The world's protector

Georgie Anne Geyer

December 09, 1992|By Georgie Anne Geyer

WHY only America?

Why is America, and America alone, the country that is expected to send thousands of troops to Somalia, supply food for the starving and now even put shattered Humpty-Dumpty states back together again?

As we daringly dispatch 20,000 troops to Somalia this week, I hear more and more Americans asking these questions -- and they are fair and just ones. For, at this very moment, two U.S. strike forces composed of 1,800 U.S. Marines are landing in the starving, disintegrating African nation. Although an American general will command, the landing comes under the aegis of the United Nations and will be the largest force so to serve.

But this new-style campaign to feed an African nation is historic in other ways. It is also the first time that American troops have gone into a nation to provide only famine relief, and there are the attendant dangers of having then to stay to make peace.

The first reason that the United States alone does this is, when you think about it, deeply frightening: The United States is the only nation that can do it!

Certainly we're not missing the Russians out there -- they were the ones who caused most of these post-Cold War hangovers, with their attempts to spread Marxism through the Third World. But the fact is that today there is only one superpower, the only power with forces needed to take on such an expedition.

Only the French, British and Russian militaries could approach the incredible communications, fleets and rapid-deployment forces of the United States, and even then they would be called away from other commitments. Nobody else is even in the military ballgame. A truly integrated U.N. force, if and when it finally comes into being, would at best be enormously hobbled by incompatible weapons and training, as well as language differences.

But America's aloneness goes beyond even the military potential in the world. It is in the American experience -- in our entire moral makeup -- to believe not only that we can save the world, but also that the world is savable. ("America is great because America is good," Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, "and America will be great only so long as she is good.")

Cynics like to harp on the idea of "America the interventionist," for our interventions in the Caribbean in the 1920s and '30s, but the fact is that even those interventions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua were done for what also seemed to be high moral purpose. And World War II needs no mention here.

Still, even if American interventions have nearly always been at least ostensibly at the service of the unique American idealism in the world, why shouldn't other countries also choose or be forced to take part in these humanitarian interventions?

As a matter of fact, many did in the gulf war. Some are taking part in the Somalian campaign, even African-Asian countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Pakistan. Neither should we forget the largely untold but noble story that a first African multinational force is right now fighting in Liberia, trying to stop the horrible civil war there.

However, as we see in the Bosnian situation, nothing of major proportions will be done without the Americans. And concerned Americans are right -- it is time that the other civilized nations of the world, particularly rich countries such as those in Asia, take part in monitoring our fragile world order.

If the U.N. army now being pushed by Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali is actually created -- and I believe it will be -- it could solve many of the military problems. It would also make clear the moral and palpable responsibilities of every nation in today's world.

What worries me most about Somalia is not whether American troops can get in and out. In Somalia, we are up against vicious armed kids, beating people who are starving to death. They will fade at the first sight of a Marine from Texas or Mississippi.

What worries me most is that there are so many Somalias-in-waiting, countries such as Mozambique and Angola and Sudan. The undeniable reality of the disintegration of nations, societies and families will call for more military intervention, not less.

What that means is that American power and strength is even more crucial than ever before. That, unfortunate but true, is "Why America"!

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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