interviews: ambassador robert oakley

Oakley was US Ambassador to Somalia between Nov 1992 and May 1993. Chosen by President Bush as Special Presidential Envoy in November of 1992, he was involved in the first phase of US military intervention--offering security for humanitarian relief operations. In the first weeks of UN intervention (Operation Restore Hope), Oakley declared a public truce with Ali Mahdi and Aidid. Oakley returned to Somalia in October 1993 to negotiate a truce with Aidid and secure the release of captured US Ranger Michael Durant.

Why did President Bush choose to get involved in Somalia?

I think President Bush had a strong moral commitment to do something about this situation in Somalia. Since television was on to it ... you saw hundreds of thousands of people dying slowly of starvation disease caused by a combination of famine, drought and civil war. The United Nations had been trying to do something about it in a very slow, as it turned out, ineffectual way. The time came when[during] internal deliberations within the United States government, the Pentagon came forward and said to the White House, 'Look if you want to save another 300,000-500,000 people dying slowly of starvation over the next six months, it's going to take a large military operation along with a humanitarian operation, and the United States are the only ones to put it together quickly enough to do the job. The United Nations just doesn't operate that way. We don't want to do this, but we will do it if you deem it advisable.' And the president said 'Let's do it, let's round up some allies and see what we can do. Let's have the UN endorse it and let's go,' and so they went.

The phrase 'New World order' was branded about this time--the Gulf War was a victory and the Cold War was over. What do you think the New World Order could have been?

It was very obviously true of candidate Clinton, just like it was true of President Bush, ... the United Nations mov[ed] with the support of the Soviets and United States to solve number of the regional conflicts in Angola, Mozambique, Cambodia, Afghanistan Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, that had been going on for a long time. Remember the Soviets really brought the United States and the United Nations into solving these disputes.

We have a history of success during 1991-92 of the UN helping solve some long-festering regional disputes, wars that had been caught up in the Cold War, as well as the five permanent members of the Security Council working very well together to get the Iraqis out of Kuwait. I think all these things came together and produced a feeling of maybe now the Security Council can actually do what Franklin Roosevelt thought he could do. What Woodrow Wilson thought the League of Nations could do.

Which was?

[To] be sort of the guarantor of world order and also do something about these small conflicts. Stop them before they get started. Certainly stop them after they get started.

With these problems in the world solved, there was one little problem still left over for the Clinton Administration. How did they handle that?

Well, the Clinton Administration had decided--partly because they believed I'm sure, and partly because they felt it was good politics--to criticize Bush for not having done enough to involve the United Nations in Somalia ... but when the [Clinton Administration] took over, you had a brand new administration. The principal officials had not served in the U.S. government or any other government position for at least 12 years, if at all. They were full of enthusiasm and idealism, which is nice, and Somalia appeared to be going well; therefore, it appeared to be sort of the epitome of what they would like to see the United Nations do. On the surface it looked like it was going to be success.

Part of the background to all of this is that just when the new Clinton administration needed the best advice from the military, relations soured. Can you discuss the relationship between the new administration and the military?

Somalia got caught up in the basic problems of the poor relationship between our people in uniform and the new Clinton administration. There was sort of a feeling--without having really seen what President Clinton and his administration was going to do in practice--that they were going to slash the defense budget, that they didn't care about the people in uniform, that the military was going to be pushed back into a place of secondary importance and perhaps dishonor, as it had been after Vietnam. And there was a very strong feeling of resentment on the part of people in uniform.

And the question of gays in the military gays came up, which is a very, very sensitive issue. I think the administration did not fully appreciate the strength of feeling about that and other issues within the military. The people in uniform--and you could feel it palpably, tangibly, fiercely as far away in Somalia, I could feel it in talking to my colleagues in the U.S. military out there--they felt very plainly that they were being accorded a secondary role and were not appreciated by the Clinton administration.

Around this time, are relationships between the UN, the contingents and the local people deteriorating?

