The Legacy of Black Hawk Down
January 3, 2019 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Twenty-five years ago, I was drawn to Somalia in the aftermath of Operation Restore Hope, a U.S. initiative supporting a United Nations resolution that aimed to halt widespread starvation. The effort, started in 1992, secured trade routes so food could get to Somalis. The U.N. estimated that no fewer than 250,000 lives were saved. But Operation Restore Hope would be best remembered in the United States for a spectacular debacle that has shaped foreign policy ever since.
posted by infini (16 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Kinda the ultimate No good deed goes unpunished scenario.
posted by sammyo at 10:43 AM on January 3


Does anyone have a coherent and defensible description of when and how the US military is used in other countries? On what ground do we say that intervention is called for? On what ground do we say it was a success?

I'm sure there are compelling individual arguments, but what about consensus? What can other world powers count on remaining true after the next US election?

I'm not asking these questions rhetorically, I would actually like to know the answer, if there is one.
posted by idiopath at 11:09 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


There is no way to bind the US into military action that would persist through a Presidential changeover, if the incoming President wasn't interested. Even treaties like NATO which theoretically obligate the US to engage its military under certain conditions, depend on the President honoring the treaty and giving the orders to actually deploy; Congress can't order a military deployment over the objections of the President, without removing him/her from office. There's no mechanism for it: the President is CINC and Congress isn't in the chain of command at all; they'd have to impeach the President and potentially the Vice President until they worked their way down to someone willing to give the order.

So there is effectively no way to assuredly know when the US won't use military force; it's broadly discretionary on the negative side. (One presumes the other NATO countries must wonder about this from time to time, given the current occupant of the WH.)

As to when the US will use military force, I suppose it's a lot of tea-leaf reading. There are treaties, of course, but there's just the various articulations of each Presidential administration's foreign policy. E.g. the "Bush Doctrine" (sort of a misnomer; "Bush Catechism" might be more correct) was the summation of various policies and statements from the Bush II White House. On top of that, there's the question of what Congress will authorize, or has already authorized, or what the President can do without explicit authorization of any kind. And that depends rather significantly on public opinion, and whether it's an election year, and so on.

IMO, one of the reasons that the same faces show up in administration after administration (e.g. Kissinger) is in part because it signals the continuation of a particular set of policies, or at least priorities and interests, points of view, etc.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:44 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]


Interesting contrast in this pair of quotes:
“There is a real black-and-white, good and evil struggle in Somalia,” said Stephen Schwartz, who served as U.S. ambassador there until the end of September 2017. “The forces of chaos, of Islamist extremism, are powerful and have decades of inertia behind them in criminality, the warlords and cartels.”
“They would be running their own schools, their own clinics, collecting trash. That is where the appeal of this group comes.”
Forces of chaos don't collect trash, do they?
posted by clawsoon at 11:56 AM on January 3 [16 favorites]


I enjoyed reading this, thank you for posting. There was a really interesting article a few years back about watching the movie Black Hawk Down in Mogadishu with people who had been there or were portrayed, their reactions were really interesting.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:02 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


What can other world powers count on remaining true after the next US election?

That Syria shit really broke down the last remaining vestiges of allied trust and you got my back buddy in this combat zone. Hard to know what the next administration will have to do to earn it back. Hard to tell if that would be in 2 years, or after god knows what in 6 years. If there's a planet left. How would you prepare?
posted by infini at 12:46 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


This Map Shows Where in the World the U.S. Military Is Combatting Terrorism
The infographic reveals for the first time that the U.S. is now operating in 40 percent of the world’s nations


Oh yay! American goons with guns in my hood.
posted by infini at 12:51 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


Somalia is where US military policy changed from "winning wars" to "killing bad guys." That's been a disaster for everyone. This article doesn't go back far enough in time: the initial success in getting food shipments through was accomplished by a international coalition and a ton of US Marines, similar to the Gulf War. But that was too expensive (in dollars), so we switched to the "if we use special forces and kill lots of bad guys, it'll work just as well and be much cheaper!" Except it doesn't, because the problem with relying on shock and intimidation is that some people don't get intimidated.

The two invasions of Iraq make it very clear. In the first one, we removed Iraq's ability to fight and win against it's neighbors. In the second, we tore the country apart hunting bad guys, and the civilian death toll has been huge. I don't understand why people in leadership roles keep thinking that the second was better that the first. It's almost like they see a benefit in perpetual ineffective war.

Thankfully, in Somalia, the African Union stepped up with a better plan.
posted by BeeDo at 1:03 PM on January 3 [17 favorites]


Thanks for answering my 101 level policy questions. It seems strange to me that we would talk about abstractions like humanitarian concerns when the decisions come down to an elected executive (surely we can't assume our president makes any decisions with moral or humanitarian interested in mind).
posted by idiopath at 1:09 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


This Map Shows Where in the World the U.S. Military Is Combatting Terrorism
The infographic reveals for the first time that the U.S. is now operating in 40 percent of the world’s nations


The sun never sets on the US empire.
posted by TedW at 1:46 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


During the last two years of the Obama administration, there were only 18 airstrikes (both drones and manned) on Somalia.
Hardly any, then, really. Just occasional death from the sky.
posted by clawsoon at 2:41 PM on January 3 [10 favorites]


Imagine if there were 18 airstrikes on New Hampshire in the past two years. NBD, right?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:56 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


It's not like Bowden is arguing that 18 airstrikes is NBD; it's that it's odd to declare war against a global ideology and then prosecute that war with such disparate intensity. Almost like the ideology is beside the point of what intervention goes where.
posted by pykrete jungle at 4:13 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power wrote a really interesting book that follows this thread in terms of US policy, both past and future. It's called A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide. I strongly recommend it.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:06 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Somalia is where US military policy changed from "winning wars" to "killing bad guys." That's been a disaster for everyone

Ask the Vietnamese or some U.S. vets and Korea too. No war to win see. Proxy ad hominem ars poetica.

Idiopath. The "clearest" political instrument that makes bullets load and big blades whirl and is that puzzling piece of political pedantics: Executive Order.
posted by clavdivs at 8:49 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Imagine if there were 18 airstrikes on New Hampshire in the past two years. NBD, right?

Duck hunting is getting too easy.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:40 PM on January 4


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