Democrats & Liberals Archives

Somalia Revisited

Somalia was a failure in one regard. We did not get Mohammed Aideed.

But was it as much of a failure in other senses? Not really. Reading Richard Clarke’s book Against All Enemies, I came upon a series of facts that some of you might find interesting, facts that contradict the impression that the focus on the Black Hawk Down incident has created.

How can Clarke be so sure? He was the White House coordinator on the operation, first under National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and then under Tony Lake, his immediate successor.

Tony Lake was surprised to learn that troops would be just finishing their move into Somalia about the time Clinton was inaugurated. Mr. Lake had expected them out of there by then. He had been counting on the UN to fill in, but the UN was rather resistant on the role. Admiral Jonathan Howe was brought on board to oversee the operations. When Aideed killed 24 Pakistani troops, Howe acted, sending the US Military after Aideed.

The way Clarke has it, the Pentagon cut short a great deal of that military support. It's after this that Aideed goes underground, and it's after Aideed did so that the infamous Blackhawk Down went down.

Here's what you might not have heard. In a meeting after the incident, Clinton was visibly angry. Clarke tells that he had followed the Pentagon's advice, not Admiral Howe's, and he was not happy with the results. He waited until he had the opportunity to speak and Clarke quotes him as saying the following:

Okay, here's what we're going to do. We are not running away with our tail between our legs. I've already heard from Congress and that's what they all want to do, get out tomorrow. We're staying. We are also not gonna flatten Mogadishu to prove we are the big badass superpower. Everybody in the world knows we could do that. We don't have to prove that to anybody.

We are going to send in more troops, with tanks and aircraft and anything else they need. We are going to show force. And we are going to keep delivering the food. If anybody f***s with us, we will respond, massively. And we are going to get the UN to finally show up and take over. Tell Boutros he has six months to do that, not one day more. Then... We will leave.

He was as good as his word. We did stay an additional six months, and handed things off to the UN. Americans went back in force. Clarke was, at the time, ambivalent as to the problem of deterrence, but he reflects that for the 18 soldiers killed, over a thousand Somalis died, combatant or non combatant. He doubts that killing more Somalis would have made the US look any stronger.

In his opinion, Al Quaeda would have been encouraged in any case where America didn't flatten Mogadishu. We would have had to stoop to Osama Bin Laden's inflated idea of medieval retribution after Black Hawk Down in order to convince them otherwise.

I think if there is anything that could have prevented the bad example of Somalia, my impression is he would advocate that we had done a more thorough job of destroying Aideed's forces and capturing him when we had the chance, and short of that treating Mogadishu as a war zone and not friendly territory.

Clinton did make mistakes in Somalia. But Clinton learned from those mistakes, clamping down hard afterwards, and sending in the troops and supplies needed. After that meeting where Clinton said what he did above, he took aside Anthony Lake and Clarke and told them that he didn't want any more troops killed in Somalia.

No more were.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at March 28, 2004 10:28 PM