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The Jedi Principle

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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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