Jewish World Review August 6, 2002 / 28 Menachem-Av, 5762
Clinton snaps over Somalia
There's more to the quaint custom of a past president not criticizing his successor -- or his successor's father -- than previously thought. The tradition doesn't just save a sitting president from the embarrassment of squabbling with an erstwhile Oval Office-holder. The custom of reticence is at least as important to the former president, who is at risk of making an embarrassing spectacle of himself.
That's just one lesson to learn from Bill Clinton this week, after the former president lashed out at President George W. Bush and former President George Bush. Rankled by Republican criticism that the Clinton administration bears blame for failing to grapple with corporate corruption in the 1990s, Clinton popped off to WJLA-TV in Washington.
"There was corporate malfeasance both before he took office and after," he said, referring to George W. Bush. "The difference is I actually tried to do something about it, and their party stopped it." (So noble.) "That means," he continued, "that they are personally responsible for all corporate malfeasance which has occurred since January the 20th, 2001."
This little fit of pique might have gone unnoted but for Clinton's next comment: "Now, you know, I didn't blame his father for Somalia, when we had that awful day memorialized in `Black Hawk Down.' I didn't do that."
But, he's doing it now. Eighteen U.S. soldiers were killed and 75 wounded in Somalia on Oct. 3, 1993 -- eight-and-a half months into the first Clinton administration. Even by Clinton's own logic (see above), he should be held accountable for military disasters after Inauguration Day 1993. While the first President Bush did send American troops to Somalia in December, 1992, as part of a humanitarian effort to end a catastrophic famine, it was Clinton who was in charge in August 1993, when American commanders in Mogadishu began calling for armored reinforcements -- Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles -- after four American soldiers were killed by a mine that detonated under their relatively flimsy vehicle. With the Clinton administration fixated on a "political" solution, however, our troops were left to make do with inadequate firepower. It was a disaster waiting to happen -- and so it did. Clinton Defense Secretary Les Aspin, who personally turned down repeated requests for heavier armor, resigned by the end of 1993 largely because of the debacle.
There may be something else even more noxious about Clinton's crooked finger-pointing. While the Somalia mission that blew up in America's face may have had its fuse lit in the first Bush administration, the exit strategy was pure Clinton. Giving the order to cut and run, the former commander-in-chief beat an ignominious retreat that ended up giving Osama bin Laden some awful ideas. Or so bin Laden has said. In a May 1998 interview with ABC's John Miller, bin Laden (whose Al Qaeda network helped train the Somali forces) explained how the American retreat proved that the American soldiers were just "paper tigers." They were unable to endure the strikes that were dealt to the Army, so they fled, the terrorist ringleader said. "After a few blows, they ran in defeat ... ." It was in this same interview that bin Laden infamously promised to bring his battle to American soil.
The Somalia debacle is well worth studying, but it's a history lesson Clinton shouldn't try to teach.
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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2001, Diana West