COLUMN: The overlooked gathering storm

By Brian Pierce

We all get a little excitable sometimes. And for the last couple weeks, the media has been very excitable about the violence between Israel and Lebanon. But sexy though the idea is, World War III isn’t on our horizon. A new and consequential wrinkle in the Arab-Israeli conflict it is, but a looming global catastrophe it is not.

But while the world waits for World War III and lavishes Israel and Lebanon with alarmist news coverage, there is this other little impending bout of large-scale violence in that forgotten land known as Africa.

Remember Somalia? The United States sent troops there in 1993 in the midst of its civil war, troops that were gone in five months after about two dozen Americans died in the capital of Mogadishu.

Our absence has worked wonders. You know that Thomas Jefferson quote, “That government governs best which governs least”? For those who like to cite that old chestnut, hop a plane ride to Somalia.

Actually, you might not want to get there by plane, since Somalia’s airports are being controlled by either an Islamist militia with ties to al-Qaida or by Ethiopian troops that have entered the country to defend what can only laughingly be referred to as the previous government. The president of Somalia, Abdullahi Yusuf, who had previously been the leader of a collection of warlords, has been forced to appeal to Ethiopia since he has no military and controls only the city of Baidoa.

A war between Ethiopia and Somalia could be Yusuf’s only hope for a return to power (such as it is), but it could also be the perfect way to solidify the Islamist militia and form a bond between it and the Somalian people, thousands of whom have taken to the streets to riot against Ethiopian intervention.

The Islamist militia, which has taken control of Mogadishu and much of the rest of the state, has threatened jihad if Ethiopia doesn’t turn around and get out. Osama bin Laden himself has issued a statement urging Somalians to support the Islamist militia and warning other states not to intervene.

It’s no World War III either, but it does have far greater potential for the loss of life than in Israel. The Israeli conflict has a cautious international community watching over it and involves parties that have things to lose, making it unlikely to cycle downward much further than it has.

But Somalia is what political scientists call a “failed state,” in other words, anarchy. There is a power vacuum that has led to the collision of secular and radical Islamist forces, and neighboring states are not likely to stand idly by while that conflict goes on, making it rife with potential for a bloody war.

It will also likely be a long, unrelenting war, because the stern gaze of the international community rarely drifts as far south as Somalia, or, for that matter, Sudan, Chad, the Congo, Angola, or any of the other violence-ridden African hot-spots.

The world will make sure the Middle East does not spin out of control. We would do well to wield the same power in Africa.