interviews: senator richard lugar

Senator Lugar (R-Indiana) is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A US Senator for 18 years, he is the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a widely acknowledged expert in the field of foreign policy. In 1996 he also made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican Presidential nomination. For years, Mr. Lugar criticized the Clinton administration for not using military force to separate the warring factions in Bosnia, and supported the US intervention in Somalia.

Why did President Bush make the decision to get the US involved in Somalia?

President Bush believed that the United States could save a million lives, that starvation on a wide scale was going to occur in Somalia without our intervention, or someone's intervention. It was Christmas season, it was a time of compassion throughout the world and his own leadership led him to believe that was the right choice.

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 direction.

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 about.

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 miscalculation.

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 success.

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.

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