Well, the U.S. military formally relinquished responsibility for the military side of operations in Somalia to the United Nations on the 4th of May. Even before that, the situation had become a little bit more tense because Aidid had never made any secrets of his animosity towards Boutros-Ghali, the Secretary General of the UN. And [Boutros-]Gali had some very strong negative feelings about Aidid, which had developed when he was still the Deputy Foreign Minister of Egypt and they were supporting Barre and Aidid was the principal opponent that helped to overthrow him.

Certainly in my talks with Aidid he made it clear he didn't trust Boutros-Ghali in particular and the United Nations in general. We kept saying, 'You have to work with him.' But when my friend Admiral Howe came out as the UN special representative ... tensions began to build between the United Nations and Aidid, in particular, and the United Nations leadership felt Aidid was not behaving in ... a democratic way. And I think that this was shared by the Clinton administration ... they began to look at this man and say 'Well he looks more like Saddam Hussein than he does a democrat and we don't like the things he is doing politically.' This gradually increased the tension until you had a military confrontation in early June between the Pakistanis and Aidid's people.

There is also a slightly deteriorating situation on the ground. Are there incidents between Rangers and contingents and local civilians? Were you aware of this?

There was a gradual deterioration, but I think that the administration on the top level did not fully appreciate the significance of what was going on. They didn't appreciate that this was something that could be very powerful. They felt like, thus far, there hadn't been anything serious; therefore, they didn't have to look at it too carefully.

And I think that on the part of the U.S. military there was a feeling that the UN is in command now and we don't want to come back and take this thing over. Furthermore, we don't have very good dialogue with our political leadership within our own country so we won't forcefully intervene and say 'something has to change.' We'll just hope that it doesn't get too bad.

There were serious incidents involving the Belgians, the Canadians, the Italians and at least one incident involving an American soldier where he shot a boy for apparently trying to steal his sunglasses.

The environment in Somalia was always tense, because the Somalis are very xenophobic, aggressive people. So the trick that we discovered--at least during our period--was to maximize communication with them. To show firmness. But at the same time ... to demonstrate that our humanitarian programs were beneficial, that we weren't there to dictate to them, [but] to give them a certain amount of latitude. On the other hand, if they stepped out of line and challenge us militarily, then we had to hit back ... hard, swiftly, and then immediately resume the dialogue.

We met with Ali Mahdi and Aidid's political military leadership everyday for the entire time we were there. We made sure we did that even after the military incident. We'd resume the dialogue and say 'Let's treat this as a passing event, not as the beginning of a whole sequence of escalating events.' We understood the need of this--we had a radio station, we had a newspaper [in the] Somalia language. These things disappeared when the UN came in and [they] didn't really understand the need to maintain the dialogue, to maintain the communications and it was slowly degenerating into hostility.

But the feelings were very nasty and we would rotate our a people constantly to make sure that they retained the discipline and that they didn't respond to taunts and provocations in the way in which some events [involving] the Canadians, the Belgians and the Italians did. We were very careful to do that. One Marine corporal shot a Somali as he was running away after stealing his sunglasses. [The Marine] was immediately court-martialed and convicted ... and we made sure that this example was understood by the rest of our forces.

The situation between Aidid and the UN was going from bad to worse and Aidid needed to cease any foreign intervention, that was not in his interest. Why is that?

Aidid never made any secret of his feelings that he was destined to be the pragmatic ruler of Somalia, because of the role he played in getting rid of the previous dictator. We had tried to work with him and the United Nations had tried to work with him to construct some sort of political process that would allow the Somalis to decide for themselves. But as this political process began to evolve, Aidid became more assertive particularly vis-à-vis the United Nations, which he felt was somewhat weaker and also less even-handed than the United States had been. So [he] began to push politically. The United Nations began to push back a little bit. The friction developed.

They [UN] also weren't very careful in the way in which they handled things politically because when they decided to inspect his weapons storage compound, they sent a Pakistani patrol up there without much warning. In the past when we've done this, we were very careful to get each person's permission to agree upon a time and a date and to have escorts so that we didn't touch [off] an unnecessary conflict. In this case the UN military side without consulting the UN political side and said 'Go do it' and sent a cursory letter to some mid-level official the night before saying it was going to happen and when they got there all hell broke loose.

