“Obama Team Mulls Aims of Somali Extremists”

At one level, this front-page headline from today’s Washingon Post inadvertently makes President Obama sound a bit ridiculous. The group in question, al-Shabab, is a terrorist outfit that, according to the Post, has ties with al-Qaeda and is training new terrorists including some Americans. What’s to mull?

As a general matter, however, there’s nothing inherently wrong with an adminstration carefully thinking things through before resorting to force. Unfortunately, the Post’s account of the deliberations, provided by “several senior security officials,” offers little confidence that the Obama administration is thinking things through rigorously or even intelligently.

As the Post’s headline implies, much effort apparently is being devoted to attempting to determine al-Shabab’s “aims,” that is whether it wants to attack the U.S. and Europe or merely confine its efforts to Somalia and Ethiopia. But there is little reason to believe that the administration can read the minds of these terrorists, or that al-Shabab’s present intentions will be their future intentions. “Mulling” the precise scope of the terrorism this outfit might engage in seems like a fool’s errand.

According to the Post, those inside the administration who oppose attacking the terrorist camps say that doing so “would have negative diplomatic and political consequences far beyond the Horn of Africa. The Post doesn’t elaborate, but it sounds like the concern consists of fear that U.S. will appear to the world at-large as “arrogant” and insufficiently reformed from the Bush era. The Post reinforces this impression when it notes that the Bush administration attacked Somalia at least five times and suggests that for Obama to order such an attack would undermine his efforts to distance himself from Bush.

If the Obama team is actually delaying an attack on terrorists based on this kind of thinking, then it is being criminally reckless.

The Post says that the main alternative to attacking the terrorists is “increased financial pressure and diplomatic activity, including stepped-up efforts to resolve the larger political turmoil in Somalia.” If the Obama team is delaying an attack on terrorists because it thinks it can resolve the larger political turmoil in Somalia, it is being criminally stupid. .


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