Maryland lawmakers generally support sending U.S. troops into Somalia OPERATION RESTORE HOPE

December 06, 1992|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Maryland voters have been largely silent about sending U.S. troops into turbulent, famine-ridden Somalia, but their representatives are largely supportive of President Bush's action, according to a survey of congressional offices.

Most Maryland lawmakers polled after the president's televised news conference said they are behind Operation Restore Hope.

But Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Republican from Baltimore County, broke with her party's president, saying it was unwise to send U.S. troops into a civil war where the combatants include civilians and children.

There is uncertainty about the mission and the cost of the troop movement, according to Mrs. Bentley's aides. They said callers to her office have been against sending U.S. troops.

In contrast, Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore, who supports the mission, said he has received more than 250 calls and letters from constituents in the past month urging that the Bush administration take the lead in making sure relief efforts do not fall prey to the roving armed bands in Somalia.

"I think the president is absolutely correct," Mr. Mfume said.

"Everywhere I go in the community, Somalia comes up in the conversation," said Mr. Mfume, who added that there is "sheer outrage" that the United States did not act sooner.

"The general sentiment is what is wrong with our government? Why aren't we doing anything . . . and taking a role to end it?"

The congressman, who represents a black-majority district, said there have been no arguments from his constituents that racism may have been a factor in U.S. inaction.

But he said: "I certainly think it begs the question. What is different about Somalia? Somalia did not seem to be at the top of anyone's agenda until recently."

"I heard the president's speech, and I happen to agree with him," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican, who said his voters have been virtually silent about the situation. "I think this is the best thing to do.

"As of right now, surprisingly enough, we haven't heard one word from constituents. Maybe it's the distance, maybe it's the magnitude of the problem, maybe it's the sense of helplessness."

"I generally support the president," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, who said his office has received virtually no calls about Somalia.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office has received about 25 calls and letters about Somalia over the past week, divided among support for sending troops, against sending troops but offering some aid, and doing nothing.

In Southern Maryland, Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer said his office has heard "very little" from constituents and said he supports the president's decision.

"I think it's appropriate," he said, adding that U.S. troops should withdraw quickly and turn responsibility over to African and other troops, regional forces that can continue to monitor the situation.

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