Earlier this month, 38-year-old Navy SEAL Senior Chief Petty Officer Kyle Milliken was killed during a combat operation some forty miles west of Mogadishu. Milliken, a battle-hardened member of the same elite SEAL Team 6 that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, fought alongside, not behind, his compatriots in the Somali army. Milliken’s death marked a very unfortunate milestone. He became the first U.S. service member to die in combat in Somalia since Operation Gothic Serpent in 1993.

Made famous by Mark Bowden’s book Black Hawk Down, Operation Gothic Serpent remains the quintessential case study of a humanitarian aid mission gone terribly wrong. At the time, most people inside of Washington, D.C. did not consider Al-Qaeda or Islamic extremism a threat to the new neoliberal world order. However, later investigations uncovered the fact that the Mogadishu militiamen who used RPGs to shoot down two American Blackhawk helicopters on October 3, 1993, had been trained by Al-Qaeda operatives based in nearby Sudan. By the time this knowledge became public, it was already too late—President Bill Clinton had removed all U.S. troops from Somalia.

Somalia has still not yet recovered from 1993. Indeed, it has still not yet recovered from the national revolution that overthrew the military strongman Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. In 2015, the country’s GDP came in at an abysmal 5.95 billion U.S. dollars. While its central government functions somewhat well in Mogadishu, its power does not really penetrate into the hinterlands. Because of this, separatist movements have sprung up and include de-facto states in Somaliland and Puntland.

Jigsaw puzzle.
Of course, the main threat to peace in Somalia is Al-Shabaab, an ISIS affiliate that controls several cities and regions all across Somalia. On Tuesday, May 9th, Al-Shabaab militants launched a deadly attack on a small Somali army output just northwest of the capital. On the same day, they told the world that they had taken complete control of the town of Goofgaduud. Not bad for an insurgency that looked close to death just last year.

2017 has already seen a number of terror attacks in Mogadishu, including a car bomb that killed five earlier this week. The West’s continued answer to all of these attacks is more of the same—targeted raids and training operations with regional partners. While this is not an inherently poor strategy (it is certainly preferable to Iraq-style regime change); it can only go so far in Somalia. After all, Somalia is not only a failed state, it’s a failing population.

Somalia’s main exports are terrorism, piracy, and illegal weapons. Because of over twenty-five years of militarized anarchy, most Somali young men resort to joining militias or terrorist outfits as a way to make money and show off their machismo. Somali jihadis can be found all over the Middle East, from Syria to Yemen.

More frightening is the propensity of Somali-Americans and Somali-Canadians to become radicalized. The Minneapolis area, which is home to approximately about 100,000 Somalis (there may be many more thanks to illegal immigration), has become a terrorist hotbed, with as many as 40 citizens fleeing the city in order to wage holy war. Others have also been apprehended here in the U.S., thus providing evidence of several Somali terrorist cells operating in the Midwest.

Minneapolis’s terrorist exodus has been copied by other Western cities, including Toronto and Birmingham, England. Even without a strong network of well-funded extremists, some Somali youth in the West have easily taken to terrorism. Abdul Razak Ali Artan, an Ohio State student originally from Somalia, used his car and a knife to attack fellow students last November.

Artan, responding to "microaggressions" with macroaggressions.
The initial response to this act of terrorism was telling. Rather than call out Islam for what it truly is, school administrators, politicians, and the students themselves refused to label the incident as a terror attack. Others pointed to racism as a motivation. Even the failed killer himself whined to a student newspaper about how American students gave him uncomfortable looks. Artan probably learned to spot these looks by taking a class on “microaggressions.”

The case of Artan and other jihadis in America is emblematic of a general U.S. failing to understand the condition of Somalia and her people. Thanks to its barely functioning government, generations of Somalis have never known work. When they immigrate, an overwhelming majority of Somalis wind up on welfare, thus draining the already strained economies of their host nations.

In Somalia, tribalism and a strict adherence to Sunni Islamism is never likely to go away. The failures of Mogadishu to build a functioning society also means that all the airstrikes and special operators in the world will not turn the tide against Al-Shabaab. Foreign aid is also a gigantic waste, for billions of dollars cannot fix a country where the male literacy rate is optimistically put at 50%.

Western naivety when it comes to Somalis also must be confronted at home. Increased Somali immigration has not made America wealthier or healthier. Although anti-vaccine advocates share a lot of the blame for the recent measles outbreak in Minneapolis, the Somali immigrant community has been ground zero for the new battle against tuberculosis. According to health statistics recorded in 2014, one out of five Somali refugees in Minnesota tested positive for the deadly disease.  A long-dormant plague may now come roaring back thanks to misguided immigration policies.

Somalia provides the best evidence of why the invade-the-world/invite-the-world policy does not work. A country that lacks the democratic virtues and ethos will not suddenly undertake a 180-degree turn thanks to American military involvement. Likewise, a culture weaned on dependency and Sunni fundamentalism will not produce good Americans, no matter how many government benefits they receive. Until we recognize these facts, Somalia and Somali immigrants will continue to bedevil American foreign policy for decades to come.

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