The FPA Great Decisions National Opinion Ballot: On Somalia

Posted on | oktober 20, 2011 | No Comments

The Foreign Policy Association has released the results of its National Opinion Ballot in which highly-informed participants in the Great Decisions (GD) program, the centerpiece of the FPA, weigh in on the various issues that GD covers in a given year.  Among the issues that this year’s poll respondents addressed was the instability in the Horn of Africa with particular emphasis on Somalia.

The Great Decisions poll also found seriously waning support for U.S. military involvement in the crisis-plagued Horn of Africa. An overwhelming 66 percent of poll respondents were against American military involvement in an international mission to help resolve governance failures in Somalia.
The U.S. military has been involved in a number of military operations in the region in recent years, including drone attacks, often in search of al-Qaeda operatives. In fact, 33 percent of poll respondents think that preventing al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups from establishing base operations in Somalia should be the number one priority for U.S. interests in the region. Nearly half of poll respondents reject the idea of even providing assistance—either economic or military—to Somalia.

I would like to look more closely at the results in context.

In a vacuum I can understand the sentiment of the respondents, who, in summary: 1) Overwhelmingly reject American military involvement as part of an international mission in Somalia. 2) Believe that the US and the international community should “stop trying to reconstitute what has proven to be a failed state in the case of Somalia.” 3) By a plurality reject the idea of recognizing and boosting the prospects of independent states in Somaliland and Puntland by supplying direct economic and military aid to these regions. And 4) Believe that the three largest priorities in the region should be preventing terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab and al Qaeda from gaining a foothold, ensuring the safe passage of oil and other goods traveling through the Gulf of Aden and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, and believe in support for humanitarian and economic aid.

But Somalia and Somalians do not exist in a vacuum. I can easily understand the reluctance to use military intervention as a tool in Somalia right now. Not only is there tremendous fatigue over interventions and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, but those interventions seem demonstrably not to have worked especially efficiently at accomplishing even vaguely laid out goals. It seems to me that if a plurality of respondents believe that al-Shabaab, for example, is the greatest threat to Somalia (and the case is not a hard one to make) then taking military action, even as part of a larger coalition, and even as a last resort, seems shortsighted, especially as the region appears set to erupt in some form of warfare beyond that already engulfing Somalia.

On the second issue, that the US should “stop trying to reconstitute what has proven to be a failed state in the case of Somalia” (a question that to me veers precariously close to push polling) I have to ask how that gibes with point three, which is an unwillingness to help Puntland and Somaliland forge a separate path. It seems to me that you can have your way in point 2 or you can have your way in point 3 but you cannot have both. Unless you are simply saying to leave the region to its own devices, but the various priorities listed in section four of the poll indicates that pure isolationism is also not the goal.

I do not mean to be critical of either the poll or its respondents. But what the results point out is just how difficult, how frustrating, and how paralyzing the crisis in the Horn of Africa is and how at times it appears that we are in search of the least bad option amidst a sea of imperfect choices.

AUTHOR: Derek Charles Catsam
E-MAIL: derekcatsam [at]


Leave a Reply

Page 1 of 11