U.S. debacle in Somalia shouldn't be a surprise

MIKE ROYKO

October 08, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Suddenly, droves of congressmen are jumping up to make emotional speeches about Somalia: What the heck are we doing there? When are we going to get out? How did we get into such a mess?

Are they really as dumb as they sound?

Anybody with an ounce and a half of common sense could have predicted that what has just happened -- the deaths of American troops -- was going to happen.

You didn't have to be a foreign-policy or military expert to know that if you stick around a country like Somalia long enough, bad things will happen.

As some of us pointed out last December, no matter what we did, there could not be a neat, happy ending.

But most congressmen just sat there slack-jawed. Like many Americans, they were reacting to what they had been seeing on TV.

Night after night, we were shown the starving people of famine-plagued Somalia. And we were told about the cruel warlords who were hijacking the food sent in by relief agencies.

So in an outburst of do-gooderism, President George Bush sent in troops to assure that the starving people of Somalia would stop starving.

And that made for much happier, inspirational TV fare. American troops landing, Somalis cheering, and the starving people finally getting three squares a day.

But Bush and Congress didn't answer the key question: Then what?

Which left President Clinton with the Somalia problem. And he or his advisers recognized the obvious: If we pulled out of Somalia after opening the chow lines, it wouldn't be long before the well-fed people of Somalia were starving again.

That's because the strongest warlords and their thugs would come out of hiding, start hijacking the precious food, and before long, we would turn on our TV sets and see skinny Somalis with swollen bellies.

So Clinton listened to the big talkers at the United Nations and agreed that we should stay there to disarm bad guys and hunt down the worst of the warlords.

Which put us smack dab in the middle of someone else's civil war. And there aren't many worse places to stick our nose.

Now, we are seeing TV images that to Americans are even more shocking than starving people: the bodies of American troops being dragged through the streets and a battered helicopter pilot taken prisoner by a warlord.

But why is anyone shocked -- especially members of Congress, who knew what Somalia was like even before we went in?

They knew that Somalia has no tradition of democracy as we know it. The rule of law in Somalia has always been decided by who had the most and best weapons.

And with hundreds of thousands of weapons in the hands of Somalis, is it a surprise that our instant approach to gun control didn't work? We can't keep assault weapons out of the hands of American street gangs, but our Washington deep thinkers thought our troops could somehow make Somali warriors act like Eagle Scouts.

And apparently some of them, including President Clinton, still think that can be done.

We're sending in more troops and some tanks and other military vehicles. Presumably, they will act as high-tech police cars, cruising the city of Mogadishu. We still think we can disarm Somalia, capture the meanest warlord, and make Somalia a happy place to live.

We can't. The only way we can impose peace and civility on Somalia is to send in a massive army, engage in a full-blown war, kill or capture the more troublesome Somalis and their leaders, and accept that they will kill as many of our soldiers as they can.

See, the big problem is this: Sure, we are the only great superpower in the world. There isn't any country, big or small, that we could not annihilate if we chose to.

But the Somalis aren't impressed. Their warlords figure that the world's only superpower would have to be nuts to waste a lot of lives and effort to subdue a country that has no meaning or importance to the world's only superpower.

They're right. The TV show is over. Clinton should switch channels.

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