Glenn Greenwald, lefty fabulist extraordinaire, brings his story-telling talents to the question of whether Bill Clinton's debacle in Somalia emboldened Osama Bin Laden.
My post this morning on Salon concerns the accusation voiced this weekend by Chris Wallace in his Fox News interview with President Clinton (a favorite accusation of neoconservatives) that Clinton "emboldened" Al Qaeda when he withdrew American troops from Somalia as soon as we suffered casualties, which (so the neoconservative mythology contends) led Osama bin Laden to believe that we were weak and could be defeated.
Pardon me, it is "neoconservative mythology" that Osama was emboldened by Somalia? Well then, based on this interview, Osama must be a neocon, yes?
After a few blows, [the United States] forgot all about those titles and rushed out of Somalia in shame and disgrace, dragging the bodies of its soldiers. America stopped calling itself world leader and master of the new world order, and its politicians realized that those titles were too big for them and that they were unworthy of them. I was in Sudan when this happened. I was very happy to learn of that great defeat that America suffered, so was every Muslim....
The gist of Greenwald's argument is that following the Black Hawk Down debacle in Oct 1993, Clinton's conservative critics wanted to abandon Somali immediately. Clinton, however, insisted that the immediate Cut and Run would make America appear weak. Clinton's proposal amounted to Cut and Walk: here is the description provided by PBS in 1995:
Oct 7, 1993: Clinton's response: withdraw troops
President Clinton decides to cut his losses. He sends substantial combat troops as short term reinforcements, but declares that American troops are to be fully withdrawn from Somalia by March 31. The hunt for Aidid is abandoned, and US representatives are sent to resume negotiations with the warlord. Two weeks later, in a letter to President Clinton, General Garrison accepts full responsibility for what happened in the battle.
I'm just guessing, but apparently that charade did not exactly terrify Osama Bin Laden.
Mr. Greenwald builds at least part of his pro-Clinton case on the use of selective excerpts. For example, the Times story noted below cited Bob Dole as a Senate leader of the group supporting the President's plan to stay an additional six face-saving months in Somalia. However, Greenwald gave us this snippet to make his contra-historical argument that Dole was in the Cut and Run contingent:
I think it is clear to say from the meeting we had earlier with--I do not know how many Members were there--45, 50 Senators and half the House of Representatives, that the administration is going to be under great pressure to bring the actions in Somalia to a close.
Oh, please. Let's go with a longer excerpt, shall we?
I think it is clear to say from the meeting we had earlier with--I do not know how many Members were there--45, 50 Senators and half the House of Representatives, that the administration is going to be under great pressure to bring the actions in Somalia to a close. It is up to the administration to give us a plan--a plan--not a U.N. plan, an American plan, that will stress American interests because I do think if we just say, `OK, we are out of there,' and everybody packs up and goes home, we place American hostages in danger, of course. We also, I think, would jeopardize anything else we might be involved in from this time for the next 5 or 10 years.
As to Mr. Greenwald's other excerpts, his links are not supported by the LOC software. Folks who want to double-check him can go to this page, then select the 103rd Congress, the specific Senator in question, and try a search word like "Somalia".
And I have a question - are any of the Senators on offer really "neocons", as per the Greenwald vision? In the interview Clinton focused on "conservatives", which could certainly include the isolationist wing of the Republican Party. The names we are given are Kay Bailey Hutchison, Dirk Kempthorne (my go-to guy on darn near every issue), Bob Dole (dinged!), and Jesse Helms.
Now, Clinton's observation was that his "plan" in Somalia was opposed by conservatives. Yes it was, but... it was also opposed by liberals. In an post decrying "historical revisionism", one might have thought that Greenwald would want to bring clarity to that point. Instead, we get this from Greenwald:
...it was primarily conservatives in Congress -- mostly Republican Senators and some conservative Southern Democrats -- who were demanding that American troops be withdrawn immediately...
For support, Greenwald offers this snippet of reporting from Tom Friedman:
As hundreds of additional United States troops with special weapons and aircraft began heading to Somalia, a wave of hostility toward the widening operation swept Congress. . . . But Mr. Aspin and Mr. Christopher were besieged by skeptical lawmakers, who scorched them with demands for a clear road map for an exit from Somalia, coupled with bitter complaints that the policy goals were unclear or unrealistic.
Probing behind the ellipsis, JH Hanes found this (emphasis added):
As hundreds of additional United States troops with special weapons and aircraft began heading to Somalia, a wave of hostility toward the widening operation swept Congress. The opposition led the White House to send Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Capitol Hill to try to calm critics from the left and right of both parties and to beg lawmakers for additional time to draw up a new policy.
