Somalia Lived While Its Government Died
"Serious" foreign policy minds care about everything but citizens' lives Somalia in Transition Since 2006, by Shaul Shay, Transaction Publishers, 304 pages, $99-99
IN MOST American minds, Somalia raises unsettling images of pirates and warlords, drought and famine, anarchy and downed U.S. helicopters. For those arguing politics, the East African nation is a powerful talisman: Its mere name is deployed to trump any libertarian argument for less--or God forbid no--government.
Established in 1960 from former colonial territories of Britain and Italy (though united for centuries by a rough sense of national identity and language, with complicated clan divisions), Somalia has been without a functioning modern central state since the collapse of Siad Barre's socialist dictatorship in 1991.
Barre's allegiance bounced from the USSR to the U.S. during the Cold War, while his domestic approach tended toward ruthlessly inefficient central control, cronyism, and inflation. He strove to demolish independent sources of power outside the state and left a nation awash in weaponry from his former patrons. Under Barre, military and administrative costs consumed 90 percent of government spending, while economic and social services commanded less than 1 percent.
Shaul Shay is a former deputy head of Israel's National Security Council and a senior research fellow at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism. His new book, Somalia in Transition Since 2006, distills a bureaucrat's-eye view of Somalia. It reads like a set of white papers left behind at a conference of ministers, undersecretaries, and academics shuttled in on taxpayers' dimes to develop, as an actual United Nations report on Somalia states dizzyingly, "long term approaches to institutional development [that] will include support for the development of capacities to formulate strategies [which will] involve the provision of technical assistance to develop, formulate and implement policies."
Shay's book is all about war, diplomacy, international conferences, and failed attempts to make Somalia a modern Western state. While he barely expresses his own opinions, his book--especially when combined with research on Somalia outside its purview--shows Somalia has been more victim than beneficiary of the West's attempts to fix it.
Shay devotes hundreds of pages to Somalia's grim and baffling recent political and military history, but to sum up quickly...