Somalia Going Sour

February 25, 1993

The spectacle of Somali rioters demonstrating outside the U.S. Embassy compound in Mogadishu and demanding that Americans go home is poor reward for a humanitarian operation that is a credit to this nation. Poor payment yes, but surprise no.

Whenever the United States intervenes overseas, particularly in Third World countries it understands but dimly, this is a risk, regardless of Washington's motivation. It is a risk that will be passed along, more and more, to the United Nations as that organization is pushed to come to grips with the new world (dis)order.

George Bush's initial insistence last November that U.S. forces in starving Somalia would limit their role to the delivery of food relief and would be out of the Horn of Africa in short order received the TTC skepticism it deserved. To deal with conditions on the ground, American troops have had to disarm marauding followers of various warlords and use force to defend themselves, as they did yesterday. The timetable for withdrawal has been extended repeatedly, and the latest mayhem may make a shambles of the current late-April deadline.

As we said at the beginning of Operation Restored Hope, what Mr. Bush started will be Bill Clinton's to finish. The new president, like most Americans, can take pride in the fact that untold thousands of Somalis have been saved from starvation and suffering. But he also has to face the fact that a political solution to Somalia's factional civil war is as distant as ever.

Fourteen feuding warlords are to meet March 15 in Addis Ababa for what is billed as a "reconciliation conference." But a new burst of fighting in Kismayu and its spillover into protests against Americans (and the French) is an object lesson in the difficulties that lie ahead. In Kismayu, U.S. officials were harshly critical of one warlord for unleashing his forces against allies of another. Yet the latter warlord unleashed his thugs in Mogadishu on the claim that American troops had disarmed his followers in Kismayu.

There is every likelihood that such ingratitude will also be the fate of U.N. peacemaking forces. Their mission, one Washington has declined, will be to set up a viable national authority in a nation that has no government.

Somalia represents a new challenge for the world organization. No one in authority invited its help. And it will have to create a governmental framework where the raw materials hardly exist if there is be be any chance of a fragile peace. There even is talk of a trusteeship arrangement, despite its overtones of past colonialism.

Though the Somalia case could set a pattern for international efforts to deal with raging civil wars and ethnic-religious disputes in any number of places, it could have the reverse effect of discouraging such initiatives if it turns out badly. Good intentions are not enough. The U.N. will have to be selective; it can intervene only where the great powers find common goals and a common will.

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