What Black Hawk Down leaves out

Political commentary and more.
Jan. 21 2002 6:21 AM

What Black Hawk Down Leaves Out

That Somalia raid really was more a debacle than a victory.

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Update/Correction: An alert kausfiles reader points out it was unfair of me to insinuate that Bowden's criticism of Clinton's pull-out was a recent opinion prompted by post-9/11 hindsight or the need to promote the movie. It turns out that Bowden made a similar, if less personal, criticism in the afterword of later editions of his book—an afterword dated November, 1999, years before both 9/11 and the film's PR campaign. There, Bowden decides that "it would have been better not to try" to go after Aideed. But, he adds:

That said, once we had committed ourselves to the effort, I believe the United States should have seen the mission through even after the battle on October 3—especially after the battle. … This story would have had a much more satisfying ending if he had been delivered up in chains. ... The lesson our retreat taught the world's terrorists and despots is that killing a few American soldiers, even at a cost of more than five hundred of your own fighters, is enough to spook Uncle Sam.

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Apparently, Bowden believes a) it was foolish to try to arrest Aideed; b) arresting Aideed wouldn't have produced "lasting peace" in Somalia, would have "just given the Habr Gidr leader a more fervently motivated following, and would have elevated a two-bit Somali warlord to the status of an anti-imperialist hero in many parts of the world;" but c) once the 18 Americans died we should have kept on trying to arrest Aideed in order to establish the principle that killing Americans is a bad idea.

This is a reasonable position, though it's not mine. As Bowden half-acknowledges, the Rangers' very "success" at killing their foes undermines the need for additional punishment. Bowden's book concludes that while we lost 18 men, "the Somali death toll was catastrophic." Shouldn't that—if publicized—have been enough for deterrence?