Another way of looking at it is that there was the incident at the radio station and simultaneously--and apparently coordinated--they gunned down a bunch of Pakistanis who were handing out food. Doesn't that sound like a deliberate provocation aimed to cause a confrontation?

What laid behind the confrontation at the armed weapon storage depot and elsewhere in the city between Aidid's forces and the Pakistanis was the belief by Aidid that the United Nations was going to close his radio station as an effort to put him out of business politically. So as far as he was concerned, this was a 'causus belli.' He was going to react very strongly. The radio station happened to be in this particular weapon storage compound, so when the Pakistanis went to the weapon storage compound, the word went around the city to all of Aidid's people, the United Nations have seized the radio station. They responded very violently in a number of different places and said 'OK we've had it with the United Nations. We're going to hit back' and indeed that was really the approximate cause of the later difficulties.

You see it as spontaneous combustion rather than Aidid making the decision to give the UN a bloody nose?

Aidid had not decided, to the best we know, prior to the Pakistani entry into that weapon storage compound and radio station, to attack the United Nations. The United Nations had a committee ... which published its report later on that said the United Nations were justified under the Security Council, inspecting the weapons storage compound. That they showed very bad judgment in doing what they were authorized to do, because without knowing that, they touched off this confrontation. It might have happened at some other time and some other place, somewhere later on, perhaps because of the animosity that was building. But it's not a deliberate plan to attack the United Nations at that time in Mogadishu.

Following the deaths of the Pakistanis at the weapons compound and at the feeding site that day, how was the UN resolution drafted?

As best I have been able to figure out, and I was not in government at that stage, this was [an] understandable reaction because the United Nations, the United States and other governments were worried. There were peace keepers in Bosnia, in Cambodia, in Africa, and Central America. The feeling was that if peace keepers were allowed to be shut down like this they would be fair game everywhere. So one had to respond very forcefully.

The Pakistanis, of course, were very instrumental in pushing a resolution through the Security Council. Their people had been the ones killed in Somalia. Mrs. Albright felt very strongly about this. As best I can figure out, the resolution was drafted over a weekend between New York and the White House. And I'd say [it was] done in a hurry. General Powell tells people that the first thing he saw about the resolution, was when he read about it in the newspapers Monday morning. Therefore, the Pentagon was not properly brought into the loop in terms of measuring the consequences of this resolution which declared those responsible to be the enemy in Somalia. But the U.S. and Pakistan I think were the ones that really took the lead in putting this resolution together.

What did the resolution actually say?

[The] resolution said that those responsible for the attack upon the UN peace keepers should be found and punished in some way. It didn't say particularly who, didn't say how. But the import was very clearly one of Aidid's people.

Who actually decided who and how?

Well, later on this became apparent when the United Nations issued an a reward for Aidid, a reward of $25,000 which would double the insult. People said that if they'd made the reward in the amount of $1 million maybe somebody would have gotten him and turned him in. But $25,000 is an insult which doesn't get you very far.

Was this wise to personalize the conflict?

We worked very hard during the period we were in Somalia to avoid this sort of confrontation with any of the Somalia leaders, feeling that the best approach was to sort of whittle down their power slowly, not confront them directly.

We'd seen what happened in Lebanon when you confront someone directly, you became inadvertently a party to a civil war, therefore, you became their enemy, and even though they might appear to be primitive and not have sophisticated weapons, they could do you a lot of damage. And we'd been through the same thing in Vietnam and the U.S. generals and I had served in Lebanon, we'd served in Vietnam, we talked a lot during the first week or two about how to avoid these sort of traps.

I don't think there was much appreciation of the military consequences of entering into a conflict with one of the Somali factions. I think people over-estimated their military capabilities. At the same time I think they underestimated the political consequences, because Aidid, having been singled out by the United Nations and the United States and other governments as the enemy became, in the eyes of the Somali people, a hero. Because they are very xenophobic, and they reacted very strongly and would not allow foreigners to come in and single out one of their people even though they didn't like him, those who didn't like him began to rally to his defense, not just politically but he gained a lot of recruits and fighting against the United Nations in Mogadishu came in from other clans.

