USS Clueless - BBC in Somalia

Stardate 20011228.1419

(On Screen): Most things have good sides and bad sides. Very few things are 100% positive or 100% negative. So by concentrating on one side of something you can make an opposition move appear to be evil.

For example, poppy planting has begun again in Afghanistan. Agriculture there has largely collapsed due to war and drought, but conditions still favor poppies and it is a "cash crop". The Europeans have traditionally the main beneficiaries of the illicit heroin produced from Afghan opium, so few there (besides, perhaps, the addicts) think that this is a good thing. There's a lot of pressure on the Afghan government to stop it before it gets started. And that's quite understandable. But suppose I wanted to write a news article against that position, in favor of letting it happen. I could start by describing the terrible situation of the Afghan farmers, emphasizing their drought, talking about starvation, showing the horrible conditions in which they live, and especially concentrating on starving children. (Nothing pulls the heart strings faster than starving children.)

"But there's hope!" They have this magical crop here called poppies which will grow when nothing else will, and they can sell it for a decent price and regain self sufficiency. They'll be able to buy food for those starving children, and by gum everything will be better. Now don't you all feel guilty for trying to stop production of opium poppies? Think of all the Afghan children you condemn to a horrible life by your misguided and self-centered concern for heroin addiction.

At least, if I was dishonest that's what I'd write. (I did write about this, but that's not what I said.)

But that, in essence, is what the BBC is saying about the results of the US freezing the assets of Baraakat, a sort of informal bank operating in Somalia. What it really is is a way of moving funds around the world without leaving any records, and the US claims that it's been getting used by terrorists and criminal organizations as a way of laundering money. I'm not in a position to judge that because I don't have enough information about it.. And having read this BBC article I'm still not, because it doesn't talk about that. Instead it concentrates on the dire condition of villagers in Somalia who were only able to get by because their relatives used Baraakat to give them help every month.

I have no doubt that the situation in Somalia is horrible; none whatever. The article makes a completely convincing case for that. But it doesn't consider the opposite point of view. Yes, we know that closing Baraakat is harming impoverished Somalis, just as we know that suppressing poppy cultivation will harm impoverished Afghans. The question is whether that is a greater evil than leaving them alone and accepting terrorist-attacks/heroin-in-Europe. Well, is it? You can't prove it by this article; it doesn't bother talking about the other issue hardly at all.

And then it goes on to do another completely one-sided evaluation of another aspect of the Somali situation. Think back to September, in that window between the NYC/Wash attack and when active military operations in Afghanistan began. You could at least make a plausible case then that the upcoming war would be a disaster for the people of Afghanistan. It didn't turn out to be, but it very well could have. And you could have, and many did make a case that the US would simply be piling evil on top of evil by trying to operate militarily in Afghanistan: it wouldn't bring our people back or lessen our misery, it would just make the Afghans themselves miserable. Millions would starve. Tens of thousands would die from bombing. You could have found Afghans who would say "You can't bomb Afghanistan back into the stone age because it's already there." (Missing the point that the purpose of the bombing wasn't to "put them back into the stone age" but only to gradually reduce the Taliban's ability to fight -- which it did, leading to their wholescale military collapse.)

That's what the second part of this article says about Somalia. You could go in and selectively alter words: "Somalia" changed to "Afghanistan", "Mogadishu" to "Kandahar" and do a bit of other rewriting, and this section of this article could have been run on September 20. And it would have been wrong then and it's wrong now.

It's wrong because it assumes that if we decide to fight a war in Somalia that we'd be doing it for the benefit of the Somali people, and therefore if it can be demonstrated that the war would harm the Somali people then that proves it should not be fought at all. While we'd like to improve their situation, that won't be the driving goal behind any action we take there. Our goals will be our own; we'll be fighting for our own benefit. Like all wars, this will be a selfish war, fought for selfish reasons. It may well be that if we fight there it will help the Somalis (as it clearly has helped the Afghans) in the long run or it may make things worse for them. Only time will tell. But since those things were not goals in the war, they are not relevant to the decision about whether to fight it.

This isn't news, it's propaganda. But then, the BBC seems to be on a roll today. There's also