Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Is `More Cautious'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Is `More Cautious'

Article excerpt

President Bill Clinton said Thursday that his experiences in bloodstained Somalia made him "more cautious" about sending U.S. soldiers overseas as peacekeepers.

The United States erred in Somalia, he said, by allowing its U.N.-directed assignment to become "the waging of conflict and a highly personalized battle, which undermined the political process."

"That is what was wrong, and that is what we have attempted to correct in the last few days," said Clinton, emphasizing that a political settlement is what the United States is promoting rather than the arrest of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the Somali faction leader.

Clinton said that the Somali experience also had shown him that U.S. soldiers should be under U.S. command, with direct accountability to Washington.

Under pressure from Congress, the president has set a deadline of March 31 for withdrawal of troops from Somalia. He said Thursday that any U.S. military personnel sent as part of a peacekeeping force to, for example, Bosnia would be under the control of North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has an American as its commander.

"It is a much more coherent military operation," the president said. "And I would have a far higher level of confidence about not only the safety of our troops but our ability to deal with that as a NATO operation."

Clinton commented at a news conference as tension in Somalia eased with the release of American pilot Michael Durant, captured 11 days ago when his helicopter was shot down in Mogadishu in a battle with Aidid's followers.

The president said no deals had been made for Durant's freedom, but Clinton suggested the possibility of a compromise that could halt efforts to arrest Aidid for his possible role in the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in June.

In reference to Haiti, Clinton said that the setbacks in Somalia should not encourage opponents of restoring democracy in the Caribbean nation.

He said they "would be sadly misguided" if they thought their resistance - or U.S. problems elsewhere - had weakened his resolve for the return of ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Clinton pledged to take additional steps to help restore democracy to Haiti and hinted that he might consider some form of naval blockade.

The growing U.S. casualty toll in Somalia, coupled with questions about the use of U.S. force in Bosnia and Haiti, have raised doubts about Clinton's handling of foreign policy.

He maintained that "We have a good record" on issues most important to the United States.

He cited U.S. policy toward Russia, the Middle East and Japan, as well as with Western allies, as examples of success.

"We are living in a new world," the president said. "It's easy for people who don't have these responsibilities to use words like `naive' or this or that or the other thing.

"The truth is . …

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