How did Bush come to make the decision to commit to Somalia? What was his
motive? What was really in his mind?|
I think there was a discernible reaction to public opinion at the time, because
public opinion at that time was being dominated by the horrific pictures from
Somalia of children, women and large numbers of people dying of malnutrition,
horrific pictures that I think really got to the conscience of the world, and
very strongly suggested there was a need to do something, that all the relief
efforts to that point had not really worked very well. So there was the need to
go ahead and begin to ship all those items of immediate relief to try and stave
off of what had become famine of really Biblical proportions. The problem was
that in Somalia... with the injection of food, you irretrievably begin to
effect the power balance in Somalia. That led to the second phase of the
operation in which you could not begin to distribute the food and relief
supplies unless you could also deal with a deteriorating security situation.
How exactly can food relief effect the power structure in a war-torn country
Precisely because it was war-torn, the power structure had a shorthand that
consisted of either arms and ammunition on the one hand or food on the other,
and the access to both was really what determined who was going to effectively
be in charge and where. So if you have access to the food, you by definition
have power. If suddenly, here comes some new food supplies, you've effected the
In your judgment there was such a thing as moral obligation [to help the
Somalis?] Should morality shape foreign policy?
Well, I think, particularly in the United States, morality and foreign policy
have always been rather tightly intertwined. Now what that means is that
American foreign policy is always a creature of American public opinion. But in
this particular case I don't think that was necessarily a very bad thing, if
for no other reason than the documentation that that camera footage had
provided [of the] extent of the problem; [it] was bad, it was growing worse,
and many more people were going to die if that kind of an effort, security and
humanitarian relief, if those efforts were not joined hand in hand.
A phrase that's often used is that "Clinton inherited the mess." Is that a
fair way of putting it?
President Clinton certainly inherited what was at the very least a difficult
situation, because the mandate that had brought the United States in as the
effective leader of the Unified Task Force or UNITAF, that mandate was running
out and in fact what the Bush administration had done was to indicate that as
the quit pro quo for putting in UNITAF that the UN was going to take over that
operation, so this was very much a stopgap; the time was really running out. So
what the Clinton administration had to do was to come in and to make a very
quick assessment as to what would replace that Unified Task Force that the US
And did they make that quick assessment?
They made an assessment. I'm not convinced that it was the correct assessment
to have made when they made it, because I think that there was a sort of hubris
that effected the administration in its early months, possibly an exaggerated
opinion of the utility of international organizations, and in particular the
United Nations, to deal with this very rapidly deteriorating and indeed very
difficult situation that they were facing in Somalia.
Was the US commitment to Somalia complicated by the bad relations the new
administration had with the US military at the highest levels?
It's very difficult to know, but my sense is that the Clinton administration
when it came into office had a certain agenda. It had been elected on a promise
-- it's the economy, stupid -- and when it looked at the military forces of the
United States it was doing so primarily from the standpoint of how they best
could be downsized. How can we in fact reap the peace dividend, and by the way
how can we adapt our military structure to deal with a new security situation?
All these things are perfectly legitimate strategic criteria for an in-coming
administration to address, but I think much of the atmosphere was poisoned by
the way that the Clinton administration came into office. It came in first of
all becoming embroiled in the controversy over gay rights in the military.
The second major thing was probably a more personal aspect and that was the
fact that there was a deepseated distrust, often expressed quite publicly,
between the people that constituted the administration at the second and third
tiers and the professional military. Particularly in the Pentagon there were
some comments that the new incoming administration was reasserting civilian
control over the military, and there can be no more fundamental insult than
that to a professional military that prides itself on its obligation to the
constitution of the United States and to the American people. I think in many
respects, what happened next was in some sense an interruption of the informal
chain of military command [through] which military advice is offered and taken
and accepted in many different ways. There is a formal chain, from the Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs to the national command authorities, i.e., the President
and the Secretary of Defense, but there are many other ways that advice is
offered, [and] in many respects that constitutes the grease on which those
wheels of government always have to have to move, and that can be something as
simple as the military assistants that are part of the office of Secretary of
Defense. Many of these people were sent packing when the new administration
came to town. So I think there was at least the very real perception on the
part of the professional military that their advice was not wanted, was not
being listened to....
