The specific incident to which the State Department official is referring to as “a watershed” is the Battle of Mogadishu, where 18 American Rangers/Delta Force members were killed, and 73 wounded. The mission was a success by its own criteria: they captured the two senior officials of the Habr Gidr clan that they intended to capture, as well as several lesser officials. The estimated death toll of Somalis who were involved in the battle varies between 300 and 1,000; that’s a kill ratio of between 15 and 50 to 1. However, it was a popular failure because it unified the Habr Gidr clan behind Aidid, allowing him to portray Americans as bloodthirsty killers; it sapped American public support for interventionism; it provided the Republicans with a club for beating Clinton (not that they lacked for others…), making it difficult, if not impossible, for his administration to pursue a policy they may have believed was justified, if unpopular. More directly, it effectively ended nation-building efforts in Somalia, a country where such efforts are arguably most needed in the world.
My question is this: what effect would official recognition of the idea mentioned by the State Department official have on American foreign policy and interventionism? At first glance, it suggests that America has no place intervening anywhere that doesn’t issue an engraved invitation from a sizable population willing to sacrifice whatever’s necessary, to essentially hand their sovereignty over to America in exchange for whatever political system results. Certainly, the current situation in the Middle East seems to make more sense in light of this idea–that the Israelis and the Palestinians aren’t willing to sacrifice “victory” for peace; viewed that way the tepid American efforts to resolve the current conflict seem both appropriately non-commital and doomed to failure.
What arguments for interventionism remain if we accept that it’s not always bad leaders who make for national hell-holes, but a pliant population as well? Or does such recognition merely entail a different strategy, more centred on a hearts-and-minds campaign of conversion to democracry, rather than creating kindergarten democracies under the schoolmarmish eye of the U.N.?