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November 22, 2005
Murtha On The Record On Somalia

Earlier today, I posted about John Murtha's stance on Somalia based on a Newsmax article. Various CQ readers have had an opportunity to research the subject further, and have discovered several references to the cut-and-run position Murtha urged on the Clinton adminstration -- advice it took, and helped to create the paper-tiger reputation that led to a decade of escalating attacks on the United States. These remarks come not from Newsmax but from Nexis searches of mainline press and from the Congressional Record itself.

Let me be clear on one point. In 1993, many people espoused the cut-and-run position from Somalia, among them Curt Weldon, one of the most vociferous hawks on Iraq. In fact, it does not stretch the imagination at all to call that position one of the more bipartisan efforts in the 103rd Congress. The difference is that in the eight years between our run from Somalia and 9/11, most of us learned the bitter lesson that retreating in the face of Islamists does not connote reasonableness and humanity, but cowardice and powerlessness. Combined with our spinelessness in Teheran, Beirut, and in caving into hostage demands from Hezbollah in the mid-80s, the pattern clearly gave Islamists the accurate depiction that Americans could not stand any sort of casualties in war and would quickly retire after the first bloody nose.

Most of us learned that retreat means that the Islamists simply follow you home. The first WTC attack should have taught us that, but even though the Clinton administration insisted on treating it as an organized-crime case, other battles followed: Khobar Towers, Tanzania, Kenya, and finally an attack on the USS Cole, a daylight attack on our military that went unanswered. Each silence that followed each attack only emboldened our enemies more. They do not want peace -- they want a war, and will take it to our shores if we don't give it to them elsewhere.

I point out these examples of Murtha's statements on Somalia for two reasons. One, his remarks on the state of the troops sounds almost exactly like his assessment of the troops in Iraq; indeed, it sounds like he's using the same script. Two, his track record hardly makes him a "hawk", as the media describes him, but an isolationist that has never believed in a forward strategy against terror or anything else. That doesn't make Murtha dishonorable, at least to the extent that he doesn't pretend his record says anything other than what it does.

In the extended entry, I have copied Murtha's remarks from November 9, 1993 (page H9054) in the Congressional Record. I have also copied portions of Murtha's comments to the public as reported by Murtha's home-state newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (h/t: CQ reader Tom W). See if you, as I, notice the similarities in argument for Murtha. It points to a serial isolationist that refuses to stand and fight outside of the United States, not to a hawk on Iraq or any other theater of battle.

Mr. MURTHA . Mr. Speaker, let me just make a couple of points.

I expressed my opposition to our deployment to Somalia when it began. When I went to the White House, I expressed my concern to President Bush.

I said, `This is a mistake, we shouldn't deploy under these circumstances, and it's going to deplete the resources of the Armed Forces,' and I asked him how we were going to get out and when we were going to get out.

Mr. Speaker, he said, `I'll have these troops out by Inauguration Day.'

Well, Mr. Speaker, the United Nations was slow in its deployment to basically take over the U.S. role. The United Nations came to depend heavily on the United States. That was a mistake, no question about it. The administration has learned substantially from this and it has listened to our voices and our advice.

When I went to Somalia the first time, Mr. Speaker, my reservations remained the same. I told the new administration, when it came in, `We should get out of Somalia as quickly as possible,' and in the middle of July I said, `Get our troops out because this could deteriorate into a very tragic situation.'

I made a second trip to Somalia in October. I know the gentleman from California [Mr. Dornan] also went there. I talked to the Rangers about the October 3 incident. It was a bloody battle. The troops conducted themselves well. They fought valiantly in a congested urban environment.

The President has reassessed the situation. He called everybody in. He listened to what was suggested by the military commanders, and that was, `We need time, first of all, to put forces in place in order to protect our American forces.' They also stated that, because the United Nations has extremely limited logistics capability and poor communications and intelligence, time was needed for the United Nations to develop these functions which had been conducted almost exclusively by U.S. forces.

Now how are we to get out of there? General Bir, the U.N. commander, said, `It would be chaos, a debacle, a disaster if the United States pulled out too quickly. We have to have time,' and these are his words, `in order to replace the logistic support the United States has been providing.' Now how do we do that?

They have a plan. They are going to do that with a civilian operation. We have provided, in our conference report tomorrow, the authority to the Department of Defense to allow them to contract with a civilian authority to provide these administrative logistics type capabilities.

Not only that, but in the conference report we set aside a sense-of-Congress resolution that says: `In the future, before you get involved in these kinds of operations, have consultation with the Congress. Don't wait until there's a tragedy. Consult with the Congress beforehand.'

In working with the gentleman from Indiana [Mr. Hamilton], and the gentleman from California [Mr. Dellums], and the gentleman from Pennsylvania [Mr. McDade], and the gentleman from New York [Mr. Gilman], and all the other Members, we have tried to work out some kind of a reasonable process where Members of Congress are consulted, with all the experience in the House and in the Senate, before something like this happens.

But I have to say this:

One thing we have learned from Vietnam is that we cannot from the Halls of Congress dictate to the military the strategy for any kind of operation, but we have got to leave it up to the military to make the tactical onsite decisions.

On the ground, every military commander is saying, `I need until March 31.' The recommendation by General Hoar, who spent over 2 hours briefing me about what happened in that tragic event, was `I need until March 31, because I cannot attain our objectives any quicker. Even if he gets a protective buildup done within a month, it will take considerable time beyond that to phase our forces out in a reasonable manner and to establish adequate logistic administrative support to take care of the U.N. mission. Ambassador Oakley also told me he needed until March 31. I realize this is a nonbinding resolution, I realize the Congress wants to speak on this situation, and I think the administration has heard the objections. The administration came to a conclusion--March 31 is the earliest date we can complete our withdrawal.

Mr. Speaker, I would urge the Members to vote against the amendment offered by the gentleman from New York [Mr. Gilman] and give the President an opportunity to get the troops out in an orderly manner as quickly as prudently possible.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct 19, 1993
Jack Torry


''They're subdued compared to normal morale of elite forces,'' Murtha said. ''Obviously, it was a very difficult battle. A lot of Somalis were killed, but it was a brutal battle.

''A lot of people were hurt badly; helicopters burned and legs lost. It was a very, very difficult battle.

''I think everybody feels it's hard to define the mission, and there's no military solution. Some of them will tell you to get Aidid is the solution. I don't agree with that.''

But Murtha returned from Somalia convinced that the U.S. ground commanders will need to keep U.S. forces there until next March because ''they say they need that much time for a reasonable chance of success to the operation.''

Murtha has criticized the Somalia operation since former President George Bush sent more than 28,000 U.S. troops to the African nation last year in an attempt to end a famine that was killing hundreds of thousands of Somalians.

But Murtha has stepped up his objections since last summer, when U.S. forces were ordered to locate and capture Aidid. Last week, President Clinton indicated that U.S. forces would no longer participate in efforts to hunt Aidid.

''I think they over-emphasized the Aidid thing,'' Murtha said. ''I think the president did exactly the right thing when he depersonalized it.''

Note that the reporting on this accurately depicts the expansion of the Somalia mission. Much of the history of this mission gets twisted as Bush 41's war on the warlords, but Bush only sent troops to carry out the UN mission of famine abatement. It was Clinton in the summer of 1993 that expanded the US role to include pacifying the warlords, specifically but not exclusively Aidid, and did it without refitting the deployed troops with the necessary resources for the mission.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 22, 2005 7:59 PM

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