Power & Purpose U.S. Seeking a New Role in Post-Cold War World

Article excerpt

WITH VIVID images of dead American soldiers in Somalia, of an American warship turning away from Haiti when greeted by gunmen, of red-faced members of Congress demanding explanations and action, the United States is stumbling on its way to new post-Cold War foreign policy.

"We have run out of steam. We have this basic problem that we as a country don't have a view of our role in the world," Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, told a small group of reporters on Friday.

He was summing up a common theme among foreign policy analysts, who fret that the American public, President Bill Clinton and the United Nations have yet to learn - and apply - the survival lessons of the late 20th century.

Among those lessons:

With apologies to Vince Lombardi, winning isn't everything.

In a messy world, bad stuff happens.

And you can't always stay home alone, even when home needs a lot of work too.

The analysts concede that those are fuzzy concepts to get across to Americans, voters and politicians alike, who grew up on the clear-cut democracy-vs.-communism issues of the Cold War. And while they fault Clinton for not doing a better job of painting a vision of new American foreign policy, they tend to portray Clinton's struggle as a mirror of the new world order's confusion.

"Things are so difficult, so different from what we'd been accustomed to before the end of the Cold War," said Kenneth M. Jensen, a foreign policy scholar and director of research at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "What we're hearing from the administration is a continuing argument. We have to get used to some very unpleasant things about the post-Cold War period. This is a discussion worth having."

As the discussion continues, some analysts say the United States will have to redefine what it considers its national interest, how it exercises its power and leadership role in the world, and the price it is willing to pay - in blood and money - for the kind of world it wants.

But, in another mirror of the complications in sorting through a new foreign policy, analysts differ among themselves on the U.S. relationship to the United Nations and on what they see as the proper mix of military force and diplomacy, especially in places like Somalia and Haiti.

As the analysts paint it, American foreign policy needs to recognize:

Winning isn't everything - at least not winning the Cold War.

Instead of a calm, peaceful world without a giant villain - communism - the West's Cold War victory has yielded a fragmented, volatile patchwork of several smaller ones: resurgent ethnic rivalries, political instability in emerging democracies, starvation, tribal and political violence made easy by stockpiles of weapons sold throughout the world by the two Cold War superpowers.

"Percolating turbulence," Brzezinski calls it. "Now we have to have a foreign policy that confronts several major issues at a time," he said.

For Somalia and Haiti at the moment, he recommends what is in effect a take-names-and-kick-butt policy.

When American troops were killed in Somalia and an American helicopter pilot taken prisoner by clan leader Mohamed Farah Aidid, Brzezinski said: "We should have deployed much more forces immediately and hit Aidid's forces extremely hard - and then made political decisions after that."

On Friday, President Clinton announced that he would commit U.S. warships to what amounts to a naval blockade around Haiti to enforce a renewed U.N. embargo aimed at getting a military leaders to live up to their promises to accept elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return to govern.

But Brzezinski worries about U.S. "credibility" and wonders if the damage has not already been done.

The "cumulative cost" of turning away from difficult and dangerous situations, he says, is more of the same. …