AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
The U.S.-led military intervention in Somalia, which began in 1992, had profound consequences for how the United States would view overseas humanitarian operations and the use of military force generally. The ultimate failure of the international community's intervention in Somalia, and especially the death of 18 Army Rangers in Mogadishu in October 1993, not only forced withdrawal from Somalia, it caused the Clinton administration to be more cautious about such interventions and less likely to risk American casualties. Moreover, lessons that were either questionable (such as the need to avoid mission creep, in this case, adding ambitious political goals to a humanitarian operation) or outright bogus (the need to prevent U.S. troops from serving under foreign commanders) (1) came to color official U.S. thinking on military interventions. American reluctance to act during the genocide in Rwanda shortly after the end of the Somalia intervention can be attributed in part to the traumatic experience of Somalia, as can the U.S. refusal until 1995 to take decisive action in Bosnia.
Given the dramatic and tragic outcome of the Ranger raid in Mogadishu and the influence of the Somalia intervention on U.S. foreign policy, it is not surprising that a great deal has been written on the subject. Much of the analysis has focused on mission creep after the United States handed over authority for the operation to the United Nations (UN), the hunt for Mogadishu warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed, and, of course, the Ranger raid itself.
Relatively little attention has been paid, however, to the original decision to intervene in Somalia with military force. So far, at least, the principal decisionmakers have yet to reveal much about their thinking at the time. President Bush, in his memoirs, (2) does not mention the Somalia operation at all. Bush's Secretary of State, James Baker, is likewise silent on the matter. (3) General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time the intervention began, does discuss the Somalia operation, but treats the original decision to intervene almost in passing. (4)
Yet the original decision to intervene overseas with military force is of fundamental importance, because it is at this point that decisionmakers formulate mission objectives and consider how realistic they are. Here, also, decisionmakers design a concept for attaining the specified objectives and decide what resources they require--in other words, it is here that planners define the strategy for the operation. The objectives will define the state of affairs we wish to leave behind when the operation is finished--the so-called end-state--the achievement of which constitutes the success of an operation. The clarity, attainability, and appropriateness of the end-state will determine when and under what circumstances we will be able to end our intervention. These, rather than an arbitrarily imposed deadline, provide what has come to be known as an exit strategy.
In the case of Somalia, the original decision to intervene, and the way in which the President and the interagency process made it, influenced the conduct of the mission, the mission's effect on the political-military situation in Somalia and, later, tension with the UN over its conduct of the operation. At the outset, decisionmakers incorrectly identified the problem in Somalia as "purely humanitarian" rather than political, although abundant evidence to the contrary was available. Because they misconstrued the problem they faced, decisionmakers failed to establish political goals for the operation that were both meaningful and achievable with the resources available--that is, they failed to view the operation strategically.
If decisionmakers, starting with President Bush and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Powell, had correctly perceived the nature of the problem they faced in Somalia, Operation Restore Hope would have looked significantly different--or might never have been mounted.
Background to the Intervention
The events in Somalia leading up to the decision to intervene with military force have been well treated elsewhere. (5) Briefly, the American Embassy in Mogadishu found itself in the line of fire between armed opponents of President Siad Barre and troops loyal to him in early January 1991. Several days later, U.S. Marines and sea-air-land teams (SEALS) evacuated the embassy staff and a large number of foreigners. Instead of forming a stable new government, the victorious rebel factions fell to sporadic, sometimes heavy, internecine fighting, a situation that persists …