The Indianapolis Star
January 17, 1994
Alan W. Dowd
Mr. Clinton’s foreign policy represents a strange dichotomy. On the one hand, the White House has accelerated Bush administration cuts in military spending, represented most dramatically by the drastic decrease in the size of America’s standing armed forces. However, America’s security and military commitments have not shrunk accordingly. To the contrary, the number of formal and informal security agreements between the United States and the global community has swelled under the Clinton administration.
The consequences of such a policy have yet to manifest themselves on the global stage; America has yet to feel the strains of overstretch; the international community still turns to Washington for resolution and assistance. However, Clinton administration policies are eroding this international leadership position.
Mr. Clinton’s foreign policy paradox, which holds that the United States can make good on more commitments with fewer assets, was implemented and failed in Somalia.
The troops which President Bush dispatched to Somalia were well-protected; their mission was limited and well-defined, albeit wholly unrelated to American interests. An overwhelming force of nearly 30,000 troops fed the Somali masses. Not surprisingly, the Clinton administration’s poorly-equipped skeleton-force of 4,500 troops was unable to demilitarize Mogadishu, pacify warring clans, and build a new Somalia.
American engagement in Somalia represents the inevitable consequences of attempting to do more with less. Reason dictates that as a mission expands in size, scope, complexity and risk–as was the case in Somalia–so too should the military and political support needed to execute the mission expand. But in Somalia, where U.S. theater commanders were told to "make due," Messrs. Clinton and Aspin rejected the demands of Reason and sealed the fate of dozens of American soldiers.
The frightening reality is that Clinton’s policy in Somalia is a paradigm for his entire foreign policy, and is hence a bitter foretaste of things to come. Consider the following:
•The US-NATO umbrella now is said to cover the whole of Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals. Policy-makers have yet to decide from whom or what this umbrella provides protection in the post-Soviet era. It obviously was not fashioned to protect Serbs from Croats, or Bonian Moslems from Serbs, or Kurds from Turks, or Azeris from Armenians; the continuing scourge of ethnic warfare across Eurasia testifies to this.
•Hoping to forestall the spread of the Balkan war, Mr. Clinton has stationed U.S. troops in Macedonia. This token force of a few hundred men has no real mission; these troops cannot deter Serb nationalists from carving up Macedonia; they certainly could not defend the nascent Macedonian state from attack. Should the warring sides agree to an armistice, Mr. Clinton has committed U.S. forces to nearby Bosnia, where 150,000 have died in ethno-religious warfare. He and his advisers have even considered sending US troops to war-torn regions of the former Soviet Union, where the horrors of the former Yugoslavia are being repeated.
•U.S. air and naval forces keep watch over much of the Middle East, where dictators, armies, separatists, and religious extremists fight for hegemony. The White House has also pledged U.S. troops to Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank–where Palestinians and Israelis continue to maim and murder each other, even as their leaders talk of peace.
•Mr. Clinton has dispatched Army logistics personnel, Marines, and a small armada of ships to the Caribbean, supposedly serving as a sign of America’s commitment to Haiti’s popularly-elected, socialist president. The ousted Haitian leader remains in exile; the Haitian military remains in power; and American warships remain off the coast, enforcing an embargo that punishes only the innocent.
•Preoccupied with Somalia and Haiti, the Clinton administration has averted its gaze from the powder keg on the Korean peninsula, where three million North Korean troops and a small arsenal of nuclear weapons are poised to unify or destroy a divided nation.
At least in theory, this concurrent expansion of commitments and contraction of the resources used to meet those commitments would seem a dangerous undertaking. A day-long battle in the streets of Mogadishu has shown us just how dangerous such an undertaking can be.
Sacrificing American soldiers in vain pursuit of a postwar order will dramatically alter the American understanding of this nation’s role in the world. At some point, Americans will grow weary of lending their support to those who deploy U.S. forces to distant shores for open-ended missions that fall on the extreme edges of America’s national interests. Memories of Mogadishu–where young Americans paid the high price for Clinton’s experiment in multilateralism and incrementalism–will prevent or delay America’s response to future crises that, unlike the famine in Africa or ethnic warfare in Eurasia, pose grave threats to legitimate American interests.
Like Vietnam and Beirut before it, the mission in Somalia offers painful but important lessons to future policy makers: a president must be willing to commit America’s diplomatic, economic, and military assets to the fulfillment of this nation’s foreign policy objectives; if he or she is unwilling to do so, the objective should be abandoned.
The consequences of Mr. Clinton’s foreign policy paradox will prove far more costly than the September firefight in Mogadishu, during which 17 Americans died and dozens were wounded. Bill Clinton's policy of tough talk, half-hearted intervention and hasty retreat will inevitably trigger future standoffs. For aggressors grow bold not when America is prepared and resolute, but when its leaders are uncertain, when their words are unclear and when their actions are thoughtless.