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Updates: Somalia and the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

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This piece was written by Erica Shusas.

On Wednesday, Japan's minister of defense, Yasukazu Hamada, announced his concern about the threat of Somali pirates to both Japan and the international community, and ordered Japanese forces to prepare for deployment there as early as March. Hamada was quoted in The New York Times as calling Somali pirate activity "an issue that should be dealt with swiftly".

Over three weeks have passed since Ethiopian troops left Somalia, George W. Bush left office, and President Obama inherited the problem there that Bush never solved -- the responsibility of handling the potential crisis of political upheaval on land, and pirates attacking ships on route to the Red Sea.

Hamada is wise enough to declare publicly that Japan's government will act swiftly to protect their ships from Somali pirates. If Obama doesn't get his people to speak up about how the Bush administration, instead of acting to pacify the crisis in Somalia, opted to deposit the problem on Obama's doorstep, he will be blamed for "loosing Somalia". There is no doubt that in time many messes that George W. Bush has left us to deal with will be revealed, but the situation in Somalia is one that Obama should swiftly call as a crisis that was inherited, not one that developed on his on watch.

What Obama has acted on this week is his promise to invite "faith-based groups" into the White House to "help set our national agenda", a promise some readers may remember been warned about on this space last July. (See Thrusting Down the Maw of Victory.) Obama plans to appoint Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal minister, to lead his newly renamed Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, an office that Obama says will be even more involved in decision making in the White House than it was under Bush.

While Obama should be cautious about how he handles Somalia, we should all be cautious about the establishment of the Council of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships -- how much and what kind of influence it will have on setting our "national agenda", and how much it might blur the boundary between church and state.