Thursday, January 25, 2007

Black Hawks Down. Bin Laden. Iraq. And one really long blog post.

Lately, I've been pondering a semi-crackpot, mostly unjustifiable theory that the most pivotal event in history in the last 15 years was not the 9/11 attacks. Instead, I'm increasingly inclined to place the death of 18 U.S. soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia -- made famous in the book and the film "Black Hawk Down" (I've never understood why it wasn't "Black Hawks Down," because two helicopters were shot down) -- at the center of the historical military-terrorist vortex we currently find ourselves in. To explain why, I will necessarily have to paint a historical picture with broad historical brushstrokes and pseudo-Marxian -- yes, you read that right -- analysis filled with statements that, individually, could be picked apart by any knowledgable high school student but collectively, may illuminate some larger truth about where we are today and how we got here. With that moutful said, here's the historical timeline:

1989-1991 The fall of the Soviet empire. The major details of this are well known, so only two points here. First, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan was obviously precipitated by the arming of the mujahideen in part by the Americans, and turned Afghanistan into a magnet for young and restless Muslims in the Middle East with visions of grandeur on their mind. Second, the Hegelian dialect of history suggests that for every "thesis" there must be an "antithesis," with only a temporary synthesis period in between. Rinse, lather, repeat. With the collapse of the Soviets, the U.S. and indeed, the western world, finds itself without its go-to antithesis for the first time.

1992 The election of President Clinton. Clinton gets elected and becomes Commander in Chief. Just prior to his election, the U.N. authorizes the use of military force to provide famine relief to Somalia, which has descended into anarchy and is ruled by competing tribal warlords (much like Afghanistan). President Bush I authorizes the use of the U.S. military in the effort -- Operation Restore Hope -- even though there is no discernible U.S. interests at stake, other than to do something morally right. Clinton, upon taking office, preserves the status quo and U.S. forces take the lead in military operations (along with the Pakistanis). With Clinton's election, it is possible to see the an antithesis taking form that places international human rights at the top of the international political and military agenda (as opposed to anti-communism).

Around the same time, Osama bin Laden is busy building bicycles and sipping tea with terrorists in nearby Sudan. By almost all accounts, the object of his rage continues to be heretic Muslim leadership.

October 1993 The Battle of Mogadishu. 18 U.S. soldiers die in a raid to capture warlord Mohammed Aidid. The bodies of two soldiers are dragged through the street. The U.S. body politic, which has essentially ignored the U.S. presence in Somalia, immediately calls for withdrawal. Indeed, Republicans in Congress demand that Clinton withdraw the troops only days after the images are shown. The lack of any vital U.S. interest -- as opposed to a human rights claim -- is cited by Republicans (and some Democrats) as self-evident reason for the U.S. to withdraw. President Clinton agrees, and the U.S. and the UN pull out. Somalia descends further into chaos.

Clinton's decision leads Osama bin Laden to conclude the U.S., much like the Soviet Union, is a paper tiger. He decides to redirect the efforts of his merry band of terrorists away from Egypt and the house of Saud toward America. For the first time, the U.S. is square within bin Laden's cross-sights. A new antithesis is fomenting in the desert.

1998 Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombing. Bin Laden strikes in spectacular fashion. But because the deaths take place abroad, and most of the victims are black Africans, the U.S. response is actually fairly muted. Clinton lobs cruise missiles into Afghanistan (bin Laden's new home) and Sudan, but is roundly criticized for it. The strikes are ineffective. Republicans generally criticize the move as a distraction from their ongoing impeachment of the President over a blowjob.

October 2000 USS Cole bombing. Disappointed by the relative yawn to his previous attack, bin Laden decides to strike at one of the U.S. Navy's most powerful warships. 17 U.S. soldiers are killed when suicide bombers detonate along side the ship's hull. But bin Laden's timing is off: the attack happens just before the November 2000 elections; President Clinton is the lamest of lame ducks, but the new President is not yet even known (and won't be even for awhile longer than expected, due to Florda's decision to become a banana republic.)

January 2001 President Bush installed by U.S. Supreme Court. Bush takes the reigns and appoints Colin Powell his Secretary of State. The Powell Doctrine states that the U.S. should not involve itself, militarily, in the affairs of other nations unless (1) the objectives are clear, (2) the exit strategy is known, and (3) overwhelming military force can be brought down on the enemy. Note that the Powell doctrine is uniquely incapable of dealing with an asymmetric threat of the type posed by bin Laden.

August 2001 CIA to Bush: "Bin Laden determined to strike within the U.S." Chatter in the intelligence community is off the hook. Top analysts in the CIA and intelligence community are convinced an attack from someone, somewhere, is imminent. The CIA then warns Bush that bin Laden wants to strike within the homeland, for reasons that now should be obvious: with the vacuum left by the imploding Soviet empire, and the weakness demonstrated by the U.S. in Somalia, bin Laden wants to be the counterpoint to the dominant U.S. hegemony. And he thinks he can win.

September 11, 2001. Bin Laden pulls off the masterstroke.

After quickly invading and dismantling the Taliban, the U.S. surveys the geoplitical landscape through new eyes. Instead of viewing the attacks as a spectacular failure of U.S. intelligence to connect the dots, the conclusion drawn by President Bush, and most Americans, is that the U.S. under seige by terrorists. A tenuous logical nexus is drawn between "terrorist" and the nations who might support their efforts against us, and supply them with "weapons of mass destruction." While still at war in Afghanistan, the Administration begins war planning to invade Iraq.

