The terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall will cost Kenya $200-250 million this year, shaving off 0.5% of GDP growth as a result of a decline in tourism, a new report by Moody’s suggests. Not to mention the loss of life and the individual experiences of those present.
It is exactly such terrorist attacks which proponents of an isolationist foreign policy, such as myself, can never point to when arguing against intervention. Because when we speak of unknowable actions, unintended consequences, chain reactions, and the virtue of being humble in our conduct of foreign policy, we are ourselves admitting that we do not know what will happen. But these things are all too clear after the fact, once troops have been deployed, statesmen have looked important on the world stage in front of the world’s media, and the dogs of war have been unleashed.
These dogs are unreliable. We think we know where they will go and what they will do. But the truth is, we don’t. They are the metaphorical dogs that were on display in the real world when the Soviets had trained suicide hounds to seek out and destroy German tanks, which, in the end, sought out and destroyed mostly Soviet tanks. It was their very training which lead to this unforeseen consequence, because it was with Soviet tanks that they had been trained. Even the best laid plans can all too easily fail. And whilst perhaps not a failure, such unintended consequences were on display with Operation Linda Nchi (Protect the Country), when Kenya intervened in Somalia.
Perhaps of the opinion that an Operation so reasonably entitled ‘Protect the Country’ would have a greater chance of success than the much more amorphously entitled Operation ‘Restore Hope’ nineteen years earlier by America, two battalions of the Kenyan Army crossed into Somalia on the 16 October, 2011. This was for a number of reasons.
These were: recent cross-border attacks; Somali refugees; national security concerns including the desire to create a buffer zone and to attack al-Shabaab; and personal economic and political concerns of politicians. This operation was bogged down from the start, with heavy casualties ensuing.
Reports suggest the campaign is costing $180 million and 50 deaths per month; or just under one Westgate Shopping Mall. Some successes have been forthcoming however, such as the capture of Kismayo, al-Shabaab’s main operating base. However, this now leaves questions about, for instance, who will garrison this city, or will it be left alone? Will Kenya now have to expand its mission into a permanent presence? Will mission creep set in?
The assault by Kenya, the first the nation has ever undertaken against any nation since independence, may prove to have been, in the end, beneficial to its interests. That is to say, the price it has paid may have been less than the interests it has had furthered. I hold this is unlikely, although possible. It will also depend on individual’s subjective estimations; how much is the port of Kismayo worth, for instance?
But one thing is for sure. When isolationists warn of unintended consequences, like Ron Paul did in Libya (which then lead to the French intervention in Mali), we often do not know what they are. But this world is so complex, everything is linked in some way or another, to varying degrees, so much so that nobody could possibly take account for everything. And so we caution restraint. Because incidents like Westgate, the Twin Towers, the London Bombings, the Madrid Train Bombings, and so on and so forth, do happen.
The next time we are urged to intervene (in, say, Syria) there will be plenty of people able to point to the dead children from a chemical attack, or napalm strike. And there will be nobody able to point to the loss of life in downtown San Francisco the result of the unknown and unknowable revenge attack, or the suicide of countless Veterans suffering from PTSD. And this recent terrorist act in Kenya is but the latest example.
We should keep in mind this world is too big even for the most intelligent of us to comprehend, and actions have reactions.