The television images of the time were very powerful. I think some people
would have said that this is T.V. evening news dictating foreign policy.|
T.V. news was powerful then, is powerful now. Scenes of potential starvation
and actual cases certainly preyed upon the minds of most Americans, and that
lent support to President Bush, who perhaps had even broader intelligence as to
the potential effects of starvation.
So the basic impulse was moral?
The basic impulse was moral for the decision, plus the thought on the part of
George Bush that American power would make the difference and was the only
[thing] that could make a difference -- and it ought to be used.
There was also talk at the time of a "new world order." Was this a kind of
glimpse that perhaps [disengagement] between nations was over, and that we
could intervene in other peoples' affairs?
I think the "new world order" situation pertained to the invasion by Iraq of
Kuwait and other violations by nation states. Somalia was really a moral
question dealing with humanitarian concerns. I think it's an interesting
stretch from violation of territories to this other more murky question of
"what if there are situations in the world that only the United States can
address, and will there be a moral problem for us if we fail to do that?"
Why should the US be involved in the affairs of far away countries about
which we know little?
Essentially United States security now pertains to the entire world, sometimes
the stretch is larger than on other occasions. We have found, for instance, in
Bosnia that although we thought our interests might not be involved after
300,000 people had died and Europe was becoming unraveled, they were. So the
question is always at what point should intervention occur.
Some people could say that when President Clinton formed his administration
he inherited a Somalian mess. Is that fair?
No. President Clinton inherited all of the problems of the world that were left
over. Somalia was hardly among the more difficult ones, and it was among those
that he really did not address in the campaign, perhaps mercifully. He
addressed China and Bosnia and Haiti, all in ways that ultimately were
inappropriate, but Somalia was there, even if unaddressed.
Did the administration have an overall view about how to handle Somalia, or
did they just hope it would go away?
The administration had no game plan for Somalia. One evolved however, largely
through the United Nations and our Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who, along
with other nations, decided that this was a good time to try and work with the
five tribes, to try to bring about democracy, or at least some more rational
self-governance, and the UN resolutions in debate at that time moved in that
People sometimes talk about the "Mogadishu effect." In concrete terms, where
can we see that playing out?
The "Mogadishu effect" was played out in Haiti, but even more tragically in
Bosnia, because there, after brave talk about the failures of the Bush
administration to confront evil, the Clinton administration really had no
answers, even though the President personally struggled with this problem, as I
know from personal conversation with him. In essence there were no plans and
there was genuine fear of using American troops or organizing NATO in the case
of Bosnia, or of organizing anybody in the case of Haiti and Somalia. This was
beyond the capacity of the administration and its diplomacy at that time.
How do you think the world perception of the US was affected by the sight of
the US fleet withdrawing from Haiti?
The initial effect of the Haiti decision was disastrous in terms of the
confidence of other countries in the United States and particularly personally
with regard to President Clinton's leadership. Other countries wished that
somehow America could take leadership, but were very fearful of what we were in
for in this new administration.
What about the question of sending or sacrificing American lives in order to
attain foreign policy objectives? How far do you go?
The Mogadishu incident dramatically indicated that Americans were not tolerant
of losing American lives, and grossly intolerant if it appeared that American
leadership had no idea of what we were doing, and why they were lost and what
sort of control we had. So one thing that came quickly from Mogadishu was to
say if ever again we are involved with American troops, America will be in
command. Now some argue that Americans were in command in a way, but that was
not the perception of the public or of the Congress at that point, so therefore
the multinational, multilateral idea in which you could share this with the UN
command or with someone else, even a NATO, did not sell and very rapidly. This
left the Clinton administration with few options, because the Clinton people
did not want to use American force unilaterally and the American people did not
want Americans at risk with others in command.
Is there a perception in some parts of the world that all you've got to do
is kill what ever it takes -- half a dozen, a dozen Americans, preferably an
American women soldier -- and the US will pull out of any commitment?
Clearly some nations, including Saddam Hussein and Iraq had an impression, long
before the Clinton administration, that American tolerance for casualties was
very low. Saddam miscalculated and at the same time we were very fortunate and
very skillful to evade having casualties in Iraq, but it led to a situation in
which the American tolerance for casualties perhaps became even less because,
having anticipated that surely in combating Saddam Hussein we would lose
thousands, maybe tens of thousands of American lives, and the fact is that we
lost only a few hundred, many through accidents there, Americans said, "We
really want to leave it at that," in essence. Haiti did not seem to be worth it
-- Somalia likewise -- or other adventures that people might have thought
Was there also a failure to explain to the American people why the troops
were really in Somalia?
Yes, the Bush administration at least rationalized that we had troops in to
feed people. The Clinton administration was never able to rationalize the so
called "nation building" business or a reconciliation of the five tribes, made
no attempt to do that. It's a very sophisticated problem; we had inappropriate
forces there to do that, there was no budget to send other forces, nor a plan
or rationalization really to do that which needed to be done, if you were going
to effect "nation building."
You said earlier that the Clinton administration had no really clear view
about how to use or deploy military force. Were you critical at the time or
with hindsight at the decision to get Aidid, to personalize the operation into
a sort of glorified policing operation?