One of the things that I think characterizes the Clinton administration,
particularly in these early days, we begin to see in these initial foreign
policy problems something of an exemplar that we have grown used to, in
subsequent years. In an administration that in some sense would stop at nothing
to do nothing, in certain other senses had no real strong ideas about strategy,
but indeed was much more consumed with tactical considerations. And so what we
have seen in Somalia, particularly during the transition from the UNITAF, the
Unified Task Force led by the Marines, to UNISOM II, the United Nations led
force, [is what they call] "mission creep." Mission creep has become sort of a
center piece of the American political military lexicon, but this was not
mission creep that resulted from military people taking an overly ambitious
view of what they were called upon to do, this is mission creep because the
political guidance issued by the national command authorities had changed, and
when the political guidance changes, the military response changes as well.
General Montgomery was in a kind of strangely anomalous position, and this
was to really avoid the perception that the US troops were under UN command. Is
General Montgomery' s position an example of what you are talking about?
Let me answer that question this way. There was the urgent need seen by many of
the administration and indeed on Capitol Hill to avoid the appearance of evil,
evil being defined in this instance as looking as if you are under United
Nations' command. In point of fact command arrangements from NATO forward had
featured the idea of operational control in which you had an overall control
commander, but he exercises that command through nationally configured
components. That indeed was the case in Somalia, but what it led to were a
series of command arrangements that violated most of the important precepts
around which the United States had traditionally organized its command
The base line is this: if it takes longer than ten seconds to explain the
command arrangements, they probably won't work. What you need to have is the
most direct line of command that you can between the President, commander in
chief, and his commander in the field. That is the principle. You also have to
have imbedded in the individual on the ground, who is exercising that command,
the authority to go with that responsibility that is usually defined as him
having effective command and control over all those forces that are assigned to
him to carry out that mission. However, that was not done during the UNISOM II
phase of the Somalia operation. In fact you had essentially three chains of
command running. You had one that was going back to New York to the United
Nations, you had one that was very clearly going back to Washington, DC, and
you had another one that was being exercised by the unified command itself, the
United States central command, and that is precisely the wrong way to do a
command control. You do not need to have divided command, any more than you
need to have divided loyalties.
Do you actually attribute part of the explanation for the final disaster to
this muddled up chain of command?
I think in some sense you really can, because if one takes a look, for example,
at the use of the American Ranger contingent, it is being commanded by an
American Two Star, [General Garrison]. He is coordinating those arrangements
with another American Two Star by the name of General Montgomery, and yet it is
General Montgomery who is supposedly in overall charge of the operation. Well,
command control is not the same thing as coordination, and so when you have
these two chains of command running back to the Four Star commanding the
operation, this is not the way that we traditionally do commander control, it's
usually very much more simple than that. You have one person in charge, in fact
I think General Schwartzkopf said it very well, during Desert Storm he said,
"When you get of the plane, you work for me." What you had in Somalia was
something was very different, [and] I think it complicated command
arrangements. General Montgomery has stated that he was able to work through
that problem. That's not something that you work through. The command
arrangements should be the thing that enables effective commander control, not
an obstacle to it.
There is a key moment when Garrison's going to send the Rangers in and
Montgomery's heard about it only minutes before. Did Montgomery actually have
the authority to countermand Garrison's decision?
Well, it's very difficult to know, and I'm reluctant [to comment] on it, simply
because I don't know that factually. But if one takes a look at the way you had
two effective chains of command running it would obviously be very difficult
for him to intervene, when they [were] both effectively reporting to the same
Four Star General, who happens to be back, not 50 miles back but 9000 miles
away, back in Florida, in the United States.
Let's talk a bit about the decision to get Aidid. Do you have any sense of
who really took that decision and why?
A lot of political scientists have spend an awful lot of ink trying to unravel
that particular decision, but I simply take as my point of reference the fact
that there was a United Nations Security Council Resolution calling for the
apprehension "of those responsible parties." There has not been a United
Nations Security Council Resolution of that nature that had not been at least
approved, and then in all likelihood drafted, in the United States, so if one
takes a look at where that particular decision arose from, it's very clear.
What you had was a determination that what had now happened was to be seen as a
direct insult to the UN led operation, and possibly to the United States as
well. The decision to go after Mohammed Farah Aidid was probably the key break
point in that entire situation.
