Somalia Policy Under Clinton

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Somalia Policy Under Clinton


This paper argues about the Somalia policy under Clinton. During the closing weeks of the Bush Administration, Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger quietly flew to New York to confer with UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali. Eagleburger had to make two trips before Boutros-Ghali got the message, which was that the 28,000 U.S. troops Mr. Bush was sending to Somalia would be there only as long as it took to get relief supplies flowing to starving Somalis. The Secretary General had a more ambitious mission in mind. He wanted the U.S., as one senior Bush aide recalls, "to stick around until the UN had the whole thing stabilized." Mr. Bush, however, was keen to have the U.S. forces out by inauguration day. While Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell had warned him that might be impossible, Mr. Bush was very clear about keeping the mission focused and brief. "The point is," said the Bush aide, "we knew what we were not going to do." As things have turned out, what the Bush Administration knew it was not going to do is precisely what the Clinton Administration was gradually lured into doing. It is what led to the disastrous October 3 raid in which 17 Americans were killed or fatally wounded and which turned public opinion against Mr. Clinton more emphatically than anything else in his Presidency. (Tripodi, pp.10-20)


It was typical of Mr. Bush that he had sent a broad force to accomplish a narrow mission in a short time. His experience under a series of Republican Presidents had left him with strong views about the use of military force. The central conviction of his Presidency was that American power was a force for good in the world and that a President should not shrink from applying it. However, Mr. Bush agreed with General Powell that the amount of force used should be not merely adequate, but overwhelming. That, he believed, made for short missions with success guaranteed and casualties minimized. It is a lesson that Mr. Clinton only now seems to be learning. The day after the debacle in Mogadishu, he said ruefully, "None of this happened when we had 28,000 people there."

To understand the labyrinthine complexity of Somali life, it is valuable to review Somalia's history since two former British and Italian colonies united to form an independent state in 1960. The new nation operated as a republic at first, but the political life of the new country became increasingly fragmented among a number of clan-- based political parties, which Catherine Besteman writes "drew support from a patronage system well maintained by massive injections of foreign aid." (Mwakikagile, pp. 109-132)

In 1969 the republic was overthrown by General Mohammed Siyad Barre, who, with the support of the army and backed by the Soviet Union, set up a Leninist-style Communist state based on "scientific socialism." Consolidating state power and seeking a nationalist unity based on social equality, Barre worked to abolish "tribalism" and clan distinctions. This remaking of society ...
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