After the Heart-Warming TV


December 09, 1992|By CARL T. ROWAN

Orlando, Florida. -- The images of starving Somali children, whose faces and eyes are being ravaged by flies, keep running through my mind.

So why am I not applauding lustily, and without reservations, the intervention of American troops to rescue those children?

I do not argue with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who sees a laudable precedent here of a U.S. government risking the lives of American men and women to save the lives of Africans. That is a color-blind part of a ''new world order'' that is unassailable.

I cannot Scrooge up this American commitment by saying that we have no national-security interests in Somalia, and therefore we ought not pay the billions of dollars that this operation will cost. It may be that no people ever gave a more genuine Christmas gift to another than in this ''mission of mercy'' into Somalia.

My unease arises from the fact that it is not just a simple humanitarian operation in which our troops deliver gruel, porridge, even a turkey, to a desert family that is being stalked by death. The United Nations and the U.S. have political goals, social agendas, arms-control aspirations, in this military operation, and I don't know what those agendas are, where the goals coincide, and where they will bring on costs and griefs that we Americans have not foreseen.

It will make for great TV in the next several days when the U.N.-U.S. forces deliver food into the darkest reaches of a terrible famine, made worse by conscienceless Somali warlords. But Somalia's economic catastrophe goes far beyond the delivery of bags of rice and bushels of wheat just long enough to put a smidgen of meat on the bones of pitiable children. Are the U.N. and the U.S. going to make one grandstand gesture of food-and-medicine compassion and then say that neither can afford to finance the rebuilding of the economic infrastructure of this woeful nation?

And what about the political agenda? Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday that this operation is ''sort of like the cavalry coming to the rescue, straightening things out for a while, and then letting the marshals come back in to keep things under control.''

This simple, Wild West scenario was altered later by other officials who think the mandate is not only to ''restore some semblance of order,'' but to oversee the instituting of a new Somali government -- sort of the way Gen. Douglas MacArthur imposed a government on Japan at the end of World War II. It is an idea that combating Somali political factions will reject long after American political pressures will have forced the withdrawal of our military Good Samaritans.

That leads me to one of the most intriguing -- and hypocritical -- elements of the U.S. military mandate. It seems that U.S. troops are going to try to coerce, or force at gunpoint, all the Somalis to turn in their weapons. Our GIs are supposed to make Somalia the glowing gun-control society of our time.

Who can be against de-fanging warlords? Well, this columnist can deplore the hypocrisy of our politicians using U.S. Marines to take guns away from people in Somalia when the Bush administration has refused to use the law to take millions of guns out of the hands of mobsters, hoodlums, youth gangs and crazy people in Los Angeles, Washington and the myriad killing streets of America.

Overriding all these reservations about this mission of mercy is my concern that this foreign intervention, and others to come, may divert the Clinton administration almost irrevocably from priority attention to creating jobs, halting the spiraling costs of medical care, trying to thwart the curse of drug abuse, making good education available to all America's children.

I am not an isolationist. I am not hard-hearted enough to refuse to open my wallet to help feed starving children. But I cannot escape the feeling that there are some personal and political wrinkles around this Somali operation that we ought to know about now, but no one is telling us.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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