A vague and murky antithesis in the form of a military tactic has now fully emerged: "terrorism." Republicans scrap the Powell doctrine, scrap their opposition to interventionism, and embrace a new strategy: preemptive war to eliminate potential threats. Democrats, myself included, go along with the plan -- in part because of lingering war frenzy, in part because of manipulated intelligence, in part because the last vestiges of the international human rights paradigm have not been removed. Oddly, it's this last prong the Bush Adminstration will cling to after things go awry in Iraq.

March 2003 The Iraq War begins. Hopefully you know the details of this already.

This glosses over so much its frightening. But perhaps you can see my larger point: the U.S. withdrawal in Somalia was the turning point in the battle of the antitheses. Terrorism defeated human rights. The U.S. withdrew from internationalism. The historical dots are beginning to be connected.

I'll have more to say about where this theory might lead . . . soon.


Anonymous jimmimoose said...

I'm intrigued, give me a little while to ponder over this one and I'll get back to you.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree that you have listed important contributing factors, I suggest that you have left out an essential set of historical events set in motion by the Reagan administration, especially the actions of William Casey, one of the most destructive heads of CIA since its creation.

The blow back from the support of the mujahideen (as you noted) is an obvious contributing factor. However, what is often glossed over is that in the rush to expediency, the US funneled funds via Pakistan’s ISI which allowed them to establish the Taliban in Afghanistan. Field officers at the time complained about the way the program for supporting the mujahideen was run. But, moving right along ...

The radicalization and view of the US as a paper tiger did not begin in Mogadishu; it began in Lebanon.

The civil war in Lebanon was horrific. Phalangist militias, trained, supplied, and supported by Israel (and, therefore, in the Arab view, by the US) attacked several Palestinian camps, slaughtering women and children. Bin Laden has written that this was a major reason for his initial radicalization. Until the incursion (invasion) of Lebanon, Israel had been about as decent and honorable as a country could be under those conditions but Ariel Sharon (who was in charge in Lebanon at the time) changed all that.

So Ronny sent in the Marines, even though there was no well-defined task for them to perform. Shortly after they set up, as you know, the US faced its first significant suicide attack and a truck bomb killed over 270 Marines. The US response was to immediately withdraw and do little or nothing to help end the violence. That, I suggest, and what Bin Laden has written, is when the radical jihadists became convinced that the US did not have the will to fight.

-- Big Daddy

5:06 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Big Daddy, you raise some excellent points. The problem with your argument is the timing. The Beirut bombing happened in 1983. The Soviet Union was still alive and indeed, not long into its illfated adventures in Afghanistan. So, by the terms of *my* argument, it cannot be the pivotal "antithesis" to the "thesis" that is the U.S. empire. Indeed, while traumatic for the U.S., Lebanon hardly had the tectonic effect on politics that 9/11 did. At the time, we were more interested in Star Wars.

Understand that I agree completely that Lebanon, viewed historically and in hindsight, further convinced bin Laden that the U.S. was weak. But it certainly did not prompt any action by him at the time against the U.S. Somalia did. Moreover, I'm not looking to draft the entire story -- I'm trying to explain how international interventionism in the name of human rights rose, briefly, as an emerging antithesis, only to be suffocated by "terrorism," and -- to borrow from Malcolm Gladwell -- where the world "tipped." The controversial part of my claim is that 9/11 is not the tipping point -- Mogadishu is.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous jimmimoose said...

Benji, do you realize that you just told Big Daddy that, in essence, "your argument is pretty good, but it doesn't support mine, so it doesn't apply here." 'Sjust sayin is all.

10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m not trying to debate anything, especially in Marxist terms (“my thesis is bigger than your thesis”). My point of view is that everything is entangled so that no specific event explains something without considering what came before. The response to an event, such as what happened in Mogadishu, is a product of not only the event but also historical forces that led to the “state of mind” that influenced the response to the event.

There are a number of events that haven’t been mentioned that are probably relevant, such as the hostage seizure in Iran, the stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm (which was a biggie for bL), and so on.

My point of view is that a single events, such as Mogadishu, cannot be considered “the” explanation for complex historical developments.

-- Big Daddy

5:39 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

There are two ways one can approach my argument. First, you could reject the entire premise. In his most recent post, "Big Daddy" does just that. And I think that's completely fair -- as I stated from the outset, I gloss over many important events, the Hegelian dialect is hardly a universal truth, etc etc.

But note: this is NOT Big Daddy's original argument. His original claim, which he summarized succintly, was "The radicalization and view of the US as a paper tiger did not begin in Mogadishu; it began in Lebanon." Now we are arguing on my turf, insofar as I was arguing that the current "War of Terror" critically pivoted around events in Somalia. No, Big Daddy postulated, they actually pivoted around Lebanon.

I disagree. At the time Ronny sent in the troops, bin Laden was busy raising a familty and working for the family construction company. Bin Laden became a radical terrorist many years later -- AFTER fighting the Soviets -- and became overtly anti-American later still. To be sure, once he did so, Lebanon became part of his list of grievances against the U.S.

Once again, you can reject the Hegelian dialect and premise of my entire argument. Completely fair -- but that doesn't leave much room for discussion. Alternatively, you can accept the basic premises but argue that I've misapplied my own analysis. Also completely fair! But also subject to counterargument -- more fun, and it's what I offered in response.

One final comment for Big Daddy: you say that "a single event, such as Mogadishu, cannot be considered “the” explanation for complex historical developments." I completely agree. But would you agree that "a single event, such as Mogadishu, had it *not* occured, might have led to a very different complex historical development than the one that actually occurred"? I certainly do. For example, if the CIA and the FBI had shared intelligence, I am fairly certain the specific event that took place on 9/11 would not have occurred. That obviously would have changed our current global climate quite a bit.

12:18 PM  

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