Now, having decided to go after Aidid, who decided to send in the Rangers,
You have to remember that the original United States force that was placed in
under UNISOM II, under the command of General Montgomery, was essentially
thought to be have been able to do two things. Number one, to provide
logistical support.... The second thing the UN was there to do, and that the
United States was there to do, was provide the Quick Reaction Force, and that
was essentially to be the reserve force, that if the other multi-national
contingents got themselves in some difficulty, could come in and quell any
situation, but again, what you have to recall is the fact that this was being
done as an operation [which], while it was labeled "peace enforcement" was in
many respects still thought of as a peace keeping operation. The operation was
supposed to have the level of hostilities being dampened down, when all of a
sudden, we make the commitment to effectively go to war against the clans. It's
very clear that the forces that are in the air and on the ground are not
competent to deal with that. So you need to have a lot more fire power, you
need, in particular if your mission is to go and apprehend Mohammed Farah
Aidid, to have an entirely different kind of force than you would have as a
merely a peace keeping or even a peace enforcement contingent.
Do you feel that once it was decided to send in the Rangers, the Rangers
were given all the equipment they should have had?
My part of the report really did not get into that, but I do think that it is
important to focus on the request for armored support. [There's] this great
military phrase, "when you're up your arse in alligators, it's difficult to
remember that your first objective was to drain the swamp," and in many
respects what you have with the request for armored support was something that
certainly should have raised red flags back in Washington DC, because, can you
imagine, General Montgomery in his professional military responsibility has now
requested the deployment of the United States main battle tank, the thing that
we used to win the ground war in Desert Storm. And what I find remarkable is
that noone back in Washington apparently said, "Wait a minute, you remember
that peace keeping operation that we sent General Montgomery out on? What has
happened now that he is requesting the use of the main battle tank, has the
situation so far deteriorated that's it's time begin to re-think our basic
objectives?" In fact, so far as one could tell, his request for armored support
was handled in a fairly routine way, it did not provoke the larger strategic
considerations that certainly in that moment should have been thought of.
Unfortunately, they were not thought of until after the fact.
I know there's a phrase that's used, I think the British and French military
use it, "crossing the Mogadishu line." What do they really mean by that?
I'm not sure what they meant by "crossing the Mogadishu line," but what I think
was pretty clear from the way that that operation finally played out was that
going after Mohammed Farah Aidid was crossing a very real line, at least of the
minds of people that were there. The enemy's perception is the reality. There
were two things that were done, one was the idea that you were going after
Mohammed Farah Aidid, you were going to apprehend him, he is now a law breaker;
the second was the aspect of beginning to disarm the populous, because, back to
the point that I made earlier, there are two basic points of reference in that
kind of situation, one is control over weapons, one is control over food.
During the UNITAF phase of the operation, General Johnson led it by taking, I
think, a much more sensible viewpoint, which simply said, "I will disarm you
only to the extent that I have to to conduct my mission." Now we had gone after
a peace building kind of agenda and so it became necessary to disarm the
civilian populous. As I said in my report, disarmament is one of the bright
lines on the ground, and when you cross over that line, welcome to the
wonderful world of combat.
Do feel it appropriate for President Clinton to ask President Carter to
pursue peace initiative that summer?
The President is the commander in chief, he is the principal author of American
foreign policy, so it was eminently appropriate that he do that. I think what
the question [that] really is appropriate to ask, however, [is] to what extent
was this part of a coherent foreign policy and how tightly had that been
integrated with what was happening on the ground militarily. Throughout the
summer of '93, it becomes obvious, especially in hindsight but also from the
accounts of some observers even at the time, that the UN led force there is
facing a rapidly deteriorating situation, and so beginning with the decision to
go after Mohammed Farah Aidid and continuing from that point toward where
General Montgomery feels obliged now to request the presence of American naval
battle tanks, there is a very steady escalation, and at no point does it appear
to be effecting the situation on the ground in ways that one could say were
favorable. There is not really a reassessment of policy until after the
unfortunate events of October, so I think that there is some clear question
here as to what policy was the United States actually following? Was it
military, was it diplomatic, was it some kind of combination of the two? And to
what extent had those different facets of a policy been thought through and
Are you saying they were making it up as they went along?
