We Are There Because We Are There

GEORGE F. WILL

September 02, 1993|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- In a pre-dawn raid Monday in Somalia, the latest inning in a game of capture-the-fugitive-warlord, U.S. Rangers dropped down ropes from helicopters hovering over what the Rangers suspected was the warlord or his operatives. A White House spokesman said it was a ''routine search and seizure operation.'' But just when did chasing warlords in the Horn of Africa become ''routine''?

Foreign policy in the 1990s is being shaped by people proud that they were shaped by foreign-policy conflicts of the 1960s. The isolationist impulse, shaped by opposition to the Vietnam intervention and the critique of America that fueled that opposition, is now producing an interventionist foreign policy in the name of multilateralism. It is interventionism as injurious to constitutional government as were the policies of Presidents Johnson and Nixon, from the Gulf of Tonkin to Cambodia.

Monday's ''routine'' raid, wherein the Rangers captured some U.N. employees, came three days after Defense Secretary Aspin said ''President Clinton has given us clear direction to stay the course,'' disarming warlords and policing cities, perhaps until 1995, maybe longer. Never mind what we went there 10 months ago to do, supposedly in two months. Now we are there because we are there, and we are going to do what the U.N. wants done.

In a scalding editorial about U.S. policy regarding Bosnia, but pertinent to policy in Somalia, The New Republic denounces ''the deformation of multilateralism at the hands of the Clinton administration.'' The administration is making foreign policy subservient to people and entities disconnected from the constitutional processes and deliberative institutions by which American values are supposed to be expressed and protected.

The New Republic too generously describes this as ''misplaced egalitarianism.'' Egalitarianism, which is bad enough, assumes that America is just one member of the extended ''family of nations.'' That metaphor is pernicious because all family members are roughly equal as moral agents; all nations are not. The New Republic comes closer to the truth when it says the Clinton administration seems ''uncomfortable, or embarrassed, or guilty'' about America's specialness.

This administration is packed with people who remember Vietnam primarily as a reason for self-flattery. They believe their moral sensibilities were ratified for all time by their opposition to the war. And they regard Vietnam not as policy mistake but as a moral disgrace, one that proves that America is prone to imperialism, militarism, racism, paranoia, evangelism, etc.

During the Sixties many critics of U.S. interventionism turned traditional isolationism inside out. Instead of arguing, as earlier isolationists had, that America should stay home because it is too good for the world, these critics argued that America should come home because the world is too good for America.

What has provoked The New Republic's angry editorial is U.S. acquiescence in surrender of NATO control over warplanes. The administration has agreed that any first use of NATO planes in the Balkan theater must be authorized by the U.N. secretary general.

For years -- years of Republican presidencies -- the Democratic Congress insisted it had a constitutional duty to participate in forming foreign policy, especially where military force was used. Now the Democratic Party has produced an administration in which, The New Republic says tartly, multilateralism is a form of multiculturalism: America is nothing special, just another nation, and it should act only in concert with coalitions. The magazine compares this disparagingly with George Bush's unapologetically U.S.-led multilateralism in the Gulf War.

To people with a Sixties sensibility, multilateralism is a way of making America safe for the world by entangling America in inhibiting partnerships. These multilateralists know that when America is so entangled, there will be little said about anything as vulgar as America's national interests.

For some Americans the special virtue of the Somalia intervention is the utter absence of any connection with a vital U.S. interest. A senior military official says, ''This is really a typical post-Cold War security problem.'' Actually, the problem is defining how Somalia impinges on U.S. security.

American politics often is a game of ''capture-the-flag.'' No party prospers unless it is comfortable with the peculiarly American patriotism, which involves American sense of exceptionalism -- exceptional virtues and duties. Since America stepped upon the world stage in the 1890s, this nationalism has prompted various kinds of interventions, and occasionally some overreaching, as today in Somalia.

Americans will support or forgive much that is done in the name of this nationalism. They will not forgive subordinating U.S. policy to people who pledge allegiance to the United Nations' pale blue flag.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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