WASHINGTON -- President Clinton declared the U.S.-led military effort against a disruptive Somalian warlord "over" last night, even though the general remained at large hours after the United Nations ordered his arrest and captured his headquarters.
In a prime-time news conference ignored by CBS and ABC, Mr. Clinton hailed the "remarkable progress" by Congress on his $500 billion deficit reduction package and also indicated that the introduction of his health care reform plan may be delayed again, perhaps until August or September.
He also shifted U.S. policy on Bosnia, suggesting that if all the warring parties agreed, he would consider a three-way ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina that would allow Serbs and Croats to keep most of the territory they have gained by force.
Mr. Clinton said the six-day operation of air strikes and ground action in Somalia, the first serious military action of his administration, had succeeded in crippling the military capacity of the warlord, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid.
He said Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told him yesterday afternoon that the operation was over.
"The military back of Aidid is broken," Mr. Clinton told reporters.
He appeared anxious that the operation not be measured by whether General Aidid is captured and put on trial for the June 5 ambush of 23 Pakistani peacekeepers operating under the U.N. flag.
"We never ever . . . listed getting rid of Aidid as one of our objectives," Mr. Clinton said last night. He did not suggest, however, that the attempt to capture General Aidid was over.
The overall U.N. operation, involving 1,200 U.S. rapid-deployment troops and 3,000 support personnel, will continue, however.
Ships carrying another 2,200 Marines are steaming toward Somalia, where they will wait offshore in case they are needed.
On Bosnia, Mr. Clinton said his preference had been that the war-torn Balkan republic remain a multi-ethnic state, as the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government has sought to keep it.
But, he said, that if Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats "genuinely and honestly agree" to a three-way partition, the United States will "have to look at it very seriously."
President Clinton, who has been battered by accusations of wavering in foreign affairs, pointed to the Somalia operation as an example of American global leadership and sought to deflect failure on the Balkans.
If Serbian aggression is being rewarded there, he said, it is the fault of the United Nations for imposing an arms embargo that disproportionally penalized the outgunned Muslim forces.
"But I don't think that anybody should overlearn that lesson. Everyone who looks at this can see that this is perhaps our most difficult foreign policy problem," he said.
40-minute press conference
Mr. Clinton's remarks on Somalia and Bosnia came during a 40-minute news conference, which he began with a nearly 10-minute speech.
The president's main thrust was on his economic plan, which he discussed with the help of the kind of charts Ross Perot made famous in last year's presidential campaign.
At one point, the president, speaking in a folksy manner, pointed to a red line on the chart -- the one signifying the federal government's endless sea of red ink -- and, chuckling, said, "I've got a lot to learn, but I didn't create this red line."
Pointing to a second chart, the president claimed that for every $10 of "deficit reduction," $5 would come from spending cuts, $3.75 from upper income Americans and only $1.25 from the middle class.
Republicans offered charts in which they claimed that for every $1 of cuts in federal programs, Mr. Clinton is proposing $5 to $6 in tax increases.
"I thought it was a good performance, but he didn't have his facts right," Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas said after Mr. Clinton's appearance.
'America is on the move'
Mr. Clinton was generally upbeat last night, declaring, "Here at home, America is on the move."
HTC It was the theme of a president buoyed by recent congressional victories for his economic plan, campaign finance reform and national service initiative.
Mr. Clinton stressed again and again that his tax increases would go primarily to lessen the projected annual federal budget deficits -- and would come mostly from upper-income Americans.
Saying that some of his opponents in Congress prefer to put the burden "on the old, the sick, veterans and those who work hard and barely make ends meet," he told reporters forcefully:
"I'm here tonight to say to you and to the American people: I will draw the line here."
Health plan delay
In other issues, the president said:
* His much-discussed health care reform plan probably won't be introduced until after his economic plan is acted on, which almost assuredly means late August or September.
Although he continued to say, "There is a real shot we can act on it this year," the president indicated that thinks next year is more likely.