What were your reactions to what happened October 3rd?

When I learned of the events of October 3rd and 4th my feelings were of shock and of tragedy ... the United States lost a number of people killed and wounded ... but we killed and wounded an awful lot of Somalis and we seemed to be undoing everything that we had set out to achieve. And I was also shocked when I got a call from the White House, 'Please, we'd like to talk to you urgently about Somalia and where we go from here. I said 'OK, if there's anything I can do to help I'll try...'

And what did you do?

Well, I was plunged immediately into a meeting with the president, vice president, all of his senior advisors, where for most of the day we tried to figure out a new approach to dealing with the situation in Somalia that would be able somehow to preserve what was left of what had begun and at the same time, protect the United States and its own interests. I thought that Clinton came up with a fairly sensible damage control policy, which was then discussed with members of Congress, who felt it made sense, and then put it into practice.

Can you briefly sum up what that damage control policy was?

The new approach was to shift back to the political track. The United States was no longer going to go after Aidid militarily with these troops ... under U.S. command ... this of course produced a corresponding change over time in the attitude of the United Nations. But it was a decision taken by the president because he realized that, politically, the situation in this country was completely out of control. There was no longer any support for the U.S. to engage Somalis in combat as far as the U.S. public was concerned. The impact of Americans being dragged through the streets, a large number of Americans killed and wounded without any real explanation by the White House, in advance, of why we were there. The fact that the mission was no longer a humanitarian mission. That we were somehow engaged in a war and why this war was worthwhile meant that there was no support whatsoever for any sort of active operation, other than self defense military operations in Somalia.

You went out to Somalia with General Zinni and your were shocked by the bad relationships between the U.S. military and the Somalis.

Yes, General Zinni, [who] had been the deputy to General Johnson when we'd been there earlier, accompanied me when I went out to see if we could produce a durable cease fire with Aidid's people, to inform Aidid's people that we had shifted to a new approach and to see whether we could get Warrant Officer Durant and the Nigerian Officer released, who at that time were both being held prisoner. And both of us were quite shocked to see that the attitude of the U.S. military and the UN military also,was one of looking upon the Somalis as the enemy and if we'd got an excuse we'd shoot and shoot to kill, whereas before ... during the first phase of the operation, when the U.S. had the authority and the responsibility, we worked very hard on our troops and on the others who were out there as part of the coalition, to have an attitude of getting along with the Somalis as best one could, recogniz[ing] the situation was dangerous, we nevertheless tried to exercise a fair amount of restraint, together with the firmness in our dialogue. This had gone. The idea was they were bad and if we get the chance to kill them, then we'll kill them. The Somalis, of course, had come to the same feelings about the United States, instead of treating the United States and the United Nations forces with respect, even though they might not necessarily like them, they said if we get a chance to get them, we'll get them. So the whole thing reminded us very much of Vietnam and we said, what a tragedy, it seems to have broken down in terms of atmosphere, in terms of attitude on both sides, to such hostility.

On a personal level, how did you find Aidid?

He was a very complicated man. He said about himself one time in talking in me, 'I'm like Eisenhower, I'm a great general in time of war, I'm a great president in time of peace.' I said, 'Well peace has come Aidid, you have to stick to it.' But he had these two sides to his position. One was a fairly clever, almost intelligent political calculator. On the other hand, [one was a] very cunning man of violence. And you could see him sort of swinging back and forth and you did your best to keep him going on the peaceful track and to keep him from getting on to the violent track. You had to use a combination of pressure and persuasion to do that--it was always very volatile. I would treat him as if he were a vile of nitroglycerine that could go off in my hands, but you had to keep pushing him, you had to do it in a gentle way, you had to out-think him make him understand that to his advantage, play upon his pride rather than try to humiliate him and being all always alert to that sensitivity with the fact that he could flash and revert to violence.

How much of a tragedy was all this for the Somalis?

