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Vietnamisation or Somaliasation?

Andre Glucksmann looks at the spread of the abomination of abominations: the war against civilians

One short week at the beginning of June 2006 serves to remind the dreamers of eternal peace of the implacable permanence of chaos. Tiny East Timor with one million inhabitants, controlled by an estimable Nobel Prize winner and inundated by the good wishes of the UN, now slides into chaos and blood: mutinous officers are igniting the powder keg of latent social and political disorder. In Afghanistan, the Talibans who were dispersed four years ago are resurfacing in a violent way. In Somalia, pick-ups and 4x4s bristling with machine guns assure the triumph of the most fanatical faction, the Islamic tribunals who immediately decide to ban broadcasts of the football World Cup, that satanic event. And Iraq weeps each day for its civilians who have been shot, killed by bombs or had their throats slit by bloodthirsty Saddam Hussein nostalgics.

The conceptual error of Western armed forces has long been to rush into present conflicts "one war back," with their heads full of the previous war. This mental sloth has now reached the pacifist ranks, who dizzy themselves with pseudo lessons from the past, rebuking Washington for getting bogged down in a "new Vietnam." Nothing could be more naive. Zarqawi (more here) was no Ho Chi Minh. Iraq is emerging from thirty years of atrocious totalitarian dictatorship, NOT from three decades of anti-colonial uprising first against France, then against Japan, once more against France and then against the United States, which had stepped willy-nilly to relieve France. No geopolitical data justifies slapping onto the current confusion in Iraq the schemas of the last major hot war of the Cold War era.

The threat facing Iraqi society is not Vietnamisation, but "Somaliasation". Recall operation "Restore Hope" in 1993, when an international troupe sponsored by the UN and led by the USA landed at Mogadishu to help the starving population who were being massacred by rival clans. Having lost 19 of their own in a gruesome trap, the GIs picked up and left. What happened next is well known. Badly burned by the events, Clinton swore "never again." A year later he refused to intervene in Rwanda (April 1994), where 5,000 Blue Helmets would have sufficed to stop the genocide that killed one million Tutsis in three months (beating the record set in Auschwitz in terms of speed / number of victims).

What happened after that is just as well-known; the plague of extermination spread across tropical Africa with millions of deaths in Congo and the surrounding regions. Today Somalia is in the hands of armed bands of "Islamic tribunes," sustained by the secret funds that the CIA invested in vain against them, and a new Afghanistan of Talibans threatens to emerge on the Horn of Africa.

Note that the project managers are different. The UN is responsible in Timor, NATO (with a strong European participation) in Afghanistan, and the Pentagon in Iraq. Yet the situations have certain similarities, because the entity to be quelled is fundamentally the same. The Somali model is spreading over the planet. Populations are taken hostage, frightened and sacrificed, becoming the war booty of lawless local chiefs. Brandishing volatile concepts - religion, ethnic group, a slapdash racist or nationalist ideology or a falsified memory - the commando units scramble for power on the strength of their Kalashnikovs. They fight less amongst themselves than against the civilians, who account for 95 percent of the victims, women and children first. Terrorism - defined as the deliberate attack on civilians as civilians - is not the sole privilege of Islamists. Note that this procedure has been and still is used by a regular army (blessed by the orthodox patriarchs) and militias in the service of the Kremlin in Chechnya, where the number of children killed has been put in the tens of thousands. When the killers base their actions on the Koran, it's still the unarmed Muslim passers-by who suffer. Somalia is an in vivo laboratory for the abomination of abominations: war against civilians.

Between 1945 and 1989, the date of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the inter-bloc war was cold, as much in Europe as in North America. Everywhere else revolutions and counter-revolutions, coup-d'etats and massacres erupted with millions of victims. Never in history have human societies been so shaken up as in that short half-century when the unjust colonial empires collapsed, and wars of liberation, uprisings and insurrections all too often gave birth to new, more or less totalitarian despotisms. In the turmoil, regimes, customs and secular ties were systematically destroyed. At the end of this worldwide historical earthquake, two thirds of humankind has lost its bearings and cannot live like it used to, nor can it live (or not yet, say the optimists) like the peaceable citizens of Western constitutional states.

Everywhere in the world, breeding grounds are springing up for young and not so young fighters, who - whether half-naked or in uniform - are all equally ambitious to acquire homes, standing, women and riches at all costs - even if car bombs and suicide attacks are required to get control over the rural areas and slums. The ambitious, unscrupulous states draw on these breeding grounds, sponsoring diverse terrorist groups to secure power. At the beginning of the Weimar Republic (1920), Ernst von Salomon prophesied, "the 1914-18 war is over, but the warriors are still here," and they peopled Hitler's armies. At the fall of the Soviet empire, the dissident Vladimir Bukovsky warned, "the dragon is dead, but the dragoneers are spreading." And the ex-Red Armies devastated on the one hand ex-Yugoslavia under Milosevic, and on the other hand the North Caucasus under Yeltsin and Putin.

Would it have been better not to topple Saddam Hussein, to let him reign on for another decade and complete his horrible agenda of torturing, maiming and killing - with one or two million victims in a quarter of a century? Irrespective of murder threats, the Iraqis have gone to the polls three times, each time in greater numbers, and they don't seem to regret the fallen dictator. Should the GIs and their allies now depart in a hurry, the way they did in Somalia? Even the most anti-American governments like France are crossing their fingers and hoping that they won't, and that the coalition won't abandon the terrain to the throat-slitters.

The combat to prevent the "Somaliasation" of the planet is only starting, and it will probably dominate the 21st century. If it can resist the sirens of isolationism, America will learn from its mistakes. Europe will either come to its aid, or it will abandon itself to petroleum-Czar Putin, who is ready to shanghai the old continent while preaching anti-terrorist terrorism, backed up by his devastation of Chechnya. The challenge put to us by the emancipated fighters, slaves of their own arbitrary will, leaves little time for hesitancy. We must choose. Either we accept a general Somaliasation and take refuge in an illusionary Eurasian fortress, or we revive a democratic, military and critical European-Atlantic alliance.


The article originally appeared in German in Der Standard on June 19, 2006. French text at

Andre Glucksmann is a French philosopher who was active in the protest movement of the 1960s and opposed the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. His most recent book is "Une rage d'enfant," which will be published soon in German by Nagel & Kimche Verlag.

Translation: jab. - let's talk european