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Somalia's window

Having ousted the Islamic regime, Ethiopia must act quickly to broker peace talks in the war-torn land.

January 16, 2007

ETHIOPIA HAS DONE its fellow Africans a good turn by ousting the increasingly radical Islamic Courts Union regime in Somalia. And thankfully, Addis Ababa has the wisdom to admit what everyone knows: that the Ethiopians have about 3.3 nanoseconds to get their troops out of xenophobic Somalia before they will be even more hated than the thugs they ousted. Now the question is: Who can bring order to this anarchic land?

The only move as foolish as sending U.S. troops to occupy Somalia would be for the international community to do nothing except watch it slip back into chaos. Somalia, you will recall, is a poster child for failed states. It is a place so violent that the Taliban imitators of the Islamic Courts, with their brutal "justice," were still seen as vastly preferable to the khat-fueled warlord gunplay that made a misery of life in Mogadishu for more than a decade previous. The irony is that the perpetually feuding Somali clans were finally able to unite behind the Islamists -- even though most disliked their ideology -- because they were so desperate for stability. The challenge is to provide order without a radical Islamist face.

Now that Ethiopia has done the heavy military lifting, U.S. forces are trying to bomb the Al Qaeda leaders who have followed Osama bin Laden's orders to regroup in Somalia. But unilateral fly-by interventions from 30,000 feet are not going to do the job alone.

If the Somalis want to get rid of the Ethiopians -- and they do -- they must be helped to hammer out a political settlement. The Ethiopians can deliver their allies -- the transitional national government -- to the bargaining table. The Arab League can bring the moderate clan leaders who backed the Islamists, and without whom no peace can hold in Mogadishu. The African Union can help deliver other factions. The U.N. and permanent Security Council members must use their diplomatic muscle to link reconstruction to a cessation of violence. African Union troops, with or without blue helmets, should then follow. Somalis have had enough strife for a lifetime.

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