Visions Of 1992
As a rebel Tutsi army in eastern Congo threatens to plunge that miserable country into a new round of warfare, calls for intervention have been fairly few and far between, but what few we have heard have been very loud and coming from top European officials. Meanwhile, Simon Tisdall outlines why Britain cannot and should not attempt an intervention on its own, and this makes sense. Then I started to get a creeping feeling, as if Michael Gerson were hovering over my shoulder muttering saccharine truisms about the responsibility to protect, and it occurred to me that the deteriorating situation in the Congo is the sort of lose-lose predicament that seems to inspire lame-duck interventions by Presidents named Bush on their way out the door.
It was Bush the Elder who saddled the incoming Clinton administration with a bizarre deployment to Somalia that he announced in December 1992. I remember seeing the announcement on the television and thinking, “You mean he’s still President?” Clinton then disastrously chose to turn it into a full-blown nation-building exercise, and the political backlash at home against the mission in Somalia after the Battle of Mogadishu was so great that Clinton dared not have American soldiers in Africa ever again and was leery of interventions that required significant ground forces. Never one with much credibility with the military, Clinton was willing to bomb promiscuously but was rarely willing to take greater risks after the Somalia debacle. It is not that much of an exaggeration to say that the results of the Somalia mission helped to make the first Clinton term appear to be more or less a failure with respect to foreign policy.
Would Mr. Bush embark on a fool’s errand in Congo in the closing months of his administration with the armed forces already strained by their current obligations? Probably not, but it would be a fitting, final hurrah of irresponsibility dressed up in preachy moralism. If he did order an intervention, it would leave Obama with yet another mess to clean up and a politically untenable position of either perpetuating a futile and unpopular mission or suffering the inevitable criticism following equally inevitable withdrawal from Congo.