Jewish World Review August 20, 2002 / 12 Elul, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

How (much) low(er) can Bubba go? | Every time you think Bill Clinton has sunk low, he surprises you. He sinks lower. But what's really depressing is how he does it. He's so casual, so slick, almost offhand about it, and sometimes for no reason except to score one more cheap political point.

If this former president had only been sparring with his usual critics, a comment of his the other day wouldn't be worth noting. We've come to expect that kind of gamesmanship from him.

But this time he was using as grist a real tragedy and horror, a debacle that cost the lives of 18 American fighting men and tarnished the honor of the United States. Just to make a debating point.

Replying to those who've argued that the rash of corporate scandals now sweeping the country actually began under his watch, Bill Clinton threw off this little line:

"These people ran on responsibility, but as soon as you scratch them they go straight to blame. Now, you know, I didn't blame his (George W. Bush's) father for Somalia when we had that awful day memorialized in 'Black Hawk Down.' I didn't do that."

Not before now, anyway. Why would Bill Clinton want to drag up what happened that day in Somalia, and inject it into a debate over corporate governance? It's a puzzlement. Maybe he just can't seem to resist saying anything he thinks will make him look better.

There is, however, a perfectly acceptable reason why he did not blame his presidential predecessor for what happened October 3, 1993, in Mogadishu: The first President Bush had nothing to do with it.

George H. W. Bush had already concluded the American mission in Somalia when Bill Clinton gave some of the best troops in the United States Army a new mission -- without proper support. The result was there for all Americans to see and shudder at: a charred body dragged through the streets to the gleeful howls of the mob. It's a scene scarred forever on the American mind, and one that should have been branded on their commander-in-chief's conscience. In all, 18 American soldiers were killed that day and 73 injured.

Looking back, it's hard to see what military errors were not committed at Mogadishu: Faulty intelligence, disregard for the element of surprise, poor coordination, lack of adequate support .

Perhaps worst of all, the Clinton administration reacted to the disaster by pulling out, turning tail and giving up, thus sending the wrong signal to every would-be Osama bin Laden in the terrorist netherworld: The United States will run at the first sight of blood.

In short, the expedition was in every respect a disaster. Brave men were lost not through any fault of their own, but because of decisions made in clean, well-lighted rooms by politicians far away.

A new secretary of defense, a congressman chosen mainly on the basis of his criticisms of the previous administration, failed to meet a pressing request from the troops for tanks and other armored equipment. Les Aspin turned down both the commander in the field, Major General Thomas M. Montgomery, and the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell. Dispatching the needed equipment might have caused a stir in Congress, and politics came first, as usual.

When the awful toll became clear, some of us wanted Secretary Aspin to resign then and there. Instead, he waited two months. To his credit, when he did quit, he acknowledged his responsibility for the terrible events of that day, and the terrible decision of his own that had led to it. End of story. But there will never be an end to the grief. And regret.

You would think that, if there was anything in his administration Bill Clinton might like to forget, it would be Mogadishu. Instead, almost on the fly, he brings up the subject in the course of a pointless spitting match over corporate finance. As if what happened there were just another talking point.

What could he have been thinking? I suspect he wasn't.

The boy seems to make no distinction between the real and unreal, Hollywood and Mogadishu. Even when he brings up that awful day, it's in connection with the movie. Bill Clinton has never been short of sentimentality -- he'll gush on short notice -- but there is no sense of emotional gravity there.

Remembering Mogadishu, I begin to understand those who said Bill Clinton should never have been impeached. He should have been court-martialed instead.

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