Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Furor Erupts over Somalia Clinton Gets a War He Hoped to Avoid

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Furor Erupts over Somalia Clinton Gets a War He Hoped to Avoid

Article excerpt

THE ROAD to hell is paved with good intentions, they say, and it was good intentions, by and large, that has brought President Bill Clinton's policy on Somalia to a very hellish spot.

Clinton and his advisers came to office resolute in their commitment to domestic policy, in their belief that America had to right its own economy first if it was to exercise leadership in the world.

They embraced multilateralism, and the specific instrument of the United Nations, as the best means of addressing trouble spots, in concert, around the globe.

They wanted to fulfill the humanitarian mission former President George Bush began last December - but quietly, on the side, so as not to the risk the loss of public support on other, tougher issues, like Bosnia.

So when U.S. troops on the ground in Mogadishu asked last month for additional armored support, in the form of tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, Defense Secretary Les Aspin said no. We couldn't risk that "very visible" signal of increased commitment, he reasoned, not when the administration was scouting support for sending troops to Bosnia.

That was the backdrop, the necessary context, for the fierce street battle in south Mogadishu last Sunday that killed at least 16 U.S. servicemen and Somalis in the hundreds. It was an event, many here believe, with repercussions out of all proportion to any conceivable security interest that Somalia itself holds for America.

The seven hours that U.S. Army Rangers spent trapped on the streets of Mogadishu, waiting for relief from other U.N. forces, may spell the end, at least for now, of U.S. troops fighting under U.N. command.

The furor over Somalia consumed Congress all week, producing a virtual stampede for an immediate pullout. Only timely support by Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and by senior members of his own party bought Clinton time for a more seemly retreat.

The policy debate on Somalia that Clinton evaded all year, not once devoting an entire speech to the subject, now threatens to overwhelm the promising start he has made this fall on issues as diverse as health care reform and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

And his long-promised commitment to an active U.S. presence in Bosnia looks, in the wake of Somalia, more problematic than ever.

"One of the president's cherished hopes, of foreign policy on the cheap, is gone," Sen. Richard J. Lugar, R-Ind., ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday.

"This multilateral business got started because we said this kind of thing is expensive," he said, "and so we were going to share it with every nation on earth. . . . We said we were tired of being the world's policeman, of taking this all on by ourselves.

"The dilemma is that most Americans would say, if there are Americans pinned down, we'd like an American to be in charge of getting them out - not just waiting for Malaysians of whoever, who may or may not in the order of battle have an obligation at all to come to the rescue in circumstances like this.

"In other words it just doesn't work out very well. And Americans are tired of it. And the president has scrapped it."

That's one reading of Clinton's address to the nation Thursday afternoon, hurriedly assembled in the face of a firestorm of congressional criticism. But as Lugar and others were quick to note, the speech lent itself to diverse interpretation.

The military numbers Clinton cited were admirably specific: 1,700 additional Army troops on the ground in Mogadishu; 3,600 combat Marines, stationed offshore; an aircraft carrier, two amphibious groups and 104 additional armored vehicles.

"These forces will be under American command," Clinton said, thus apparently dispensing with a single sentence the U.N. Security Council resolutions approved last spring - with U.S. support - that placed military forces in Somalia under a combined U.N. command.

Clinton stressed that the primary mission of the new troops would be to assure the safety of the 4,500 U. …

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