U.S. Intervention in Somalia: Decision to Intervene
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U.S. Intervention in Somalia: Decision to Intervene


So I want to start with Act One which is
the decision to intervene. So let me just give a little bit of
background here. First to understand how we got
involved in Somalia. So the problem came onto the world’s radar
screen in January of 1991, when when the longtime president of
Somalia, Siad Barre, was overthrown and the country descended into a civil war. So there was a power struggle among
competing warlords as to who would succeed him. And the conflict that ensued was really
quite damaging to the people of Somalia. There were large levels of internal
displacement, as people fled the fighting. And most prominently there was a famine
brought about by the disruption of agriculture, by banditry by different
warring militant groups, and the deliberate use of food as a weapon
by rival warlords who would try to restrict the supply of food to areas controlled by their rivals. In response to this conflict, the United
Nations got involved and brokered a cease fire in March of 1992. And in April of that year, established the
U.N. Operation in Somalia, or UNISOM, which was a peace keeping mission, which went in with the goals of trying to
monitor the cease fire, and to try to prevent a resumption of
fighting there. But the problem that UNISOM faced was that
one very prominent warlord, a man by the name of Mohammed Farrah
Aidid, his power base was in Mogadishu, and he
didn’t want the U.N. there. And so his forces harassed the U.N.
operation and made it difficult for them to operate. He was sitting in control of the airport
and port in Mogadishu. And hence he could make life very
difficult for U.N. peacekeepers. So at that point the U.N. turned to the U.S.
for help. The U.S., up to this point, had been
donating food and money to humanitarian organizations
operating in Somalia. But as the crisis worsened, we were being
pushed to take on a more active role. In the summer of 1992, then President Bush
heard a really devastating briefing from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, in which he learned that a quarter of the
population of Somalia was at risk of starvation. That a quarter of all children under five
had already died. And that 800,000 people were internally
displaced or refugees, and the prospects were for that
number to increase. So, in August of 1992, President Bush
responded by announcing an airlift. We would start airlifting and dropping food to Somalia and to refugee
camps in Kenya. And so, from, over the next several
months, the United States would fly over 2,500 missions, carrying 28,000 tons
of relief supplies. But, while this was helpful. It, it immediate, it quickly became apparent that this was
not going to solve the problem alone. That without, without some significant military
force on the ground to help deliver the food to needy people. And without the cooperation of Aidid that, that the food wasn’t going to get where it
needed to go. And so in November of 1992, ironically during Thanksgiving week. President Bush sat down with his advisers
to think about what U.S. options might be. And it was at this time that Bush decided
that the United States would assist the U.N. And it would do so by going in very
strong. That is, on the order of 20,000 U.S. troops going in as part of a multinational
operation. So, he makes this decision in November. On December 3rd, he asks the U.N. Security
Council to authorize member states to use military force to secure this delivery
of aid and relief supplies in Somalia. A resolution is passed on December 3rd. The next day, December 4th, Bush declared
that 28,000 U.S. troops would be sent to Somalia as part of the United Task
Force or UNITAF. And their mission there would be to secure
the port, secure the airport, and then help deliver food around the country. And that led on December 8th to the
deployment of U.S. Marines to Mogadishu. And here we get another classic image from
this conflict. Which is our Marines landing on
the beach there, shielding their eyes, from the flashbulbs
of all of the media and cameras, that are, that are taking their
pictures. Okay, so the U.S. has gotten into Somalia. How do we understand this decision? Why did President Bush decide to go in? Well it’s already suggested that the
main argument that people made was that we can, we can understand this with respect
to a phenomena known as the CNN effect. And the CNN effect, refers to the idea that media coverage
might drive foreign policy decisions. Specifically in this case that coverage of
the, the tragedy unfolding in Somalia beamed
into people’s living rooms generates a public
demand for intervention. And then politicians, elected politicians
by their nature have to be to some extent responsive to public
pressure. Responded to that demand to do something
by initiating a military operation. So that, like I said, that’s the conventional argument that
sprung up in the, in the wake of this decision. And I want to suggest that it’s entirely
wrong. And that all of the components that you
would need for this argument to be right are not there. So the first point to make and this is going to be evident on the next
two slides. Is that if you actually look at the amount
of media coverage of the crisis in Somalia, it’s simply not the case that
Americans were inundated with images of starving Somali children in the lead up to
the conflict. So this figure here is showing you. From data from CNN, how many stories they
ran on Somalia and how many minutes of coverage they spent on it. And as you can see in the summer and fall of 1992, there’s only sporadic and
minimal coverage. There’s an enormous spike of coverage,
when, well in December after President Bush announces
that U.S troops are going to go there. So while it is true that there eventually
was enormous coverage of Somalia this coverage followed the
presidential decision. It did not lead it. The second thing that I can show you in
way, in terms of evidence, is that there’s no
evidence from public opinion polls that there was a great deal of pressure to get
involved. I searched and searched for every public
opinion poll I could find, that even asked whether people were
following the issue in Somalia. Or whether we should get involved. And it was actually very hard to find them. I’m showing you the results from one poll
right here, from September of 1992. When people were asked which of the
following stories that had been covered in the past month. Have they been following most closely. And as you can see from this graph, number one by far is hurricane Andrew, a
hurricane which had just hit Florida. 51% said that. People were following the campaign. You gotta start going down the list to
find Somalia. Somalia’s not even the number one foreign
policy issue that people are paying attention to. You have no fly zones being established in
Iraq, you have a civil war breaking out in
Bosnia. Sitting there at 2%, or people closely
following the civil war in Somalia, tied with scandals involving the Duchess
of York and Princess Diana. [LAUGH] And we didn’t intervene there. [LAUGH] Okay, so there’s not much in way
of public pressure. And the final, and I think most important piece of evidence
against the CNN effect argument. Is that we have to recall when the
decision to intervene was made. It was made in late November, 1992. After President Bush had already lost his
bid for re-election earlier that month. Okay, so we have a decision here made by a
lame duck president. No longer needing to be responsive to
public opinion. What’s interesting here is that if Bush
had thought that responding to the tragedy in Somalia would have been an
electoral winner for him, he could have done it before the
election, when it might have helped. But this was an election, as you may recall, where the key buzzword
was it’s the economy, stupid. Bush had come out of the first Persian
Gulf war very popular, but the economy fell into recession. Unemployment spiked, his popularity fell. And in fact before the election a major
foreign policy initiative would have been seen as a liability. Because it would have suggested that he didn’t care that much about the suffering
of Americans. Okay, so there’s no evidence here that a
response, a politician responding to public pressure
made this decision. In fact it was made by a lame duck
president, almost certainly thinking about his
legacy. Thinking about if he could leave office
with an, with a, with a grand gesture, showing that, that
he could do good in the world. And that history would remember him for
having done this. And so I think we need to, we need to,
place the decision to intervene quite squarely on the
preferences of this one individual. So, here’s the first lesson that we take
from this. Which is that in general U.S presidents
have not seen humanitarian intervention as a political winner. Nor have they generally been pushed into
it by public pressure. Though the public is often sympathetic to
these operations. And that sympathy can generate a
permissive environment for a president to undertake this kind of
operation. They’re not compelled by public pressure
to do so, right. And that’s most striking in this case, a decision made by a lame duck president. And I just want to point out that we see
this again, six years later when President Clinton, also as a lame duck, with
his last election behind him, with the impeachment hearings behind him, decides to mount a major humanitarian
intervention over Kosovo.

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