Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pres. Obama's approach to East Africa

I spoke with Inter Press Service's Jim Lobe for his article "US Advised to Back Somalia Reconciliation Efforts," which argues that President Obama "is being urged to pursue a much more flexible policy toward the East African nation than his predecessor and let Somalis, including Islamist leaders who were targeted by the invasion, sort things out for themselves." Here are the passages with my quotes:
"There's a real opportunity for a positive breakthrough," according to David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia who teaches at George Washington University here. "The chances for this happening are perhaps only fifty-fifty, but, in the Somali context, a fifty-fifty chance of achieving a positive breakthrough is brilliant." ...Indeed, with the Ethiopians gone, latent differences within the Shabaab over clan and regional allegiances, as well as ideological divides over links to al Qaeda and other foreign groups, are likely to come to the surface, according to Shinn. "The key now is how much support Sheikh Sharif really has in the country," he said. "That will probably determine the ability of him and whoever his prime minister will be to create a really viable government of national unity, and, if they do that, I see an opportunity to peel away support from the Shabaab." "Much of that support is there because they pay well, they have weapons, and they are pretty well organized, but there is no particular ideological commitment among the rank and file, and if they see there's a new potential winner, and particularly one who can pay the bills, they will very seriously consider switching sides or becoming neutral or just going home," he added. In this context, the new Obama administration should support Sharif's efforts to reach out to individuals and groups that were stigmatized by the Bush administration as terrorists, according to both [Ken] Menkhaus and Shinn. "Let the Somalis talk with whomever they want to talk with," said Shinn. "Don't try to discourage them; if they can work these things out and create a broader base, that's in the long-term U.S. interest."
Read the entire article, which appears on, here.

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