Loose Ends in Somalia

December 28, 1992

The world now knows that President Bush dispatched U.S. troops to Somalia without reaching a clear understanding with United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali about what their mission would be. As a result, there are open disputes about how long U.S. forces should stay, how extensive should be their area of responsibility, whether they should try to disarm Somali marauders, what role they should fulfill in re-establishing governmental authority and under what conditions it would be feasible to pass the burden to a U.N. "peace enforcement" contingent.

These are enormously important questions directly related to Mr. Bush's concept of a "new world order." It could be that as the Somalia operation unfolds, arrangements will emerge that will strengthen the U.N.'s ability to deal with lawlessness and disorder. But Mr. Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian diplomat, is skeptical, and is coolly exploiting this skepticism to build far more muscle into the world organization than it has ever had before.

Despite his disagreements with a U.S. president who wants to keep his interventions "doable" and casualties minimal, Mr. Boutros-Ghali is advocating a course that might very well coincide with long-range American interests. The United States does not wish to be the world's policeman, putting its forces into harm's way when other nations go haywire. But because it is the only country with the military and political might to deal with an Iraq or a Somalia or perhaps a Bosnia, it finds itself under heavy pressure to get involved in the absence of any credible international force to do the job.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali wants Operation Restore Hope to do many things the Pentagon shies away from: disarm gangs that terrorize Somalia, expand operations to cover the entire country and replace lawlessness with a political process that can establish peace and order. Mostly he wants U.S. forces to continue their mission until the U.N. Security Council has organized and financed an international humanitarian army large enough to maintain a "secure environment." It would be a tragedy, he says, if the premature departure or remodeling of the Unified Task Force were to plunge Somalia back into anarchy and starvation."

This is a commitment Mr. Bush clearly cannot make in his remaining month in office, especially in light of his plans for an early withdrawal of troops he will visit over New Year's. It will, instead, be one of a growing list of international problems that will confront President-elect Clinton from Inauguration Day onward. With his budget problems and his domestic orientation, he probably might end up wishing Mr. Bush never got into Somalia in the first place. But we are there, and it will be up to Mr. Clinton to determine if it is at all possible to align U.S. policy with Mr. Boutros-Ghali's ambitions for a more effective United Nations. It is hard to see how he could come to any other conclusion.

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