The new year is off to a bad start for Muslim extremists and their admirers in the media: After only a few months in power, the Islamist regime in Mogadishu collapsed overnight as Ethiopian troops drove out the fanatics.
The global media line held that the Islamic Courts Council, which seized power last year and immediately imposed Sharia law, was in firm control of the country, with the legal government in Baidoa destined to fall. And Somalia did become the new Terror Central, a safe haven for al Qaeda and a strategic base for Islamist subversion in Africa.
Then Ethiopia stepped in and spoiled the goat roast.
Unconvinced by Western myths that military force is useless against terrorists, Addis Ababa's troops intervened to support Somalia's internationally recognized government against the jihadis. The no-nonsense use of force worked.
An Islamist regime that supposedly had broad support collapsed so quickly the international media couldn't keep up: On New Year's morning, newspapers warned that the Islamists, who'd fled Mogadishu, were digging in to defend their "stronghold," the vital port city of Kismayo. By the time those sanctimonious papers hit the streets, the hardcore extremists had high-tailed it, their mass of recruits had deserted and the Ethiopian military had gained control of Kismayo without a battle.
Now the media line is that it was all a plan, that the Islamists intended all along to fight a guerrilla war. Sure, right. We've heard this one before, folks: The same pundits argued that Saddam never intended to fight a conventional war, but had always planned to hide in a hole in the ground while his sons were killed so he could eventually be dragged out by our troops and hanged by his own people.
Will the Islamic Courts Movement resort to terror and guerrilla operations? You bet. But trust me: They would've preferred to stay in power. The truth is that they were shocked by the speed and resolve of the Ethiopian attack - their al Qaeda advisers had grown used to dithering Western powers crippled by our superstitious faith in the power of negotiations.
The Ethiopians fought. And won. Could there be a lesson here?
Of course, Somalia won't become the new vacation spot of choice for the mega-rich - Somalis will show up with Kalashnikovs on the Day of Judgment. Yes, the Islamists will default to terror. But, just as it's better to have the Taliban raiding in the boonies rather than ruling Afghanistan, it's vastly preferable to have Somalia's Islamists and their foreign-terrorist allies conniving to regain power than to have them in charge of a strategically located state.
To Americans, Somalia is "Black Hawk Down" country, where our forces won a lopsided military victory only to have President Bill Clinton surrender to our enemies - the greatest single act of encouragement our government ever gave to the Islamist movement. We picture Somalia as a poor, dusty, war-ravaged place (all true) and as small, remote and unimportant (all wrong).
Somalia is the size of Texas with the Panhandle trimmed back; it has the longest coast on the African continent - over 2,000 miles of shoreline vitally positioned on the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. An artificial country slapped together by retreating colonial powers (who pretended that endlessly warring tribes would all just get along), its population by current guesses is just under 9 million.
The province of Somaliland, in the country's north, is peaceful, relatively prosperous - and anxious to secede. But the international community insists that all borders are sacrosanct. The United Nations would have preferred to hand over Somaliland to the Islamists rather than accept the will of Somaliland's people - who don't want a damned thing to do with Sharia law.
The United Nations did formally recognize the national coalition government - then, when faced with the Islamic Courts Council's aggression, did what the U.N. always does when confronted with fanaticism and terror: Nothing.
Fortunately, Christian-majority Ethiopia had had enough of Somali-backed Islamist subversion among its Muslim minority. Despite its serious internal flaws, the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi did civilization a great favor by ignoring diplomatic table manners and confronting the Islamists in Mogadishu.
There's some history there - in the last half-century, Ethiopia fought (and defeated) Somalia twice. Less-formal conflicts go back centuries. The only sub-Saharan territory never colonized (the Italians tried and failed miserably), Ethiopia is justly proud of its martial heritage.
Of course, the Somalis are proud, too. Somali patience with an Ethiopian military presence won't last indefinitely. There's turbulence ahead. But that's still better than terrorists in power.
For now, it's worth popping that leftover bottle of champagne. Somalia's homegrown fanatics and their al Qaeda allies are on the run; the Ethiopian military is hunting down wanted terrorists (including several implicated in the bombing of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania), and our enemies have lost a safe haven, a money-laundering capital, a smuggler's paradise and a launching pad for subversion.
The ideal of a perfect, eternal victory - to which the media hold those who battle terrorism - is an unfair standard. A win that overthrows a terrorist regime, whether in Afghanistan or Somalia, is worth the fight, even if the enemy can't be completely eradicated. Desperate terrorists struggling for survival are always preferable to a terrorist regime in the capital city.
There's plenty more trouble to come in the Horn of Africa. But the good guys won this round, and nay-saying pundits can't put the terrorists back in power in Mogadishu.
Ralph Peters served in the U.S. Army for over two decades and has traveled extensively in Africa.
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