Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton's Somalia Deadline Has Fans, Foes

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton's Somalia Deadline Has Fans, Foes

Article excerpt

BY SETTING A 6-month deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia, President Bill Clinton is attempting a feat never before accomplished in the annals of U.S. military action: laying out a clear "exit strategy" in case the American effort fails.

Strategists praised the president's decision as an attempt to recognize the limited U.S. national interest in Somalia. But they also warned that Clinton's deadline could be self-defeating - because it could invite adversaries in Mogadishu, the capital, simply to wait out the administration.

In earlier military actions, from the American Revolution to the Persian Gulf, leaders chose their goals and aimed for victory. If their efforts failed, as in Vietnam and Beirut, they improvised a withdrawal - often amid agonizing national debate.

But now, in Somalia, a new kind of U.S. bottom line has been publicly proclaimed. "We must . . . leave on our terms," Clinton said. "We must do it right." But in any case, he added firmly, we must do it "by March 31."

By then, Clinton said, "There is no guarantee that Somalia will rid itself of violence or suffering. But at least we will have given Somalia a reasonable chance."

The president's decision solved his immediate problem, which was not in Somalia but in Congress: a roar of demands for an immediate withdrawal from East Africa after Somalian attacks on U.S. soldiers. However, it raised questions about whether it made sense militarily.

Arnold Kanter, a top State Department official in President George Bush's administration, said that a deadline could encourage Somalian leader Mohammed Farrah Aidid to hunker down and wait out Clinton. "With this kind of exit strategy, the bad guys know where your line is . . . and that doesn't help you accomplish your goals," he said.

"It's a PR gimmick, not a military strategy," said Fred C. Ikle, a leading Pentagon official in President Ronald Reagan's administration. "If our troops come under attack on March 30 and hostages are taken, March 31 won't look so good any more. It's more important to set clear goals in terms of territory and control."

Still, noted Chester Creocker, a former Reagan official, "Clinton's position now is a whole lot better than it was 24 hours ago," when he was battling demands to pull out all U. …

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