The Sciences

In Praise of Journalism

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMar 10, 2009 4:49 AM

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Over 20 years ago, Raymond Bonner was my man in Latin America. His dispatches were essential reading. Today, I hang on Jeffrey Gettleman's every word filed from Africa. For those new to him, Jack Shafer's recent profile in Slate is an excellent introduction. What's so special about Gettleman is that he's a great newspaper reporter who writes like a magazine writer. So I'm not surprised to see this piece by Gettleman in the current issueof Foreign Policy. His prose (as Shafer noted) is deceptively simple. Here's Gettleman's evocative set-up:

In more than a dozen trips to Somalia over the past two and a half years, I've come to rewrite my own definition of chaos. I've felt the incandescent fury of the Iraqi insurgency raging in Fallujah. I've spent freezing-cold, eerily quiet nights in an Afghan cave. But nowhere was I more afraid than in today's Somalia, where you can get kidnapped or shot in the head faster than you can wipe the sweat off your brow. From the thick, ambush-perfect swamps around Kismayo in the south to the lethal labyrinth of Mogadishu to the pirate den of Boosaaso on the Gulf of Aden, Somalia is quite simply the most dangerous place in the world.

And here's the nutgraph:

It's crunch time for Somalia, but the world is like me, standing in the doorway, looking in at two decades of unbridled anarchy, unsure what to do. Past interventions have been so cursed that no one wants to get burned again. The United States has been among the worst of the meddlers: U.S. forces fought predacious warlords at the wrong time, backed some of the same predacious warlords at the wrong time, and consistently failed to appreciate the twin pulls of clan and religion. As a result, Somalia has become a graveyard of foreign-policy blunders that have radicalized the population, deepened insecurity, and pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

Now read the whole story to understand why we should be paying much more attention to failed states in this region of the world. And for you inveterate NY Times/mainstream journalism bashers, consider yourself a lucky free-rider.

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