Where did we go wrong in Somalia? Let us count the ways

Georgie Anne Geyer

October 07, 1993|By Georgie Anne Geyer

SO NOW that American soldiers are dragged through the streets of Mogadishu and at least a dozen American soldiers are killed in only one sunny weekend on the tropical coast of your friendly Indian Ocean, is there any lesson to be gained by the Great Humanitarian Somalia Campaign of 1993?

Yes, there is. It is that the United States should abandon all the fuzzy, imprecise, well-meaning policies of humanitarian intervention, multilateralism and multinational peacekeeping and return to traditional policies of self-interest backed up by overwhelming and unmistakable American and American-led force.

Sound harsh, cynical? To the contrary, policies of self-interest have incorporated within them factors of control that, in the end, make them genuinely humanitarian, idealistic and (never to be underestimated) successful.

There may well come a time when humanitarian intervention of the genre practiced in that quintessentially unimportant "country" of Somalia will indeed be possible -- and plausible. But humankind has not evolved to that point yet.

Instead, at this supreme moment of the Cold War's end, when an entire new world of one sort or another is inexorably coming into being, the United States, the pivotal power for all change, is experimenting with theoretical approaches to power that are failing everywhere.

And the answer to this wonderful fall weekend in historic Mogadishu, with all its smiling and grateful people? President Clinton is sending in 200 more American troops and some heavy weaponry. Now, that is surely going to scare the very wits out of all those bloodthirsty Somalis who are parading American dead up and down their miserable streets!

What went wrong in Somalia? Let us count the ways:

First, eschewing every rule of self-interest, by which, when truly obeyed, nations seldom go wrong because capacity is balanced by need, we should never have gone into Somalia. But President Bush, pushed by Gen. Colin Powell and his faulty idea of "no more Vietnams," got us into Somalia basically so we would not go into Bosnia.

Ironically, as history will show, Bosnia was the (General Powell's key words) "doable" war, because it could have been turned around easily by the use of advanced weapons against artillery, whereas Somalia was the Vietnam-style quicksand of anti-foreigner passions.

Then you had U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. A fine Egyptian diplomat, Mr. Boutros-Ghali was and is nevertheless an impassioned "Third Worlder." His entire diplomatic life has been devoted to working in the developing countries, particularly in Africa. It was he who goaded and shamed Washington into going into Somalia because Bosnia was a "white man's war." American self-interest and regional responsibility thereby flew out the windows of the White House, pushed by guilt and confusion over doing nothing in Bosnia. In addition, Boutros-Ghali has a personal vendetta against Gen. Mohammed Aidid because of earlier humiliations in Somalia.

Third, there was no street sense, informed by history, in Pentagon thinking about Somalia. Somalis have always turned viciously against any and all foreigners, with their brutal clan rivalry then becoming the rallying cry for their own kind of "jihad" against the West and the outside world. (Remind you of Vietnam and the failure to recognize that it is nearly impossible to defeat anti-colonial "liberation movements" at their moments of high passion?)

Then you had the constant changing of not only the guard in Somalia but of the rules of the guard. We went from delivering food like an international mailman (which can be done) to building a nation (which cannot be done from outside). Meanwhile, the Clinton people and the peacekeeping thinkers in the United Nations go on experimenting with their heartfelt "geo-theological" concepts in this new world that they are so diligently misforming.

So, what can or should be done now? It's always great to be asked what to do when Paris is burning and you've been trying to get funds for the fire department for 30 years -- but let's try.

First, do not, repeat, do not, send 200 troops. It only makes us look weak. The only thing to do now militarily, for the image of the United States that must be maintained across the world, is to go into Mogadishu swiftly and totally: Really disarm the goons, with that overwhelming force we keep talking about but don't seem to want to deploy.

Second, put aside those favorite concepts that are being chanted in the White House these days -- forget "multilateralism," at least until the world is a more cohesive and better place than it is today -- in favor of an intelligent and thus truly humanitarian use of American power on all levels.

Instead of on the hopeless Somalias, focus American attention on forming new examples of development that will stand as inspiring success stories for the rest of the world. Need examples of the examples? Easy! China was transformed by the great Rim of the Pacific examples: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. That is the way the world changes, in the industrial hum of such new nations and not in the miserable dust of Mogadishu's streets.

The tragedy of the senseless -- and, yes, they are senseless! -- deaths of Americans in Somalia is that America really could be leading the world to a more hopeful era. Instead, we are wasting and whiling away the greatest power and potential of this century on hopeless theories.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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