This is in the nature of a “thought experiment” rather than an actual suggestion at this point, but here goes rough sketch of the basic points:
1) We all recognize–whether we are willing to publicly admit it–that Somalia is in a “permanent” war state although progress has been made from the lowest ebbs over the years. Somalia is like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen in the sense that it is a place in which perpetual fighting appears indefinitely sustainable pending some major change.
2) The current phase of the civil war in Somalia started in December 2006 with a full scale invasion by Ethiopia, with US support, at the invitation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), to displace the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) with a re-instated TFG. In early 2007 this gave way to the multilateral AMISOM “peace-keeping” military force of surplus Subsaharan African national troops seconded by their governments. Funding came from the EU and UN, passed through the African Union.
3) As we approach the 12th anniversary of the Ethiopian invasion with the Somali Federal Government (SFG) having significant influence but not consolidated military or civilian control of the country, we all know that there is no immediate prospect of a complete military defeat of Al Shabaab, the al Queda affiliate that coalesced in the breakdown of the ICU in the fighting in 2006-07. Al Shabaab at present no longer controls any major cities, following the Kenyan-led assault on Kismayo in 2012, but has sustaining financial support and territory, and seems to have wider influence in Kenyan territory in particular than in the past. Likewise the latest International Crisis Group report indicates increased influence in Tanzania.
4) Somalia has not had a clearly established national government since 1991– presumably before most of the foot soldiers on any of the sides were born.
5) Ugandan and Burundian troops have been provided to AMISOM by Museveni and Nkrurunziza, the “elected dictators” of Uganda and Burundi, respectively. Under this arrangement the United States provides training and support, and a patina of international legitimacy, to forces under the command of Musveni and Nkurunziza and they in turn loan out on a fully reimbursed basis some of those forces to the EU and UN through the AU.
6) Conceptually, the advantage to the United States from this arrangement, as I once heard it put a few years ago from a military perspective, is “better them than us.” The advantage to Museveni and Nkurunziza is leverage vis-a-vis the United States, the EU, the UK, the UN and the AU. For the AU the arrangement provides at no cost superficial prestige and legitimacy.
7) The disadvantage for the United States is that it also gives Museveni and Nkurunziza superficial prestige and legitimacy in spite of their repudiation of democratic values. It also gives a hint of reverse leverage in the relationship. Rwandan strongman Kagame has explicitly tried to exploit his dispensation of surplus troops to the UN mission in Darfur to ulterior advantage, for an example of the implications. This creates complications and risks in our relationships in East and Central Africa, whatever the perceived savings in regard to the Horn and Somalia.
8) Museveni and Nkurunziza do not have the mitigating factors on their side that buy indulgence for Kagame, whether legitimately or not. Kagame assuages our feelings of guilt or exposure to embarrassment for not taking action to try to stop the genocide in 1994 during the Rwandan civil war, by operating a micro-model of repressive developmentalism in tiny Rwanda. Those equities are simply not in play for Museveni or Nkurunziza who have chosen to become aggressively repressive anyway. Thus U.S. military partnership and EU funding Uganda and Burundi arguably become nakedly hypocritical and opportunistic.
9) Over the years of the fighting in Somalia the United States has significantly drawn down its forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We have now significantly increased our overall defense budget. It would seem that direct deployment of United States military personnel for the type of “peacekeeping” fighting engaged in by Ugandan and Burundian forces would be relatively easier now than in the earlier years if this iteration of the war in Somalia.
10) Meanwhile, questions have continued to grow about the sustainability of Museveni’s repressive government as he has continued to accelerate past the off ramps for peaceful transition. Thus, the quandary for the United States in using his forces in support of notionally democratic nation building outside the country while the idea of democratic nation building recedes within Uganda itself.