My own personal estimate is that there must have been 1,500 to 2,000 Somalis killed and wounded that day, because that battle was a true battle. And the Americans and those who came to their rescue, were being shot at from all sides ... a deliberate war battle, if you will, on the part of the Somalis. And women and children were being used as shields and some cases women and children were actually firing weapons, and were coming from all sides. Sort of a rabbit warren of huts, houses, alleys, and twisting and turning streets, so those who were trying to defend themselves were shooting back in all directions. Helicopter gun ships were being used as well as all sorts of automatic weapons on the ground by the U.S. and the United Nations. The Somalis, by and large, were using automatic rifles and grenade launchers and it was a very nasty fight, as intense as any almost any battle you would find.

A lot of women and children were killed. Did the Somalis make a big thing of this when you were over there.

They made a big thing about the loss of life, in general. They didn't make a big thing in talking to me about women and children ... General Zinni and I were the first ones to speak up and say 'We are very regretful of what's happened to your people, not just the fact that you'd done something to our people, but the fact that we'd caused so much carnage on the other side.' In our private conversations and what we had to say publicly, we made it very clear, where we stood at least, because this is one of those unavoidable things perhaps, but it was something indeed a tragedy for both sides.

Did the Italians have some sort of special relationship with Aidid and Somalis, given their colonial past?

The Italians had a special relationship with Somalia, there is no question about that. It had been an Italian colony and the Italians felt that they had a dominant role in Somalia. We were able to work out things fairly easily with the Italians because we had two very good Italian American generals--General Abuttey and General Zinni's great-grandfather had fought in the Italian army ... they were able to work things out military to military, but there were some political frictions. We were able to overcome that later when the Italian government looked at the situation and said 'We didn't send Italian troops to Somalia to engage in a war with the Somalis. We don't want to do that, we came down on a humanitarian mission.' So very early on, the Italians got orders to not go after Aidid or anyone else as the enemy and they began to sort of talk to Aidid on the side, while the United Nations as a whole was seeing Aidid more and more as an enemy and continuing to try and take down his weapon storage depots and things of this kind, after the 5th of June. So you had [it] going in two different directions.

Some of the territory officers briefed the Rangers that they were picking up radio transmissions between the Italian camp and Aidid and that every time the U.S. helicopters took off the Italians set off strobe lights as some sort of a signal. Is that news to you?

I didn't realize that. I wasn't there. But it wouldn't surprise me ...

If you have the Italians taking a more conciliatory attitude to Aidid, what would that mean to the Rangers?

... over time, [as] the other NATO forces, including the French, were no longer going to go after Aidid, the U.S. forces took more and more of the brunt and became more and more the point, if you will, of going after Aidid's people. That was before the Rangers and Delta force got there.

Later on, when the U.S. sent out a special mission--Task Force Ranger--with a specific purpose of going after Aidid, we were appalled to find that the others weren't with us. Now in [regards to] the attitude of the U.S. soldiers, well before a Task Force Ranger got there, they saw the Italians appearing to make their own private deals with Aidid's people, at the same time we saw [him as] the enemy. So you had a huge split between the U.S. and the UN forces, which contributed to the decisions by the Task Force Ranger to not tell the United Nations military anything that they were doing. Therefore, when the events of the October 3rd and 4th occurred, it was total surprise to the UN forces. Since the Italians were part of the UN higher command, there was feeling that if you told the UN something, it might get right back to Aidid, therefore you didn't tell them, which meant that the UN, from its point of view, was not able to provide any support to what the United States was doing, even if they'd been disposed to providing support.

In the aftermath of this terrible event in October people talked about the Mogadishu effect on US policy. How did it directly effect US foreign policy?

I think the first impact was tremendous reluctance on the part of the White House to send U.S. troops anywhere where they would be in danger. The first specific event that followed the situation of the tragedy ... in Mogadishu was when the [ship] was turned away from the dock in Port-au-Prince in the face of an angry mob, not an armed contingent of any kind. [There was] just a feeling of great reluctance to confront a nasty situation which might put American lives in danger because the tremendous amount of criticism which had come from the American public and the American Congress because it had not been explained to them why we had Americans in Somalia and why we were going to be put in danger.

