During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Somalia suffered from a long term drought that led to famine, which received wide news media coverage. The central government collapsed, and clans battled each other. The clans also gained control for their own purposes of the foreign aid some countries pumped into Somalia, which increased the agony of the famine. Beyond that, the clans interfered with the distribution of food and medical supplies by non-governmental organizations. There was significant citizen pressure in the United States for us to intervene for humanitarian reasons, but President George H. W. Bush steadfastly refused, maintaining that the US had no treaty obligations to fulfill in Somalia, and Somalia had no strategic importance to the US.

        Just before Christmas, 1992, President Bush abruptly reversed position and sent the Marines in to take control of the food distribution system and protect international aid workers.

        My reaction at the time was quite cynical. President Bush had just lost reelection to the challenger, Bill Clinton, who was perceived as being very weak on foreign affairs. I thought President Bush sent American troops into Somalia less than four weeks before the end of his presidency for the express purpose of leaving his successor with a problem the incoming President wouldn't be able to handle and would be embarrassed by. I still think so.

        If my suspicion of President Bush's intentions was correct, he succeeded. Somalia was an embarrassment for the US, it needlessly cost American lives, and we pulled out in ignominy, leaving Somalia no better off than when we went in. (Of course, it wasn't quite as embarrassing or needlessly cost nearly as many American lives as the failed intervention in Lebanon during the mid-1980s under President Ronald Reagan.) Moreover, the failed US intervention in Somalia is so firmly connected with President Clinton in the popular consciousness that most people, including many in the news media, have forgotten that it was President George H. W. Bush who sent American troops into Somalia, not President Bill Clinton.