President Barack Obama has inherited a dangerous and fast-moving crisis in Somalia--one with profound implications for regional and international security. While some within the new administration will be tempted to continue to place short-term counterterrorism goals ahead of a more comprehensive strategy approach as was done during the Bush administration, the shortcomings of this approach are abundantly clear: violent extremism and anti-Americanism are now rife in Somalia due in large part to the blowback from policies that focused too narrowly on counterterrorism objectives. The new U.S. national security team must make a clean break by defining and implementing a long-term strategy to support the development of an inclusive Somali government.
Building on the recent creation of a more broad-based transitional parliament, and its selection of Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, as president of Somalia's transitional government, the United States should immediately bolster its diplomatic engagement in the region and assign a senior diplomat to drive U.S. policy and harmonize its counterterrorism and state-building agendas. At the same time, the United States should work multilaterally to provide focused, conditional support to expand the legitimacy, inclusiveness, accountability, and capacity of Sheikh Sharif's fledgling government. It must make clear that it will provide sustained support to the general principles of reconciliation, consensus-building, power-sharing, and moderation, but not support to specific individuals or factions.