I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Who wanted to "cut and run" from Somalia?

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.

President Clinton's response was refreshingly aggressive because the premise of the question is so patently and outrageously false. Clinton responded: "They were all trying to get me to withdraw from Somalia in 1993 the next day after we were involved in 'Black Hawk down,' and I refused to do it and stayed six months and had an orderly transfer to the United Nations."

As I document in the Salon post, that defense, if anything, is a profound understatement, because it was Clinton (along with Senate Democrats like John Kerry) who wanted to stay in Somalia because a precipitous withdrawal would be panicky and weak, but it was primarily conservatives in Congress -- mostly Republican Senators and some conservative Southern Democrats -- who were demanding that American troops be withdrawn immediately, and were even threatening to cut off all funds for our troop deployment.

My analysis is set forth in the Salon post. Following are the full excerpts providing the factual support for that analysis:

GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, speech on the Senate floor October 6, 1993

I supported our original mission, which was humanitarian in nature and limited in scope. I can no longer support a continued United States presence in Somalia because the nature of the mission is now unrealistic and because the scope of our mission is now limitless. . . . Mr. President, it is no small feat for a superpower to accept setback on the world stage, but a step backward is sometimes the wisest course. I believe that withdrawal is now the more prudent option.

GOP Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, speech on the Senate floor, October 6, 1993

Mr. President, the mission is accomplished in Somalia. The humanitarian aid has been delivered to those who were starving. The mission is not nation building, which is what now is being foisted upon the American people. The United States has no interest in the civil war in Somalia and as this young soldier told me, if the Somalis are now healthy enough to be fighting us, then it is absolutely time that we go home. . . It is time for the Senate of the United States to get on with the debate, to get on with the vote, and to get the American troops home.

GOP Minority Leader Sen. Robert Dole, Senate speech, October 5, 1993

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. . . .

GOP Sen. Jesse Helms, Senate floor speech October 6, 1993:

All of which means that I support the able Senator from West Virginia--who, by the way, was born in North Carolina--Senator Robert C. Byrd, and others in efforts to bring an end to this tragic situation. The United States did its best to deliver aid and assistance to the victims of chaos in Somalia as promised by George Bush last December.

But now we find ourselves involved there in a brutal war, in an urban environment, with the hands of our young soldiers tied behind their backs, under the command of a cumbersome U.N. bureaucracy, and fighting Somalia because we tried to extend helping hands to the starving people of that far-off land. Mr. President, the United States has no constitutional authority, as I see it, to sacrifice U.S. soldiers to Boutros-Ghali's vision of multilateral peacemaking. Again, I share the view of Senator Byrd that the time to get out is now.

President Clinton's speech, on October 8, 1993, arguing against withdrawal

And make no mistake about it, if we were to leave Somalia tomorrow, other nations would leave, too. Chaos would resume, the relief effort would stop and starvation soon would return. That knowledge has led us to continue our mission. . . .

If we leave them now, those embers will reignite into flames and people will die again. If we stay a short while longer and do the right things, we've got a reasonable chance of cooling off the embers and getting other firefighters to take our place. . .

So, now, we face a choice. Do we leave when the job gets tough or when the job is well done? Do we invite the return of mass suffering or do we leave in a way that gives the Somalis a decent chance to survive? Recently, Gen. Colin Powell said this about our choices in Somalia: "Because things get difficult, you don't cut and run. You work the problem and try to find a correct solution." . . .

So let us finish the work we set out to do. Let us demonstrate to the world, as generations of Americans have done before us, that when Americans take on a challenge, they do the job right.

Sen. John Kerry, Senate floor speech, 10/7/93, supporting Clinton's anti-withdrawal position

But, Mr. President, I must say I have also been jarred by the reactions of many of our colleagues in the U.S. Senate and in the Congress. I am jarred by the extraordinary sense of panic that seems to be rushing through this deliberative body, and by the strident cries for a quick exit, an immediate departure notwithstanding the fact that what we are doing in Somalia does not bear any resemblance to Grenada, to Panama, to Iraq, and most importantly, to Vietnam. . . .

We must recognize that any decision that we make about Somalia is not just a decision to get our troops home. It is not just a decision about looking out for the interests of the United States. There are extraordinary ramifications attached to the choice that we make in the next days in the Congress and in this country. . . .

Mr. President, we are in a situation now where withdrawal would send the wrong signal to Aidid and his supporters. It would encourage other nations to withdraw from the U.N. effort in Somalia and no doubt would result in the total breakdown of the operation and possibly the resumption of the cycle of famine and war which brought the United States and other members of the international community to Somalia in the first place.

Rightly or wrongly, the Bush administration committed us to this operation. We, as a nation, have accepted this responsibility. We should not panic and flee when the going gets rough. If we are going to withdraw, we have an obligation to do so in a responsible manner, in a way that does not undermine the operation or leave the Somali people to a worse fate. I think the President's plan, as currently outlined, will allow us to step aside responsibly.

New York Times article, October 6, 1993, by then-reporter Thomas 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.

It is not clear whether the critics can assemble sufficient votes to pass a law requiring Mr. Clinton to stop the operation. But Congressional anxiety, already high, has been fueled by a wave of constituents' telephone calls reflecting outrage over the prospect of a new hostage crisis, and television pictures of Somali crowds dragging a dead American servicemen through the streets. . . .

Mr. Christopher said the United States wanted to withdraw its forces when possible, "but not before our job is done of providing some security."

New York Times, October 6, 1993

A wave of hostility toward the military operation in Somalia swept Congress today, forcing the White House to send two Cabinet secretaries to Capitol Hill to try to calm critics and plead for additional time to formulate a new policy.

"It's Vietnam all over again," said Senator Ernest F. Hollings, Democrat of South Carolina, who is in a group of conservatives calling for quick withdrawal from Somalia. . . .

Mr. McCain, a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War, said of Mohammed Farah Aidid, who has been blamed for attacks on United Nations peacekeepers: "We should tell Mr. Aidid that we want the Americans back. Otherwise he will pay sooner or later. Then we should come home."

As always, no matter how many times it occurs, it is truly disturbing how there seems to be no limit on the false propaganda and rank historical revisionism which can be disseminated by this administration and its followers and uncorrected by our national media. My full analysis of this is here.

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