I recall an earlier event, when we were protecting shipping in the Gulf during the Reagan administration in 1987, the SS Stalk was hit by two missiles, 37 sailors [were] killed and a large number wounded, but the U.S. people and Congress had been thoroughly consulted and warned of the danger; therefore, when the mission proceeded, there wasn't this sort of back-lash. The Reagan administration had made up its mind on what it wanted to do and they weren't going to be deterred, but they'd also done a very good job in explaining what they were going to do and why it was important. The Clinton administration had not done this sort of preparation; therefore, when Americans were killed, there was no basis for understanding it. There was a very negative reaction against it, and ... I think it contributed to our desire to keep American troops out of Bosnia. At the same time, we were critical of what the British, the French and the Dutch were doing on the ground, not implementing more forcefully these UN resolutions which the U.S. had played a part in drafting. We weren't going to send our troops down there on the ground because they might be in danger. And this part of the Somalia syndrome I think.

And Rwanda?

[There] was a very marked feeling in 1994, that the United States was not going to send its troops into Rwanda, and we didn't approve of the whole idea of the United Nations going into Rwanda. Of course the Belgians felt the same way, because they'd had a number of people killed in Rwanda of their own who'd been a part of their peace keeping force. There was a very strong feeling I think, on the part of most people, they weren't going to go into Rwanda. The French finally went, for a very specific mission which is somewhat controversial, but the United States wasn't going to have any part of sending its troops to Rwanda dispite the genocide. Now, of course, in retrospect we feel that we were remiss, that we should have done something at the time, but at the moment, the shock effect of Somalia was so strong that there was really no serious consideration given to sending U.S. troops into Rwanda.

Isn't it true that U.S. government officials had been briefed not to use words like genocide and holocaust because that would have triggered demand for action in Rwanda?

I think that's right, there was a feeling we want to stay away from this so we are not confronted with pressures to go in because if in that case--what do we do? We might send people in that would be killed and we'd be in the same situation we were in Somalia all over again.

Going back to the incident in Haiti, which was actually taped by news crews. What kind of signal does that send to the world, when the U.S. Navy backs off because there is a slightly irritated crowd on the docks in Haiti?

I think, in general, this ... excessive pre-occupational fear of any U.S. casualties sent a very negative signal to the world. It said 'Well, OK, all we have to do to get rid of the United States is kill two or three people and then we know they'll turn tail and run.' It's also hindered our commanders in the field because they have to put force protection, which is always the primary responsibility, but they have to give even more primacy and sometimes hampers them in their operations. I've heard a number of them say to me privately, 'We need to have a little bit more freedom to operate. We understand the need to protect our troops, but they can't be the primary mission. If the primary mission is to not to lose any casualties then we may as well as not go.' You can combine the two and you can do it prudently, and it has been done in the past, I think in Bosnia, things have changed, the United States forces are becoming somewhat bolder now, they've understood the situation better politically at home, it's better understood, and so things are beginning to change, but there was a period of several years there, when we excessively pre-occupied, with not taking any casualties, for fear that we would touch off a fire storm of criticism.

On a sort of philosophical level, why should the U.S. get involved in the troubles of far away countries, of which we know little?

I think that the United States and other countries, have to be prudent, in deciding where they want to intervene, in deciding what the reasonable objective should be for some sort of intervention. I think in almost all cases they will find that if the decision is sensible, that it can be done on a collective basis, it's a question of not being the world's policeman, but a question of collective maintenance of a degree of world stability and order.

I think the primary justification for the United States being involved in situations that are not clearly a matter of vital national interest is our responsibility as one of the leaders of the world community. To maintain a certain degree of stability and order. We've seen the world become much more interlinked economically as well as politically. Therefore we have a responsibility for maintaining a degree of order. And I think that that's in our moral interest... but also is in our real interests.

Of course, you disagree with the way things evolved at the beginning of 1992. But once the UN Resolution was passed, what would you've done if you had been the man on the spot like in Admiral Howe's position?

