Somalia: Clinton's First Chapter

December 05, 1992

Any pretence that the "humanitarian army" the United State is sending into Somalia will be out of there by Inauguration Day, January 20, can be discarded forthwith. Gen. Colin L. Powell, who will carry on as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff from the Bush to the Clinton administrations, now estimates it could be three months before the security situation will allow American forces to turn over their mission to a United Nations peacekeeping force. His forecast may be optimistic.

In any event, it is now clear that Gov. Bill Clinton, as president, will have to decide when and how to terminate an armed intervention that has been ordered by President Bush. Both men may also find themselves sequentially under pressure to do something about the former Yugoslavia, with its threat of a widening Balkan war.

Governor Clinton, elected after a campaign focusing on domestic troubles, is being forced to confront foreign policy questions of transcendent importance even before he takes office. He was quick to commend Mr. Bush for "taking the lead in this important humanitarian effort."

That, however, is only the preface to the chapters Mr. Clinton will soon write about the U.S. role in the post-Cold War world. The focused menace of an enemy superpower is being replaced by widespread turmoil on a scale that seems to demand U.S. military action (and sacrifice) even when U.S. security interests are not directly involved. As president, Mr. Clinton will have to make excruciating choices -- choices mentioned by our current leaders as they explained the Somalia intervention.

"The United States alone cannot right the world's wrongs," Mr. Bush declared. "But . . . some crises in the world cannot be resolved without American involvement . . . Only the United States has the global reach to place a large security force on the ground in such a distant place."

It may be excessive to elevate that statement into a "Bush Doctrine." But until a "Clinton Doctrine" comes along, it will have to do.

General Powell said the U.S. has the capacity to handle the Somalia crisis and "if another popped up tomorrow we could do that too." Yet when Defense Secretary Dick Cheney was asked about Bosnia, he said the situation there is dramatically different. Even if 200,000 troops were deployed, he is not sure he could tell his troops who the adversary is, what the rules of engagement should be and how they will eventually withdraw. The key is the "executability" of the mission.

Skeptics argue that some of the same doubts can be raised about the Somalia expedition. Can a force of 28,000 create security in a vast and primitive land beset with vicious armed gangs denying food to their own people? General Powell, an advocate of "overwhelming force," expresses confidence. Every American should pray he is right. But this intervention remains the decision of one man -- George Bush -- and its conclusion will soon enough reside with Bill Clinton.

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