Four months and one week ago, just before the Inauguration, I wrote in this space that President Bush was leaving a toxic present -- Somalia -- on Barack Obama's doorstep. I suggested that soon-to-be President Obama get in front of the story and, at a press conference, highlight the situation in Somalia and make it clear that the Bush Administration had left him with a ticking time bomb. He didn't do it. Now, four months later, that time bomb seems likely to explode.
This week, two major towns in central Somalia (one a provincial capital), were seized by Islamic militants who, according to the State Department, are closely linked to al Qaeda. Cnn.com quotes a UN report that fighting in Somalia's capital city, Mogadishu, has "uprooted...nearly 34,000 people in less than a week" and, according to relief workers, "left Somalia civilians with the choice of facing bloody battles or fleeing to squalid camps." Two groups of government soldiers have defected to the Islamists and are attacking Somali forces. And the AP reports that the Islamic offensive has "raised fears that al-Qaida-linked insurgents could overthrow the U.N.-backed government, giving terrorists a safe haven on the Horn of Africa..."
Obviously, things are not going well, and it seems to me a little late in the day for Obama to blame it all on George W. Bush, even if it was George W. who permitted the Ethiopians who had been safeguarding Mogadishu to pull their troops out of the city. Now BBC.com reports that Somali citizens have told them that Ethiopian forces "have crossed the border late last night and they are here now. They look to be stationing here... We recognize them because of their military uniform and the language they were speaking." They reportedly arrived in twelve vehicles and "some of them were digging trenches while others were guarding the whole area." Analysts belief that it is likely that the Ethiopians are seeking to strengthen their own border defenses against attacks from Islamic militants.
Even in the capital city of Mogadishu, according again to the BBC, "Analysts say [the 4300 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers] are only ineffective control of the presidential palace, airport and seaport in Mogadishu, while the Islamist guerillas control chunks of the capital, along with swaths of central and southern Somalia."
I hesitate to say that Somalia is lost, but it is unlikely that it can be saved without major intervention from the West, and given our own lack of troops, and NATO's reluctance to help us out even in Afghanistan, it sure seems likely.
Remembering how many elections Democrats lost when Republicans used to run on "Who Lost China," I can easily hear, as one of the major talking points of the 2010 election, "Who Lost Somalia." Who left al Qaeda in control of the Horn of Africa, sitting on one of the world's major oil life lines? I know it's late for President Obama to mention the dangerous situation in Somalia, but better late than never. Otherwise, to paraphrase Laurel and Hardy, "It's a fine mess we're in, Obie."