The United States wants to make sure that Americans understand Ethiopia's military incursion into Somalia was a necessary move.
On Tuesday, a day after an Ethiopian jet strafed the airport in Mogadishu, the capital, the State Department issued internal guidance to staff members, instructing officials to play down the invasion in public statements.
"Should the press focus on the role of Ethiopia inside Somalia," read a copy of the guidelines that was given to The New York Times by an American official here, "emphasize that this is a distraction from the issue of dialogue between the T.F.I.'s and Islamic courts and shift the focus back to the need for dialogue." T.F.I. is an abbreviation for the weak transitional government in Somalia.
"The press must not be allowed to make this about Ethiopia, or Ethiopia violating the territorial integrity of Somalia," the guidance said.
The Washington Post understood the instructions perfectly, as evidenced by today's lead editorial:
Troops from neighboring Ethiopia who were defending a U.N.-backed transitional government were attacked by forces of the Islamic Courts movement, which for the past six months has controlled much of the southern part of the country. ...
The Islamic Courts movement poses a potentially serious security threat to the United States: Its leadership includes a U.S.-designated terrorist, and it is known to be harboring al-Qaeda militants, including several who helped carry out the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In recent months it has been inviting radical Muslims to Somalia, and thousands have reportedly arrived from such countries as Syria, Yemen and Libya. In short, the Courts-controlled portion of Somalia has begun to look a lot like Afghanistan under the Taliban before Sept. 11, 2001.
Notice how the Post left (supposedly friendly) Pakistan off the list of nations that have seen their citizens travel to Somalia for jihad? Nope, only evil-doers made the list.
U.S. intelligence is playing down the foreign jihadis' contribution in any case. "Thousands" is a stretch. The Post doubtlessly knows this.
Presumably the Ethiopians are not conversant in Fourth Generation Warfare, and will be as surprised as the Americans were in Iraq and the Israelis were in Lebanon when the Somali Islamists initiate a guerrilla campaign to tie down the militarily superior force in a foreign land.