Toward the new sovereignty

William Safire

December 01, 1992|By William Safire

BEFORE Larry Eagleburger and Brent Scowcroft return to Kissinger Associates, they would do their country and the world a big favor by enlisting a serious speech writer like Anthony Snow in a great enterprise: They could help the president-unelect articulate the new international "right to intervene."

Last week, lurching to do the right thing despite the lack of policy about intervention, President Bush and his advisers suddenly proposed to send a division or two of U.S. troops to end the anarchy preventing the delivery of food to the starving people of Somalia.

Bandits are in control; the tiny international force is inadequate and the United Nations cannot muster the strength of purpose needed; televised catastrophe looms.

Under that impetus, our human interest superseded our national interest; the president persuaded the Joint Chiefs to go along with the political judgment of the commander in chief that the moment had come for a genuine "police action."

Americans now find themselves on the offering end of a secret commitment of undetermined scope (2,000 Marines? Two Army infantry divisions?) with unknown allies.

Through U.N. leaks and cryptic pronouncements from White House and State Department staff, we learn of our Pentagon's requirement that our troops be under U.S. command -- if the U.N. secretary general or Security Council will give us its blessing; or if our allies help with troops or money; or if African participation can make intervention more acceptable locally.

This is the wrong way to go about doing the right thing.

The right way is for President Bush to make his decision about how much force is necessary to intimidate into submission the bandits in Somalia, and how much aid is needed to avert mass starvation.

Then -- before syndicating that troop and aid commitment among responsible nations, and before asking for a Security Council seal of approval -- he should enlist support from congressional leaders and ask for prime time on the world's networks. He'd get both.

Bush should then explain what the need is in Somalia and how he proposes to meet it. Let's say, for argument's sake, the safest approach requires 30,000 peace-enforcing troops and $5 billion for food, medicine, a beginning to agricultural rehabilitation and troop support.

Let him lay out our commitment, our expectation of military and financial support from others, and our proposal to the United Nations for the temporary governance of the pacified area.

The reaction from world leaders, President-elect Clinton and the U.S. public could only be supportive. Local gang leaders would assure Jane Perlez of the New York Times, whose reporting has been stunning, of their acquiescence. Nobody could rationally object to our riding massive shotgun on the humanitarian relief coach.

But Mr. Bush's address, to rival the farewell of Dwight Eisenhower's, should not end with that single rescue operation. So frequently and rightly derogated for lack of a vision, Mr. Bush should take the world to a mountaintop: as departing chief of the only standing superpower, he should deal with what George Shultz has long been calling "the new sovereignty."

When do the world's responsible powers have a right to intrude on what used to be an impenetrable sovereignty?

Anarchy offers the obvious invitation to intervene, as is the case in Somalia -- but what of cases of genocidal tyranny, as practiced by Iraq in its portion of Kurdistan, or by the Khmer Rouge as it plots new savagery in Cambodia, or by Serbia as it readies for the its final solution in Kosovo?

The departing American president has the standing to assert that the preservation of human life is an interest -- a vital interest, to be redundant -- of the world's powers.

By virtue of being the superpower, we have a superinterest -- and by our example, we show the way for others to accept their portion of the world's obligation to protect lives and freedoms.

Cases differ; we will not take the lead in every case; nor will we be drawn into extended military involvements alone or against our judgment.

But we should be able to suggest an extension of collective security when great numbers of people are being murdered or systematically starved.

The world awaits "the new sovereignty" speech. George Bush may still have a rendezvous with history.

William Safire, a former White House speech writer, is a columnist for the New York Times.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.