UPDATE: What's the latest on the U.S. invasion of Somalia? 

Your war questions answered

During the lead-up to the Iraq invasion and war's first couple of years, the mainstream news media in the United States failed to ask the Bush administration tough questions about the justifications for and conduct of the war.

TV networks instead acted as cheerleaders for obviously boneheaded White House policies, while serious print news outlets peddled pro-war propaganda leaked to them by a blatantly manipulative and war-hungry White House (Google "Curveball and Iraq").

I'm pleased to report that, thanks to serious soul-searching, the U.S. news media have learned a valuable lesson from their mistakes.

To ensure it is never again accused of parroting the White House line on the War on Terror™, the press has apparently decided to avoid the subject of American wars whenever possible. After all, you can't cheerlead a war if you pretend it's not happening.

That seems to be what's happening with Somalia. The United States invaded the country in December 2006. Not an operation. Not an incursion. Not an air strike. An invasion. And the U.S. news media act like it never happened.

A quick recap of what you've missed:

On Dec. 4, now-retired Gen. John Abizaid met with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

It was a private meeting, so I can't say for sure that they didn't spend it talking about Christmas shopping or how much they dig Amy Winehouse.

However, I'm going to go ahead and guess that when the commander of U.S. combat forces in East Africa meets with the guy whose army the United States had been paying to fight Islamists in Somalia, the subject of war and Somalia probably at least came up.

Since at least 2005, Ethiopia and the United States had been funneling weapons and cash to Somali warlords in an effort to stop the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts.

The UIC is a coalition of quasi-governmental, Muslim faith-based groups that have provided Somalis an ad-hoc judicial system. Somalia hasn't had a working central government since 1991.

By the middle of 2006, it was evident to the United States and Ethiopia that their anti-UIC effort was a failure. The UIC had managed to take over much of southern Somalia. After 15 years of it, Somalis were tired of anarchic warlordism. When Somalis learned last year that the CIA was backing the warlords, more people rallied to the UIC camp.

The United States and Ethiopia were/are justifiably concerned that an Islamist takeover of Somalia would make it a bigger and better incubator for al-Qaeda than it already has been. So three weeks after Abizaid and his Ethiopian buddy met, the two countries launched a full-scale invasion.

The U.S. press reported it in the early days as an Ethiopian invasion in support of an internationally backed Somali government in exile. In fact, it was a joint U.S. and Ethiopian operation to drive the UIC out of the cities it controlled.

The invasion worked. The UIC was driven out within days.

But like in Iraq and Afghanistan, it appears the invasion was all tactics and no strategy.

We overthrow southern Somalia's first working government in 15 years and replace it with, um, nothing.

Nothing but chaos, that is.

Colin Thomas-Jensen of the International Crisis Group said in a WNYC radio interview last week that 400,000 people have fled Mogadishu this year, making it the biggest new population of newly displaced people in the world.

Let's dwell on that for a second. An estimated 400,000 people have fled Mogadishu this year. That's 400,000 people whose tolerance for poverty, misery and brutal violence is so high that they lived in fucking Mogadishu. The U.S.-Ethiopian invasion took a city whose name is a synonym for hell and made it worse.

And the war? Though it swept the UIC from power, it hasn't done anything to make Somalia more lawful or less dangerous to the outside world. The UIC and its backers are waging a guerilla insurgency against the invasion force. And despite a large U.S. naval presence, Somalia's sea-piracy problem, already the worst in the world, has gotten dramatically worse this year.

But at least the U.S. news media aren't cheerleading this one.

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