The price of Clinton's retreat from Mogadishu

Ralph Peters:

THIRTEEN years ago, our troops won a lopsided battlefield victory in Mogadishu. President Clinton declared defeat and pulled out. We've been paying the price in terror ever since - and it might be about to soar.

When it comes to strategy and military affairs, folk wisdom is worth a century of scribbling theorists. Your father could have told you how to handle the Mogadishu warlords: "If you start something, son, finish it."

We were close to finishing it. And a cowardly president quit.

Osama bin Laden repeatedly cited the pullout from Somalia as evidence that Americans were weak and wouldn't fight. Our rewards for quitting were the attacks on our troops housed in the Saudi Khobar Towers complex and on our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya - next door to Somalia - followed by the USS Cole bombing.

Dead Americans.

The Clinton administration could not have cared less, as long as its poll numbers were good. As for the attack on the USS Cole, our dead sailors were easily dumped in the lap of the incoming Bush administration.

Somalia seemed far away. Poor. Broken. An embarrassment. Best forgotten.

Pirate attacks, kidnappings, raids on relief convoys and a culture of murder were all just background noise, since they didn't register on the American media or voters. "Let the Somalis fight it out." Exiles formed a government. But the best the self-declared government of Somalia could do was to dream of Mogadishu from a distance.

Anarchy reigned. Nobody cared.

Foreign terrorists started to arrive. Scouts. Money-men. Agitators. Islamist firebrands. They kept a low profile, even as they funded and facilitated the transfer of arms from Yemen to Muslim rebels in Ethiopia and Kenya. Sudan wasn't too busy in Darfur to help out.

A wise man in Washington assured me a few years back that Somalia was nothing to worry about: Al Qaeda couldn't function in such a broken country. The terrorists needed infrastructure and access to the outside world.

Like the infrastructure in the caves on the Afghan border, one supposes.


So our troops will go back to Somalia. Eventually. The longer it takes to realize it, the more we'll have to send. Yes, we're busy. We've made things tough on ourselves, with the Rumsfeld Pentagon's willful incompetence. But we don't get to call a time-out.

Meanwhile, the remains of al Qaeda dream of building a new Afghanistan in Somalia. A terrorist organization our military smashed is being allowed to rebuild itself.

There's a vital lesson here: In the War on Terror, you've got to finish what you start. America quitting Somalia after suffering less than two dozen dead in the course of a battle won was the biggest single boost the terrorists ever received. The Clinton surrender in Mogadishu pointed al Qaeda straight toward 9/11.

The broken-off operation in Fallujah in April 2004, guaranteed that we'd have to go back in a bigger, bloodier way. Now, 13 years after the radio call "Black Hawk down," we'd better schedule some updated satellite coverage of downtown Mogadishu.

Meanwhile, consider this: Somalia was a global sideshow. We walked away. Now it threatens to become a prime refuge for terrorists. And a much tougher nut to crack.

Imagine the price we'd pay if we quit Iraq.

He is absolutely right. But Democrat dithering is back in vogue and it will be hard to find the political will to do what must be done.


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