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The Jedi Principle

[ 16 ] July 15, 2010 |

The Jedi Principle runs so:

If you need the Jedi in order to make your project work, don’t start.

The Jedi Principle comes to mind in the context of  defenses of US support for the 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia*. Eli Lake and others have made the argument that the invasion could have worked if the international community had ponied up money, troops, and political support for the occupation of Somalia.  That no such support materialized, and that there was no plausible prospect for such support at the time (the United States was ramping up to the Surge in Iraq) doesn’t bother such advocates. In short, the project would have worked, if only the Jedi had shown up. The architects of the invasion can hardly be blamed for the failure of the Jedi, can they?

I wish it was more complicated than that, but there you go. The allocation of blame is particularly important; the international community is to blame, not the morons who put the thing together.  You may recall this particular dance during the early years of the Iraqi insurgency.  The French and Germans, having made a sensible appraisal of the idiocy of the invasion, were blamed not only for its failure, but also for the fraying of the Western alliance.

To illustrate the limitations of this line of thought, I’ve written a short play:

Setting: A non-descript apartment living room. A DVD player and two hammers are sitting on the coffee table.

Characters: George and Jacque

George: This DVD player is totally broke. It doesn’t even work anymore.

Jacques: Yep, it’s broke. I guess we’ll have to watch Talladega Nights some other time.

George: Not so fast, Jacque. Let’s fix it.

Jacques: With what? And do you even know how to fix a DVD player?

George: (picks up a hammer) With this!

Jacques: I don’t know about that… can you fix a DVD player with a hammer?

George: C’mon; you take the other hammer, and let’s fix it!

Jacques: I don’t think that’s a good idea….

George: Yeah it is! C’mon, give me a hand! WHAM (hits DVD player with hammer)

Jacques: No, I don’t think that’s going to work…

George: Of course it’s working! WHAM! (hits DVD player again). WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

[Stage lights go dim; WHAMing continues; time passes; lights come on to George, Jacques, and one completely destroyed DVD player]

George: (glaring at Jacques) This is all your fault.

fin

See also Yglesias regarding the failure of the 2006 invasion of Somalia:

At the time, we were intervening on behalf of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government against an Islamic Courts Union headed by Sharif Ahmed. The ICU, once crushed, splintered into various faction, the most radical of which, al-Shabaab, is now fighting against a new version of the TFG which is currently headed by none other than Sharif Ahmed himself!

Effectively, the invasion purged the moderate elements of the ICU, leaving the radicals in control. It also unhinged whatever stability the country had, leading to substantial increases in internal violence and in piracy. Given that the US was relying on a regional proxy which had no interest whatsoever in the creation of a stable Somali state, this outcome was not surprising.

*For reasons that I do not fully understand, I supported the operation for its first two weeks. I suspect that I was motivated by the sense that the US ought to exercise regional influence through local proxy states, and that Somalia was already so much of a disaster that things could hardly get worse. Obviously, this perspective was mistaken.

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Comments (16)

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  1. For better or worse, props for admitting you were mistaken in supporting the operation at its onset. Just out of curiosity, what made you change your mind after only two weeks? Seems kinda surprising to me that it being that doomed from the beginning that you even supported it in the first place…

  2. Matt Duss says:

    Karl Rove’s only regret is that he didn’t sufficiently convince Jacques of Talledega’s Nights’ brilliance.

  3. Matt Duss says:

    …Talladega Nights’…

  4. DrDick says:

    And of course the same geniuses who came up with this plan will undoubtedly be the official
    “go to guys” for how to handle such situations from now on. The only way to succeed in Washington is to fail miserably.

  5. Alan Tomlinson says:

    But wait, America is always on the right side of things. If the US makes a decision, it is correct, and therefore those surrender-monkey Europeans must have been wrong. Americans can never be wrong, naive occasionally that they lack the support they need to fight the righteous fight, but never wrong.

    Cheers,

    Alan Tomlinson

    P.S. This bit of sarcasm does not mean that I unconditionally believe the converse to be true, lest some twit think that be so.

  6. Jonathan says:

    and that Somalia was already so much of a disaster that things could hardly get worse.

    Rule One:
    Things could be worse. They can always be worse.

  7. R. Johnston says:

    Which brings up a related point, one that shows why support for both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was utter folly from the beginning. If you need Republican politicians not to be the Sith in order for your plan to work, don’t start.

    Allowing George W. Bush into Afghanistan was every bit as dumb as allowing him into Iraq. The chances of either endeavor going well were always 0%, plus or minus 0%.

    • Left_Wing_Fox says:

      Allowing George W. Bush into Afghanistan was every bit as dumb as allowing him into Iraq. The chances of either endeavor going well were always 0%, plus or minus 0%

      I’ll have to agree with this, which means admitting I was wrong about Afghanistan myself at the time. I’m pretty well convinced these days that It’s impossible to impose democracy; it’s something that has to happen from within, and that non-violent methods are ultimately superior for developing long-term stable nations.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        I was actually pretty sure Afghanistan wasn’t going to end well. But I could not have predicted the insane high-speed trainwreck of invading Iraq which pulled resources out of Afghanistan and stretched out the Afghanistan campaign into sort of a slow-motion trainwreck.

        There was a period of time where I was looking at Afghanistan and Iraq and thinking “Well, compared to Iraq, things are actually going sort of OK in Afghanistan.”

  8. Ragout says:

    What reason is there to think that Ethiopia wouldn’t have gone ahead and invaded, even without US support?

    It seems to me that you exaggerate our ability to influence events in distant countries. What did this so-called “US support” amount to? A dozen special forces soldiers? Maybe they were Jedi soldiers.

  9. Joel Patterson says:

    FWIW, at the time of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, numerous leaders in the Ethiopian-American community thought it was a good idea, too. And Ethiopians in America despise the current government of Ethiopia.

  10. wengler says:

    Ethiopia and Somalia have a history of fighting one another. There’s no doubt that Ethiopia saw an opportunity to invade while being supported by the world’s most powerful country as almost too good to be true. And it was.

    I really have no idea why anyone would’ve supported this. Having a more centralized authority in charge like the ICU actually helps the US in the end. One person to negotiate with is better than 100.

  11. [...] Which is great, except we’re missing the pony! This problem is what Robert Farley’s Jedi Principle is [...]

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