In the final days of his presidency, George H.W. Bush committed the U.S. military to a mission many would later regret, ordering more than 20,000 troops into Somalia to “save thousands of innocents from death.”
Within months, the image of dead U.S. soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu profoundly changed the way the U.S. approached Africa. And yet it is barely mentioned in the explorations of Bush’s legacy since his death.
Only now, under President Donald Trump, is the U.S. returning regular troops to Somalia as much of the military’s work across Africa is conducted in far smaller doses, with drones and special operations forces and little fanfare of the past. The death of a U.S. soldier in Africa, as seen in Niger a year ago when four special operations were killed, brings sharp questions back home about “what we’re doing over there.”
In Bush’s time, it was different. The Somalia mission was promoted as an act of charity, meant to protect starving Somalis from the attacks and looting that kept them from reaching aid in a country torn by warlord-led fighting after the fall of dictator of Siad Barre. The United Nations has estimated 300,000 people died.
“You’re doing God’s work,” Bush said as he ended his live address from the White House. “We will not fail.”
Cheering Somalis greeted the first U.S. troops as they arrived to lead a United Nations operation. And Bush became the first, and only, U.S. president to visit the drought-plagued Horn of Africa nation.