ALTHOUGH the results of the US airstrike on Somalia yesterday are not yet known, it will be surprising if the action proves to be helpful to the solution of the country's problems. Washington's euphoria about the recent defeat of the Islamic Courts and Condoleezza Rice's talk about an historic opportunity for change are premature. The military success of the interim government was almost entirely due to help of the American-trained Ethiopian army which cannot remain in Somalia for any length of time without incurring hostility from local elements. An American land-based intervention is unthinkable after the humiliation following a similar action a decade ago. Somali society has a complex structure in which four main clans and various sub-clans play a leading role; the so-called war lords rule over large areas of the capital city, Mogadishu. In the brief time they were in power the Islamic Courts showed they could establish a degree of stability that Mogadishu had not seen for a long time. The task, therefore, is to find a way by diplomatic rather than military means of bringing together all these disparate elements, including the weak interim goverment. Somalia has been left to its own destructive devices for the past 15 years. Recent events have led to a revival of outside interest including that of the European Union. If the ring can be held by a UN or other peacekeeping operation, diplomacy would have the chance to find a long-term solution.
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