Correcting mistakes in the Horn of Africa

The recent incursions by military forces from Ethiopia into the territory of Somalia on the Horn of Africa have again focused attention on that area.

Predictable reaction and some posturing by those perceiving an interest in the area were immediate: Moscow announced its support of the invasions and warned the United States not to interfere. Ethiopia claimed that it had nothing to do with the attacks although they were launched from its territory (40,000 troops, according to the Somali government, with tanks and aircraft). Kenya voiced concern for the breach of peace in the area, and the US responded with shipments of jeeps and small arms that had been promised to the Somalis two years before.

From those quarters in the US that usually oppose any action designed to help friendly nations in trouble as a result of communist aggression, there were protests that by all means we should avoid any move helpful to Somalia.

Rep. Howard Wolpe, chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa of the House of Representatives, obtained the signature of the senior Republican on the committee, Rep. William F. Goodling, and fired off a letter to Secretary of State Shultz, which asked exactly what the State Department always pursues as a matter of course: a diplomatic solution.

The arguments from these writers have a familiar ring:

* America's real interest should be expressed in ''human rights, economic development,'' and any other approach indicates ''the lack of any real policy toward'' the Horn.

* The present government in Somalia is weak anyway and if outside forces overthrow it, then it is only getting what it deserves.

* Only ''cronies of President Barre'' are appointed to government positions where they practice ''corrupt and inefficient administration,'' justifying military action to overthrow them.

* If Somali bases are important to the US, ''elementary wisdom'' dictates that we should hasten the overthrow of the friendly government and let someone else (Russians and Cubans) install one of their choosing which we can always ''do business with'' anyway.

* The attacking forces are not Ethiopian, or Cuban, nor are they receiving help from the Russians, they are just Somali insurgents trying to overthrow a rotten government that keeps the people under the iron thumb of oppression, all of this with weapons they ''obtained themselves.''

How often have we heard these arguments where communist aggression is in open conflict with an existing regime? Cuba, Angola, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Namibia, Ethiopia all come to mind. It would seem that these tired accusations would have long ago lost their claim to any credibility.

One doesn't need to know very much about the history and geography of Somalia to understand what is going on and what the US should be doing. It is only necessary to remember that Somalia and tiny Djibouti are the only remaining pieces of territory on the Horn of Africa not in communist hands and that, from Somalia, control of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea is easy.

Beyond that, it should be known that Somalia threw out its former allies, the Russians, with only 48 hours notice and turned to the West for help. The Somalis are friends who have nowhere else to go, and they are pleading with the US to make some tangible show of support. That we should help appears obvious and so does the indication that the recent probes into Somali territory were conducted for the precise purpose of testing the will of the Reagan administration.

US strategic interest in this territory is enormous and it is begging for us to pick it up at fantastically little cost.

The Somalis are courageous and determined fighters. In the war over the Ogaden region they gave excellent account of themselves and probably would have defeated Ethiopia, which is several times larger, except for the introduction of Cuban and East German soldiers, Russian officers to train and command, and $3.5 billion in military aid.

The Somalis maintain that they can take care of themselves and that they will also protect US installations as well as the US interest. They only ask a reasonable amount of modern weapons with which to defend themselves.

Will we respond?

We will never have a better opportunity to blunt the world communist movement under circumstances where vital interests are at stake.

It is time that our policymakers begin following the direction of the President that US national interest must come first. We must stop making feeble excuses for the failure to deliver on agreements for arms (as we did in this case) and, further, we must put into the Somalis' hands weapons adequate to the task ahead. Red herrings from some members of the Congress and those of a defeatest belief must be recognized for what they are.

No territory has been dragged behind the iron curtain thus far in this administration. Somalia must not be the first.

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