Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Taking Sovereignty by the Horn

So after a couple of lame warm-up posts where I take on really important tasks like calling John McCain names and writing about the best show on Television, I suppose that it's time to return to Serious Blogging.

Via Matt Yglesias, I came across John Judis' article at TNR Online (free registration required) about American involvement in the Horn of Africa. For those of you who were too busy scarfing down turkey to notice, on Christmas day, the supposedly-Christian Ethiopia (though how abstract entities like states are supposed to be Christian...or Muslim...or anything else really...I'm not quite sure) invaded the tropical paradise that is the Islamic (help, I'm doing it again) nation of Somalia. In and of itself, that wouldn't really be all that newsworthy, I suppose (unless, of course, you happen to live somewhere around the Horn of Africa, in which case it's probably pretty damn noteworthy). What makes the news hit somewhat closer to home is that the Ethiopians were -- allegedly -- aided in their attack by American Special Forces.

I'm not going to get into the specifics of that allegation, other than to say that it's not being made by a bunch of lefty anti-war types, but by the right-wing blogger/reporter Daveed Garstenstein-Ross. What seems beyond dispute is that an American gunship attacked a target that may or may not have housed some al-Qaeda terrorists, but which did, whether by coincidence or design, happen to be the location of a high-level Somali military official. A cynic might well conclude that Americans were actually supporting an Ethiopian invasion of a sovereign state. I'm not actually making such a claim myself. Personally, I would need some evidence before I would believe that the United States would ever participate in an unprovoked and ill-advised invasion of a sovereign state whose military was staying within its own borders.

Yglesias and Judis both denounce American involvement as unjust, even possibly criminal. Without knowing more, I prefer to withhold judgment, but if pressed, I would likely be inclined to agree with their assessment. What I don't much buy are their arguments; Judis' claims, in particular, read like a good conclusion desperately in search of an argument. This particular passage very much gets at my worry:
Meanwhile, in Somalia, the Islamic Courts replaced a weak transitional regime that was unable to control the warlords, who, since 1991, have turned the countryside into a Hobbesian jungle. The new government had brought a harsh Islamic justice and order to Somalia, which, for all its own injustice, was preferable to the chaos that had prevailed.
Judis' argument here is surprisingly conservative -- indeed, it's actually very similar to the one that Hobbes himself offers for accepting the supremacy of the Leviathan. Hobbes reasons that, since life in the state of nature really, really sucks, then pretty much anything that the Leviathan could demand of us would be better than that. Thus, for Hobbes, rebellion against the Leviathan is never going to be justified. Hume takes a fairly similar line in the Treatise. The problem here is that this sort of reasoning would seem to prohibit internal revolution, too. After all, if the orderliness of "harsh Islamic justice" is good enough reason to prevent Ethiopia from invading, why isn't it a good enough reason to prevent Somalis from rebelling, too?

One might attempt to argue here, as Michael Walzer does, that a set of reasons might sufficiently provide a justification for a nation's citizens to rebel while not counting as sufficient justification for external interference. Perhaps, then, Judis' argument really is something more like:
1. The Islamic Courts Movement (i.e., the group that had wrested control of Somalia from the warlords) has instituted order across the majority of Somalia.
2. Any entity that institutes order across most of the area within a particular state counts as the government of that state.
3. States with a functioning government are entitled to sovereignty.
4. Thus the ICU is entitled to sovereignty.
That is perhaps a better (or at least a more charitable) reading of Judis' argument. It has the advantage of not coming across as quite so anti-revolutionary. Unfortunately, it has the disadvantage of being false.

I would argue that premise (3) is just flatly false. Plenty of states have functioning governments that very much ought to be interfered with. Cambodia under Pol Pot. East Pakistan back in the early 1970s. Bosnia and Kosovo in the early 1990s. Or Afghanistan back in 2000. You know, the sorts of places that have governments that very efficiently and very thoroughly abuse and often kill their own citizens. Places whose governments systematically violate their citizens' most fundamental rights.

Does the ICU fall into that category? To be honest, I don't know enough about Somalia to say. I can tell you that phrases like "harsh Islamic justice" give me some pause. The last time we saw a group of religious extremists take over a nation ravaged by better than 15 years of Hobbesian anarchy, the results weren't all that great. Is the ICU another al-Qaeda proxy state? I dunno. Is there some evidence that it might be? Again, I dunno. An unfortunate byproduct of the whole Iraq WMD fiasco is that it's a bit difficulty to know whether or not the Executive Branch is, well, making shit up.

What is clear right now is that (a) Somalia hadn't invaded anyone, and (b) that Ethiopia did. If the U.S. did in fact support Ethiopia's invasion, then that's probably a bad thing. The badness of the act, though, turns on just how bad the ICU really is and on how bad it would have to be to justify humanitarian intervention. Drawing that line is way beyond the scope of a blog post, though. Good thing I'm currently writing a book on it, eh?


Blogger Scott said...

Catallarchy comments seem to be down, at least for me. I'll respond as soon as we straighten it out.

6:57 PM  

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