Watching, on TV, the looting in Mogadishu after Ethiopian tanks had sent the Islamic Courts bunch scampering southward out of the city, then hearing that warlords had already set up money-raising (to put it nicely) checkpoints segregating sector from sector within the city, I felt despair. Here we go again! Another cycle of anarchy and despotism. That downer led to thoughts of Iraq and Afghanistan and other countries apparently ricocheting between too much or too little governance, which in turn let to the eternal question WHY?
Well, maybe that’s too grandiose. But I did find myself wondering how on earth such countries could get themselves out of such a self-destructive pattern. And, as a veteran public diplomat, I couldn't help wondering whether the US experience might have anything constructive to offer. I think it does.
Let's start with something incoming Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (who actually wasn't thinking of Somalia or any other foreign country) said recently. She remarked that she would be a more inclusive leader of the House. Unlike her Republican predecessors since 2001, she did not intend to preside as if the minority party members did not exist. Not that the Democrats in majority are about to act like the election-annulling, self-abnegating idiots a once imperial President Bush is calling for when he bleats about bipartisanship these days. But it’s also not likely that Pelosi’s Dems will scuttle controversial but worthwhile legislation in need of a little Republican support for passage. That’s intelligent bipartisanship, and it tends to cluster around centrism, a modern word for the old fashioned common good and the bane of the now discredited Rovian Republicans (and, to be fair about it, some on the Democratic left, as well).
SO: centrism and intelligent compromise; not extremism and ricochet. Here is one key to political stability, and it gives rise to another notion: inclusivity. Politics in the US has got angry, bitter and ugly to a large extent because the Republicans have governed from the extreme right, marginalizing and attempting to delegitimate all other opinions and orientations. Winning at any cost and excluding the losers from both goodies and respect became the rigid rule of the Republican power game. No wonder corruption ensued, and fear of exposure leads corruption-tolerating office-holders to cling to power. Hence the need for a “permanent majority,” however secured, which is what any despotism seeks. Arrogant, entrenched, narrowly-based power isn't good. Anywhere.
Let’s get back to Somalia. Whatever form a stable future government takes, it must surely recognize the partly conflicting, partly overlapping claims of tribalism, rival sects of Islam, geographic divergences rooted in history and custom, evolving gender roles, the tension between rural givens and urban miscibility. There’s a similar need in Afghanistan. Iraq, too, is torn among cross-cutting loyalties, one reason why that shattered humpty-dumpty is proving so hard to put back together again. Any system that cannot accommodate its characteristic congeries of non-criminal aspirations will not be long lasting.