Preoccupied Foreign Crises

DANIEL BERGER

December 19, 1992|By DANIEL BERGER

The economy decided who will be president, but foreign policy is the most important thing the president will decide. George Bush is right about that.

Bill Clinton has held no televised summit on foreign policy. Most Americans don't care as much about it as about health care, a job and a mortgage. But the world is going to preoccupy Mr. Clinton from the moment he is sworn till the last day of his presidency. Isolation is a luxury he does not have.

It's clear enough what Mr. Bush is leaving him in Somalia. When the Marines covered Mogadishu, the armed hoodlums went to Baidoa. When the Marines got to Baidoa, the thugs went to the countryside. Heavy weapons are being hidden for another day.

When the Marines leave, the thugs will return. Unless, as Mr. Bush anticipates, other troops take their place. The United Nations and occupying armies are committed to peace-making, peace-keeping and nation-building in Somalia for a long time, if Somalia is not to revert to chaos and starvation.

Other crises challenge the president-elect. He will have to decide policy very swiftly. Whatever his world view, much of foreign policy is reactive. Here are a few examples:

* Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge do not abide by their agreements under the U.N. scheme of nation-building and intend to conquer the country again if they are not stopped. This is a challenge to the previous Cambodian government and the other forces in the country. The Asian countries look to Washington for leadership and support.

* Bosnia. Serbian forces are on the brink of triumph combined with atrocities against Muslims on a scale of those perpetrated by Serbs' worst enemies, Croatia's Ustashi, during World War II.

The questions heretofore posed, such as selling guns to Bosnian Muslims or enforcing the no-fly rule, will be supplanted by more serious choices, between watching genocide or fighting the Serbs.

* Kosovo. When the Serbian-Yugoslav government starts evicting the Albanian majority, Albania is likely to internationalize the struggle and Albanian refugees are likely to embroil Macedonia. This may involve Bulgaria and Greece in dismemberment, and will bring Turkey, Iran and other Islamic states to the aid of Albanians.

* Liberia. It's not exactly America's responsibility in Africa but, rather, it sort of is. Notions of sovereignty are stood on their head: The intervention force from neighboring West African states may be the good guys; the militia of Charles Taylor is definitely the bad guys. As in Somalia, the villains are home-grown.

* Mozambique's civil war is theoretically settled. The U.N. Security Council has decided to send 7,500 troops to police the accord, but not how to pay them. Zaire is ruled by a thug, who is our thug for reasons that have vanished, and is on the brink of falling apart.

Zimbabwe, Kenya and other countries are shaky. South Africa is headed toward greater strife and anarchy. Every stage in its drama there will put stress on American policy, about which American constituencies will disagree.

* The Middle East. Hamas, the Muslim fundamentalist organization which despises the PLO for compromising, assassinated an Israeli policeman, bringing Israeli reprisals which provoke Arab participants to boycott the peace talks. Hamas is manipulating all the other players. This calls for U.S. intervention. It's what they expect.

* Russia is the world's largest problem child. It's potential for absorbing loans makes Brazil look puny. The temptation to sell its weapons technology to the highest bidder is the world's direst problem.

I do not mean to suggest that this exhausts the list of crises that will confront the new president, only that these are bubbling now. Greater problems will arise. We just don't know where.

It is also quite wrong to suggest that military action, a la Panama, Kuwait and Somalia, is the only way a nation exercises power. It is not the main way. Great nations get their way more often by sending money than by sending troops. It is frightfully expensive to be a superpower.

This means that, if President-elect Clinton is serious about halving the deficit in four years, he must grant less aid, loans, loan forgiveness, weapons, etc., than his predecessors. It means that he must preside over a temporary reduction in American pretensions to influence and power until the deficit is ended.

That calls for more restraint than may be in the man, or in the American people.

Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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