of government-sponsored aid programs thatcost hundreds of millions of dollars but pro-duce very little.Washington is Somalia’s biggest sponsor. Annual State Department aid to Somalia aver-ages around $100 million.
The United Statesalso helps pay for UN operations in Somalia,which cost nearly $500 million annually.
Somalis living abroad, including tens of thou-sands in the United States, send nearly $1 bil-lion to their homeland every year.
A peacefuland prosperous Somalia would be less of a burden on the developed world, and could
A peacefuland prosperousSomalia probably means an Islamicgovernment inSomalia—but nota Somalia thatrepresents aserious terrorismthreat.