It’s difficult writing about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) because she’s no doubt right that there are people targeting her for harassment and, God forbid, threatening her with worse. And any criticism of her she has turned into a explicit attempt to harm her by, she says, stirring up potentially criminal behavior against her. She believes criticism is incitement, full stop.
And so, getting this out of the way: anyone reading this and getting all worked up with rage can go jump in a cold lake right now. Threatening to harm people is a despicable way to address these things, so if that’s your inclination, take it elsewhere. This is a critical analysis of her, not a call to harass.
That said, I think the Congresswoman should acknowledge that some of her pronouncements are why she faces the criticism she does. This is clearly evidenced (again) by an old tweet she put out, recirculated Monday morning, related to the Battle of Mogadishu, which was the basis for the book and film Black Hawk Down.
In the event you don’t know the story of that battle, here’s the author of the book detailing what happened to cause it, what happened in the aftermath, and Somalia’s struggles after the US abandoned their operation to resemble a nation that looked like something more than a burned out shell of humanity fighting to crawl out from under warlords. In short, the operation wasn’t a war on Somalis; it was supposed to be a strategic operation to capture a few bad guys working for a warlord who had recently been attacking US-backed, UN peacekeepers who were trying to help starving Somalis. (Warning: the link shows a pretty graphic image of one of the dead American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.)
Almost right away, militias led by the Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid began attacking and killing U.N. peacekeepers. On October 3 and 4, 1993, U.S. forces set out on a snatch-and-grab mission to arrest two of Aidid’s lieutenants. The plan was to surround a white three-story house in the capital city of Mogadishu where leaders of Aidid’s Habar Gidir clan were gathering. Rangers would helicopter in, lower themselves on ropes and surround the building on all sides. A ground convoy of trucks and Humvees would wait outside the gate to carry away the troops and their prisoners. Altogether, the operation would involve 19 aircraft, 12 vehicles and around 160 troops.
The operation didn’t go as planned. The ground convoy ran up against barricades formed by local militias. One helicopter landed a block north of its target and couldn’t move closer because of groundfire. A ranger fell from his rope and had to be evacuated. Insurgents shot down two American Black Hawk helicopters with rocket-propelled grenades. When about 90 U.S. Rangers and Delta Force operators rushed to the rescue, they were caught in an intense exchange of gunfire and trapped overnight.
Altogether, the 18-hour urban firefight, later known as the Battle of Mogadishu, left 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis dead. News outlets broadcast searing images of jubilant mobs dragging the bodies of dead Army special operators and helicopter crewmen through the streets of Mogadishu. The newly elected U.S. president, Bill Clinton, halted the mission and ordered the Special Forces out by March 31, 1994.
Omar’s tweet, while no doubt meant as a way to honor her country and dead countrymen, couldn’t be more tone-deaf. And, if one were to exercise the same tendencies she exhibits, could be seen as a bit of incitement. It’s akin to an American walking into Mogadishu and publicly chastising the people there for the deaths of those American soldiers. It’s bad diplomacy, unnecessarily baiting, and unbecoming of an American public official.
While Omar is entitled to her opinion, and entitled to speak that opinion freely, she would do well to remember that free speech also requires a willingness to take responsibility for what one says. She points a lot of fingers at other people for stirring up resentment against her. But, as she has proven many times via twitter and in her public remarks, that finger should often be pointing back at herself.
If she is truly interested in effectively serving as an American Congressional member, learning the art of diplomacy would serve her well.