We wish Bill Clinton a quiet retirement, if only he’d return the favor. But when the former President distorts history for the sake of political advantage, someone has to clean up afterward.
Responding to Bush Administration suggestions that some of today’s corporate scandals first got out of hand under his watch, Mr. Clinton recently shot back: “These people ran on responsibility, but as soon as you scratch them they go straight to blame. Now, you know, I didn’t blame his [President Bush’s] father for Somalia when we had that awful day memorialized in ’Black Hawk Down.’ I didn’t do that.”
We can understand Mr. Clinton wanting to defend himself, but as usual he can’t get his own facts straight. His introduction of Somalia here is one of those breathtakingly brazen attempts to dodge responsibility for which Mr. Clinton is justly famous. Here’s the real history:
President Bush the Elder sent U.S. forces into Somalia in December 1992 to aid the United Nations in relieving a massive famine. In May of 1993, four months into his term, President Clinton declared that mission accomplished and pulled out most of the U.S. forces. In a speech on the South Lawn to associate himself with the effort, he extolled the decision to intervene: “If all of you who served had not gone, it is absolutely certain that tens of thousands would have died by now.” It was a “successful mission,” he said, and “proved yet again that American leadership can help to mobilize international action …”
But back in Somalia, with no U.S. deterrent, Somalia’s warlords began fighting again. After a series of bloody attacks on U.N. peacekeepers, Mr. Clinton launched a new mission: In August 1993, he sent in a force of Rangers and Special Forces units to capture the brutal warlord Mohammad Farrah Aidid and restore order.
That force asked for heavy armor — in the form of Abrams tanks and Bradley armored vehicles — as well as the AC-130 gunship, but the Clinton Administration denied those requests. On October 3 on a mission to pick up Aidid, two Black Hawks were unexpectedly shot down; in the ensuing urban gun battle, 18 American soldiers were killed and another 73 injured
Many military experts believe that if the U.S. forces had had armor, fewer would have died. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin resigned two months after Somalia, having acknowledged that his decision on the armor had been an error. A 1994 Senate Armed Services Committee investigation reached the same conclusion. But perhaps the most poignant statement came from retired Lieutenant Colonel Larry Joyce, father of Sergeant Casey Joyce, a Ranger killed in Mogadishu: “Had there been armor … I contend that my son would probably be alive today …”
Mr. Clinton’s responsibility in Somalia doesn’t stop there. Despite the mistakes that October day, Aidid had been struck a blow. The U.S. military, with 18 dead, wanted nothing more than to finish what it had started. Mr. Clinton instead aborted the mission. The U.S. released the criminals it had captured that same day at such great cost, and the U.N., lacking U.S. support, was powerless to keep order. Somalia remains a lawless, impoverished nation. Worse, the terrorists of al Qaeda interpreted the U.S. retreat from Somalia as a sign of American weakness that may have convinced them we could be induced to retreat from the Middle East if they took their attacks to the U.S. homeland.
Those are the facts. The reason Mr. Clinton can’t blame the events of “Black Hawk Down” on President Bush’s father is because those events had nothing to do with him. They were Mr. Clinton’s responsibility, and his alone.