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Published: Thursday, 12/28/2006

Africa's war

THE United States is about to find itself on the wrong end of another war, this time in the Horn of Africa, between Ethiopia and the predominant political-military element in Somalia, the Islamic Courts Union.

Ethiopia has now put some 8,000 troops, supported by tanks and artillery, into Somalia. Its ostensible purpose is to sustain the provisional Somali government in Baidoa, the one created in Kenya which has never set foot in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, 155 miles away.

The Islamic Courts government has responded with a declaration of war against the Ethiopian invaders. Given the weakness and dubious legitimacy of the Baidoa government, the Ethiopian action constitutes, in effect, another Ethiopian invasion of Somalia.

The United States is supporting Ethiopia in its incursion for one stated reason and two that are unstated, both untenable.

The stated reason is that the Baidoa government is the legitimate government of Somalia. In fact it is unelected, engineered by international elements, and very thinly supported in Somalia itself. The Islamic Courts group controls much of the rest of the country except Baidoa, including the capital, the first Somali government to do so since 1991.

The second reason the United States supports Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia is because, based on scanty intelligence, it believes that the Islamic Courts Union risks becoming a Taliban-like host of Islamic extremist elements in Somalia. This approach naively overlooks the point that the surest way to cause that phenomenon to occur is to turn the Somalia-Ethiopia war into an Islamic-western conflict, as has occurred in Iraq.

The third, and perhaps worst, reason for America to support Ethiopia in its invasion of Somalia is that Ethiopia claims to be a Christian state. It is, and has been over the years, a shifting hodge-podge of persuasions, which included Marxism-Leninism for one period. It has an important Coptic Christian element, but even assuming the United States should ally itself with any country for religious reasons - a very dubious concept - this is the wrong basis to weigh into this war.

America should keep out of this scrap and let the Somalis and the Ethiopians themselves resolve it. The United States does not have, and should not have, a dog in this fight.

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