But Mr. Aspin and Mr. Christopher were besieged by skeptical lawmakers, who scorched them with demands for a clear road map for an exit from Somalia, coupled with bitter complaints that the policy goals were unclear or unrealistic.
On the left I have found Russ Feingold and Paul Simon in the Cut and Run crowd (to be fair, Simon may be better placed as a "Cut and Walk" advocate). As to whether Clinton's opposition was "primarily" conservatives, the jury is out.
CUT AND RUN v. CUT AND WALK: Let's be crystal clear - Congress was not debating a strong response (e.g., send more troops and capture Aideed) versus a weak response (Cut and Run). Instead, Congress was debating a weak response (end offensive military action and re-open talks with Aideed) versus a weaker response (pick up our prisoners and leave.) The Clinton plan did not impress PBS and it did not impress Osama Bin Laden.
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH: The lesson I took from Somalia is that the US won't fight if its vital interests are not at stake. Apparently the lesson Osama took is that the US won't fight at all.
A QUESTION ANSWERED: Per Greenwald, John Kerry supported Bill Clinton's extended troop commitment in Somalia. I can't wait to read Kerry's speech just to see his answer to the question "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
And having read through his speech, here is Tall John's concluding sentence:
I think the President's plan, as currently outlined, will allow us to step aside.
THE DOG ATE MY CUT AND RUNNERS: A software glitch or operator error has swallowed this original update, but briefly let me hit the highlights - Russ Feingold was "Cut and Run". Carl Levin, Nancy Kassebaum, and Dianne Feinstein were "Stand and Fight". Paul Simon called for a bridge over troubled waters, i.e., a resumption of the political process and a de-emphasis of a military solution - let's call that "Cut and Walk".
The Times has more about Clinton's Cut and Walk approach:
U.S. Is Reported to Be Seeking An Informal Truce With Somali
The White House's special representative in Somalia said today that the United States was seeking an informal truce in its undeclared war with Gen. Mohammed Farah Aidid that would make it possible to begin withdrawing American troops by early next year.
...Spelling out some of the implications of the Administration's new emphasis on a political settlement, Mr. Oakley said the United States would not engage in any mission to arrest the general, even though he remains on a United Nations "wanted" list for his forces' alleged role in an ambush in June in which 24 Pakistani peacekeepers were killed.
And a United States commander said today that he had ordered his troops not to take any actions that might be considered offensives against Somalis.
Mr. Oakley said an independent commission should determine whether General Aidid's forces had carried out the ambush of the Pakistanis. The envoy thus endorsed a proposal made by General Aidid himself in a letter last summer to former President Jimmy Carter.
...The envoy, making his first extensive comments since he arrived on Sunday, said he had made some progress in persuading supporters of General Aidid that President Clinton was genuine in his desire to shift the focus of the United States military mission away from the faction leader.
...Mr. Oakley also said his talks with Somali leaders left him optimistic that a United States helicopter pilot held captive here since Oct. 3 might be released this week. He stressed that he had made no deals for the release of the prisoner, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant of the Army.
...Mr. Oakley said his objective in Mogadishu was to restore the status that prevailed in May, before the United States turned over military control here to the United Nations. Since then, 28 Americans have been killed in action as the United Nations stepped up it campaign against General Aidid.
Specifically, the attack on the Pakistani peacekeepers set off the bloody undeclared war here as United Nations forces tried to hunt down General Aidid and to carry out a Security Council resolution that those responsible for the killings be captured.
The portrayal by Mr. Oakley of the new restraint toward General Aidid was echoed by both a top United States commander and a senior United Nations official.
The American officer, Brig. Gen. Greg Gile, who commands most United States troops here who are not under United Nations command, said that over the past week, his soldiers had been ordered to restrain from any operations that could be considered as an offensives.
"What we are doing differently is, we're trying to allow the political process to take the lead," General Gile said. He said the 1,300 personnel in his "quick reaction force" of infantrymen and helicopters had halted its searches of buildings suspected of being weapons caches or sites used by General Aidid's forces as bases for mortar attacks. Rethinking by the U.N.
See, what Clinton did with his forceful commitment to Six Months And Out was make it clear that if you killed American troops in combat the consequences would be swift and unpleasant - long talks with Presidential envoys, letters from Jimmy Carter, and hanging over everything: the threat of a visit from Madeleine Albright.
How Osama could ever have interpreted this as weakness will be an enduring puzzle.
THE METAPHOR MANGLER: Yes, sailors weep when they see "Cut and Walk", but I have moved on. Dot Tom.