In the Somalia comment section below, Eric Martin writes:
Now, do I think that fear of further inflaming Muslim opinion through our actions in the Horn should be our overriding and primary concern? No.
And clearly, an action such as the invasion of Iraq is going to have much more impact on such than our possible assistance to the Ethiopian/Somali government forces.
Still, even if not as polarizing as the Iraq invasion, these grievances are cumulative, and they should not be casually dismissed.
Mojo concurs, but I don’t. You don’t have to be a contributor to a LGF comment thread to doubt that grievances are cumulative; that, when evaluating friendship, alliance, war, what not, a state (or the people of that state) calmly add together all of the grievances on one side of the ledger and all of the credits on the other side, then compare to see which side wins. It’s been a while since I took my IR exam, but from what I recall of psychologically oriented IR, this model of evidence interpretation has almost no empirical support.
Instead of interpreting each new piece of evidence (say, US support for Christian Ethiopia in its war against Muslim Somalia) on its merits, people interpret evidence through the lens of pre-existing theories. At best, they tend to ignore or discredit evidence than runs against “what they know”. At worst, they reinterpret disconfirming evidence as support for their preconceived theories. As an example, consider how wingnuts view the media. The conservative assault on the media is political strategy, but that strategy has both internal and external components. On the one hand, it terrifies the media. On the other hand, it convinces conservative voters that the media is congenitally biased and thus utterly untrustworthy. The result is that, no matter how hard the mainstream media tries, it can’t convince conservatives that it’s not biased. Even in relatively clear cut cases where the media acts to the benefit of conservatives, the action is interpreted situationally; we “forced” the media to act in an unbiased manner. The evaluation of the media never changes.
DJW and I did some work on this a few years ago that’s never (hasn’t yet?) been published. It’s very hard to break through this kind of evidentiary interpretation, but there are ways to get around it. Really big events matter; 9/11 was probably an opportunity to revise these theories, and the invasion of Iraq the utter confirmation of them. Group identification isn’t static; Fox News has succeeded by redefining itself as part of the conservative movement rather than as part of the mainstream media. Finally, alternative group affiliations can be mobilized, producing different in-group/out-group constellations and thus different understandings of the world. The Concert of Europe escaped power politics for a time by redefining the international system as the setting of the struggle against revolution, rather than as the struggle between great powers.
So, I’m unconvinced that anything that happens in Somalia is going to have a significant impact on foreign opinion outside of, well, Somalia and Ethiopia.