Saturday, October 14, 2006

Osama bin Laden, Somalia, Cut and Run, Clinton Smacks Down Wallace, and other Important Stuff

It so happens that the week The Big Dawg Layeth the Smacketh Down on Chris Wallace and Fox "news" I was guest-posting over at No More Mister Nice Blog. You can read my post on the Clinton-Fox News dust up here.

The accusation that raised Clinton's ire was Wallace suggesting, on the basis of Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, that Osama bin Laden had been emboldened by "Clinton's" hasty withdrawal from Somalia after American soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

Well, I've been reading The Looming Tower, and finally got to the section of the book where Wright makes the statement. It's on page 188. Here is the quote:

The downing of those two American helicopters in October 1993, however, became the turning point in the war. Enraged Somali tribesmen triumphantly dragged the bodies of the dead crewmen through the streets of Mogadishu, a sight that prompted President Clinton to quickly withdraw all American soldiers from the country. Bin Laden's analysis of the American character had been proven correct.

As I linked to in my post, Glenn Greenwald has demonstrated that this rendition of history is completely erroneous. It was Republicans in Congress that demanded an immediate withdrawal and President Clinton and Secretary of State Christopher (and Senator John Kerry) that urged the need to stay in Somalia as long as necessary to fulfill the nation's obligation and not "cut and run".

Wright doesn't have any footnotes in his book to document his breezy statement about Clinton's leading the cut and run brigade in 1993. So it's an unfortunate inclusion in a book that is otherwise informative and intriguing.

For example, at least through page 200, Wright paints a picture of Bin Laden that is at odds with his mythical image. According to Wright, Bin Laden didn't have much to do with routing the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. He did help recruit non-Afghan Arabs to go to Afghanistan for jihad against the Soviet Union and helped fund those who went, but his rag-tag group of Arabs appears to have been at best highly peripheral to the conflict in Afghanistan, whose own natives were the most responsible (and suffered the most casualties) in driving the Soviet Union from their country.

Bin Laden also has a penchant for claiming responsibility for various acts of terrorism or resistance, whatever one's interpretation. For instance, Bin Laden claimed to have been the inspiration for, if not the architect of, the Black Hawk down episode, which he was not. Bin Laden also appears to have benefited from a largely unfounded legend surrounding his Afghanistan adventure in the 1980's against the Soviets.

Bin Laden also isn't much of a business-man (although his father was) and at this point in the book, Bin Laden has had his family funding cut-off.

But he does have a certain charisma that effectively captures the dual motives of reformer and nihilist that embodies the divergent group of characters that come to Sudan to enlist with Bin Laden's Al Qaeda outfit. At this point in the book, Egypt and Saudia Arabia (Bin Laden's home country) have tried to get Bin Laden to quit his jihad against existing Arab governments in Algeria and Yemen (not to mention their own). There also appears to have been an ill-faited assassination attempt on Bin Laden in Sudan, which will lead him to leave that country for Afghanistan.

I'm disappointed Wright makes such an erroneous accusation about Clinton in his book. It reduces my trust of the rest of his account. But it reflects the necessity for verifying offhand comments in books about any leaders, whether they be Republican or Democrat. So let Wright's statement serve as a cautionary reminder of the need to be at least somewhat skeptical of qualitative value judgments, along with outright statements of supposed facts.

1 comment:

Ricard said...

It isn’t necessary to debate who in Congress said what; that is a non-sequitur. Only the Commander in Chief could have ordered the rapid withdraw from Somalia. This was done three days after Mogadishu.