Once events deteriorated to the point where the UN Security Council Resolution was passed and Aidid was clearly the enemy even though it wasn't specified in the Resolution itself, it put everybody in an extremely difficult dangerous situation because confrontation was there. At that stage, I think myself, that cooler heads should have prevailed everywhere and one should have said, 'All right let's find ways of dealing with this situation other than military. On the other hand if indeed our orders from the Clinton administration, from the government of Italy, the government of France, from the security council, are to indeed go after Aidid, then we need military reinforcements and a lot them. It's one way or the other, but we can't take on this mission of going after Aidid with the military forces we have, which are clearly not able to do the job. We've lost the element of surprise, we've lost the element of superiority; therefore, we have to go one way or the other. And don't tell us to do something that we are not equipped to do.'

The same thing happened in Bosnia later on. The United Nations Security Council was telling the French, the British and the Dutch what they should do in Bosnia, but they weren't strong enough militarily to carry it out and this resulted in a disaster for the UN mission in Bosnia. I think that that's the dilemma that you are faced with and I think at that stage your civilian and your military commanders have to go back home and say 'Look we can't do it with the means at hand. Therefore if you want us to carry out this mission you have to give us the means to do it.'

Montgomery did ask for armor, why was he refused?

No. Montgomery asked for armor in order to better protect the U.S. forces that were out there, he didn't ask for armor in support of Task Force Ranger because that didn't really exist at the time he asked for armor. But again, in Washington, in New York and in the capitals of the countries who were providing troops, there wasn't full commitment to get out there and go after Aidid. There was a sort of political commitment in the Security Council, but there wasn't a commitment to provide those forces on the ground.

But you feel that should have never been your order anyway.

I think that it was a mistake. On the other hand, it was an understandable mistake, but if you are going to embark upon that course, you have to have the wherewithal to make good upon it. This is where I think the loss of experienced leadership in the civilian and military upper echelons United States became apparent because you remember the Weinberger power doctrine was to make sure that you know clearly what your objective is, that you have the military means to carry it out before you undertake any operation. And that was the way we went into Somalia, that's the way we later went into Haiti and that's the way we went into Bosnia. And I think that there was this sort of ambivalence which is the same thing that troubled us in Lebanon and Vietnam earlier and had been very costly to the United States. And I think that same ambivalence cropped up again during the Clinton administration perspective alone.

General Howe, our commander-in-chief for the central command, made it very clear that he thought the chances for getting at Aidid were very slim. He felt that there was one chance in four of being able to locate him ... so this whole idea of sending out the Rangers was suggested he said he thought it was the biggest mistake. He was eventually overruled because Washington felt we had to do something because we're getting periodic American causalities we have to find a way to respond and the best way to respond is to get rid of Aidid, so we'll send out this special unit that should be able to do the job.

Is it fair to say that all Somalis were opposed to the U.S. and UN intervention.

No, I think that most Somalis, even during the period of the tensions and conflict with Aidid's forces in the southern part of Mogadishu, still felt that the United States had done a wonderful thing for Somalia by stopping their civil war, by feeding them, by giving them medicine, by restoring them to a certain amount of health. The conflict was really centered in the southern part of Mogadishu, but Aidid was able to portray himself as a hero of Somalia. Therefore, within southern Mogadishu he became a hero and people who'd been opposed to him came to support him and actually came to fight along side of him. But I think overall the U.S. effort is still appreciated in Somalia.

In the end do you see the Mogadishu interventions as a success or a failure?

In the end I think that it was a success. If you are just talking about the effects upon the situation that prevailed in the fall of 1992 in Somalia when President Bush took the decision to go in. The large scale civil war stopped. Large-scale death from famine disease has stopped. The Somalis are more or less able to feed themselves, the country is more or less at peace. There are occasional conflicts between clans--they have gone back to this pre colonial system of having each clan in control of a chunk of territory without a central government. They may eventually come back to a central government, but if they don't have one for the moment--it's their choice and it seems to work for them.

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