The other point that has been alleged, specifically by the father of Casey
Joyce, one of the dead men, is that, fair enough, President Carter goes to talk
to Aidid, some kind of back stairs negotiation with Aidid, but that General
Colin Powell was unaware that this is happening.
I don't know.
If it was true, what would your reaction be?
If that were true, if General Powell was not aware as the outgoing Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one would certainly at that point have to say,
"That's not a policy, that's making it up as you go along," and the reason for
that is, by law, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs is the President's
principal military advisor. If he doesn't know, why did he not know? And if he
did not know - who did?
What do you feel the lessons are from Mogadishu?
There was I think what the United States did in going into Somalia by any
definition was praiseworthy in every sense. Just during the initial phase of
the operation, faced with a famine of Biblical proportion, we moved over 28,000
metric tons of food and other relief supplies into that country, probably
staving off the worst of that disaster. But [it's important to understand] that
military force can only take you so far. I look on military force as being that
aspect of foreign policy that can occasionally buy you time. It always does
that at great cost. It occasionally does what it did in this instance, and it's
purchased at the cost of human lives. But military force and those forces that
impose it are not themselves the peacekeepers. The real peacekeepers and the
peacebuilders, those are the people who were there before we got there, they
are the people that have stayed after we left, as was the case and is the case
in Bosnia. They are the ones that are going to help reconstruct society, and
that is a much [more] longterm task than any thing that military force can do
for you. So when you impose military force, do so for only the very best of
reasons and with a very firm understanding that the clock is ticking. Time is
not an infinite thing when you are talking about any military employment,
either in terms of what it can do or how long it can last.
During the course of this administration, what are the most obvious effects
on US foreign policy?
One of the most perverse aspects of Somalia is that we have over-learned some
of the wrong lessons. There is an old phrase that, "Once a cat sits on a hot
stove, it won't ever go back to a hot stove again, but it won't ever go back to
a cold one either," and we got a very bad rap in Somalia about being casualty
averse, and I think what that has done is that has really severely handicapped
our operations in other parts of the world. I'm not saying that we should be
profligate with casualties, because one is too many. But for example in
Bosnia, the American forces that were put in there, were put in under very
tight restrictions as to force protection, restrictions that I think have
created some problems; [this] has certainly been a perception of the other
multi-national partners in that coalition. I think that comes from Somalia, in
which when the American people tuned in through their media, and they saw these
poor starving kids and they saw GIs throwing bags of wheat off the back of
C130s and they sort of tuned back out again. The next time they tuned in to
Somalia, they are seeing the dead bodies of our dead soldiers being dragged
down the street and they ask themselves, "What happened here? What's wrong with
this picture?" The short answer is the American people were never told that we
were in a de facto of state of war with the Somali clans and with the warlord
Mohammed Farah Aidid.
What happened on the streets of Mogadishu in early October of 1993 is heroism
by definition, it was one of the great feats of arms of the United States Army
in modern times. [Unfortunately, it was accompanied by a] failure to explain to
the American people why it was that their sons were being committed to that
operation. That then led to the wrong conclusion which was that the American
people are averse to having their sons and their daughters put in harm's way.
That is not the case, but when you put American soldiers, sailors, airmen and
marines in harm's way, you must also explain to the American people from which
they come why you've done that, why it is important, and what it is that you
hope to gain from it. That was not done is Somalia and the failure to do that
has affected our operations worldwide ever since.
And when you say worldwide, you mean specifically, Bosnia, Rwanda,
Exactly. As a matter of fact, if one looks at the Persian Gulf, all the
operations that we have had since Somalia have been characterized by an
unusually high degree of attention to the dynamics of force protection [and] by
very restrictive rules of engagement; the kinds of things in which it is fair
to say that they were kept from doing their missions in many respects because
of an exaggerated idea that if we did any of these things that we may put
people at risk, while when you have a professional force, you expect it, among
other things, to take those risks. When I [was] approved to serve in Bosnia, I
understood full [well] what those risks were, and so [did] every solider that
was over there that I had the privilege of serving with. But the idea that you
can some how batten these people up, the idea that you can put them in harm's
way but then impose a sort of cotton batten of protection around them, that's
an idea that we seem to have gotten in Somalia. It may not have started there,
but it certainly got a lot worse and it bedevils us to this day.