Sunday, October 10, 2010

When We Decided to Lose

I've long complained that the Black Hawk Down battle fought 17 years ago in Mogadishu should have been considered an epic victory. It was a mobile Alamo, but one which we survived after smashing the enemy that sought to wipe out our outnumbered force.

But since we retreated from Somalia after that battle, it is commonly viewed as a loss. That is wrong. And it does a disservice to the soldiers who fought that battle and emerged from the killing ground that was to be their mass grave.

I've been reading Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down (or rather, rereading it, after having read the online serialization in the Pennsylvania paper it first appeared in), and was struck by the account of the balance of forces after the battle, beginning with our leaders' debate over what to do (p. 380):

The meeting lasted six hours. The thrust of the discussion was: What do we do now? Staying in Mogadishu to pursue Aidid was out of the question, even though Admiral Howe and General Garrison were eager to do so. They believed Aidid had been struck a mortal blow and that it wouldn't take much more to finish the job. If the reports from local spies were correct, some of Aidid's strongest clan allies had fled the city fearing the inevitable American counterattack. The clan's arsenals of RPGs were severely depleted. Others were sending peace feelers, offering to dump Aidid to ward off more bloodshed. But it was clear listening to the discussion that morning in the White House that America had no intention of initiating any further military action in Somalia.

So we fled. We sent reinforcements. And then pulled out.

On such decisions are victories and defeats made. They are not inevitable. The results may seem clear and inevitable after the fact, but when the result is in the balance, our choices can make the difference. On that day, in 1993, we chose defeat. And Osama bin Laden learned the lesson that we could be defeated if his will to win was greater than ours.

When we go to war, choose to win.

UPDATE: Thanks to The Unreligious Right for the link.