Well, the Clinton administration really began to think of foreign policy in
terms of policing, in terms of re-arranging the deck of political affairs, and
less in terms of military combat, and some might say that that is appropriate
given the struggles in the world that we now see, but it was only appropriate
if you explain it to the American people or the Congress first. Essentially,
[and] even to this day in the Congress, there were many who were involved in
our Armed Services Committee who see defense as defense, that means defense of
our continent here.... If you want to try something else out for size, this
requires at least some explanation, some salesmanship, and some demonstration
of confidence as to how this furthers American interests.
Specifically going back to Mogadishu, there is some kind of debate as to
whether Aidid should have been, as it were, outlawed. The UN passed a
resolution saying "take care of the people responsible for the ambush of the
Pakistani soldiers," but didn't specifically name Aidid. This was interpreted
to be Aidid. Was it wise to go after Aidid or would it have been wiser to
engage him in some sort of talks or negotiation?
It's easy to think about the Aidid situation in retrospect. My own judgment is
if Aidid was the object, the forces required to subdue Aidid were entirely
inappropriate, and that's the military mistake. The thought that with whoever
might be there left over from the humanitarian operation, a rearrangement of
power could occur with people who are very skillful as survivors was a
Do you feel that the Clinton administration gave the Somalia question the
attention it deserved?
No, the Clinton administration gave virtually no attention publicly to Somalia.
Privately some members of the administration must have worried about this
predicament, but hoped that it would not intrude upon the domestic agenda that
was before the country. The President had widely celebrated statements --"it's
the economy, stupid" -- [that] meant that in other words [what was important
was] the domestic agenda, the rearrangement of the budget, the tax
questions.... Somalia was now on the back burner, it was off the spectrum, and
this is why, when it arose in the horrible form of an American being dragged in
Mogadishu, that it was especially vivid, because it was totally unexpected by a
public that was fastened along with the President on economic domestic
This shouldn't have come as a surprise to people within the administration,
because after all they had taken the decision to commit elite forces to
Mogadishu, to try and seize Aidid and take him out of the picture.
When I was involved at the UN and back and forth in Washington... I can't
recall in any testimony that I saw here in the Congress that would have
outlined to us what was occurring, what the risk might be. It was off the
spectrum, and the whole basis was a fairly low key operation [that] would not
intrude upon the main show, which was the domestic economic situation.
It's interesting you say that you weren't picking up the sense that the
situation in Somalia was deteriorating badly. You're particularly concerned
[with] foreign affairs; you were a known authority on them, and you weren't
picking up any kind of reports or feeling that the situation was deteriorating
badly, because there were reports being written by NGOs and people like that
saying that if something wasn't done soon, something really explosive was going
to happen, and these reports were being written and circulated in July.
Well, persons like myself read some of these reports and read press accounts,
certainly in the free press in this country was there talk about it, but I'm
talking about authoritative government officials who wanted appropriations of
money, authority, to do things. In other words, there was an assumption that
all of what we were doing in Somalia flowed from the Bush humanitarian feeding
operation, with left over troops or whoever might be in the area.
One of the things that makes some of the families and parents of the young
men that were killed in Mogadishu the most angry and bitter is the idea that
somehow the lives were wasted, that the administration wasn't really thinking
about what it was doing, it wasn't a proper commitment, it wasn't thought
through. What would you say to those families?
Well, the families of those who were lost have a legitimate grievance. They are
not alone in believing the administration had not thought through the
implications, but even more particularly applied appropriate force, appropriate
people who could do an operation of either seizing Aidid or rearranging the
deck of Somalian politics. In other words, again and again we got back to the
fact that it's not only the goal but it's the means, the organization, and the
confidence level in terms of chain of command. All of these things were missing
in that situation.
What in your judgment is the lesson, or big lessons, that come out of this
whole sad affair?
Essentially, the foreign policy [conduct] of the Clinton administration should
have been one of knowing that we were the most powerful country in the world,
that we have national interests and objectives, and that we want to apply the
proper force and/or diplomacy to this [or that] leader. If we had approached
any [situation,] including Somalia in that form, we might have quickly decided
that Somalia was not going to be reorganized very adeptly by us, or we might
have decided that we were going to reorganize Somalia even if it was almost an
American colony for a period of time until people got their act straight. But
to do that we needed to apply the proper resources which included military
force and appropriations and public confidence -- in other words a vote in the
Congress that Somalia must change. There was no such declaration, there was no
such debate; the only votes on Somalia were ones of how quick we get out, after
Mogadishu occurred, how rapidly we cut our losses.
So the President started on the wrong foot, having criticized George Bush for
the lack of humanitarian sentiment, a tense area with regard to humanitarian
control and, in China and in Bosnia and so forth. Then it was unfortunately a
quick departure to forget all of that, head to the domestic economy and get
derailed in Mogadishu and finally end up with a country that was dismayed as to
whether we know what we are doing. In fairness, the administration tried to
recover ground in recent years and has made some policy decisions that are in
much better shape, but in that particular first year it was a disaster.
Would you say that the new Clinton administration felt comfortable with the
application of military power to foreign affairs?
The Clinton administration was not comfortable with the use of military power,
and simply hoped it wouldn't have to be used, or if it did, then it would be
shared in responsibility with others, and that there might be some overall
legitimacy through the United Nations or some international command.
Why did it want to share these responsibilities?
The Clinton administration didn't want to spend money on military affairs, it
wanted to downsize its military budget as a major way of trying to bring along
economic planning that it felt was important. They were uncomfortable, I
suspect, with some individual persons and plans that were left over, and wanted
to put an imprint on the military.