an area of the map for world news.
April 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 4)
on the United States
The Ghost of Somalia
Ekdal, Dagens Nyheter (liberal), Stockholm, Sweden, Jan.
Ridley Scotts new action film Black Hawk Down is playing to packed
houses in America. It is not something for those with sensitive
hearing or those who dislike Hollywood patriotism. But if you
can stand an hours worth of automatic fire, you will see
an extremely well-executed explanation of the past 10 years
of world history.
lessons from Hollywood: A still from the film Black
Hawk Down shows actors playing U.S. soldiers descending
on Mogadishu, Somalia (Columbia Pictures).
Black Hawk Down is played out in Mogadishu during the
disastrous period in October 1993 when the hunt for the warlord
Muhammed Farah Aideed resulted in the death of 18 Americans
and 1,000 Somalis. Two helicopters were shot down over enemy
territory. The rescue operation turned into bloody chaos. Two
weeks later, President Clinton called the troops home. The multinational
operation to save African lives ended in tragedy, not just for
the local population and the United States, but for the entire
concept of humanitarian intervention. The videotape of maimed
Americans being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu became
one of the most important images of the 1990s.
The message was clear: A single dead soldier was enough to send
the superpower packing if its own interests were not threatened
in a way that could be easily explained to American voters.
This meant U. S. representatives the world over became even
greater targets. It meant a green light for genocide, since
there was no longer a global police force ready to run to the
defense of human rights.
What happened in Rwanda and Bosnia can barely be understood
if you forget what happened in Somalia. A series of factors
contributed to the worsening situation: Clintons fixation
on opinion polls and a successful war; the hopeless pursuit
of one single warlord in a nation of warlords; and the flawed
conclusion that military means are useless in civil wars and
After Somalia, it was clear that there were blank spaces on
the map where no outsider dared to lift a finger to stop injustice.
The Tutsi in Kigali and the men in Srebenica paid dearly for
this new world order, where Yankee Go Home wasnt
just a slogan but official policy.
In light of detailed information currently leaking out about
American operations in Afghanistan, the history of the 1990s
is in some respects even more tragic. What could the intelligence
services, the special forces, and satellite-guided bombs have
achieved in Africa and the Balkans if only the political will
had been there?
In the vacuum left after communisms demise, violence and
anarchy were targeted as the new enemies of democracy. What
finally forced NATO to intervene in Bosnia was the opinion that
the future of the alliance itself was in the balance. Men such
as Mladic and Karadzic were the new enemies; if they were allowed
to wreak havoc freely, you might as well roll over.
But since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, the focus has shifted.
The definition of enemy has narrowed, but the willingness
to intervene has increased. Unfortunately, however, this does
not mean that universal human rights have a higher priority
The operation in Afghanistan has revolutionized modern warfare.
Small special forces with air support and direct channels to
intelligence services can take advantage of the opponents
weaknesses with a minimum of bloodshed. In terms of the history
and terrain of Afghanistan, it is a small miracle that it took
such limited effort to topple the Taliban regime without committing
the mistakes of Somalia or awakening the wrath of the population.
Sweden might learn something from that. Or shall we continue
to pay 40 billion Swedish kronor a year for a defense force
that produces pea soup and a few polite U.N. battalions?