A Flaw in the Somalia Game Plan
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The new man has had the misfortune of being almost completely overshadowed by President Bush's special envoy, Robert Oakley, and by the excitement of Operation Restore Hope. It did not help the UN image that Mr. Oakley, only hours after arriving in Mogadishu, succeeded in bringing together two of the most important feuding Somali warlords and persuading them to sign a preliminary peace agreement - a goal that eluded UN officials for months.Skip to next paragraph
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But the poor opinion Somalis have about the UN civilian bureaucrats is nothing compared to their contempt for the UN peacekeeping forces deployed up until now. (These UN forces consist of only the 600 Pakistani troops flown into Mogadishu aboard US military transport planes in October and wearing the blue berets of the UN. But the fine distinction is lost on Somalis, who generally lump the 7,000 troops more recently arrived from France, Italy, Belgium, Egypt, and America's other Operation Restore Hope pa rtners into the same contemptible category.)
When I spoke in mid-December with Mohamed Farah Aideed, the most powerful of the clan warlords in Mogadishu, he was blunt and caustic: The Pakistani troops were a laughingstock from the start, unable even to look after their own security, never mind protect the relief workers; and the other foreign troops that had arrived on the Americans' coattails were merely out to advance their own national interests at Somalia's expense.
For their part, he charged, Boutros-Ghali and the UN's other civilian officials were systematically scheming to exploit the country's rich agricultural potential and restore power to the clan allies of the ousted dictator.
I told General Aideed I had the contrary impression that UN officials were sincerely working to bring about political recovery, and I pointed out that they were just then organizing a second round of national reconciliation meetings to be held in Addis Ababa in early January. Since Aideed's powerful faction had boycotted the first round of meetings, I wondered how he could expect UN attempts at reconciliation to be successful.
Aideed (who later chose not to be left out of the Addis meetings this time) snorted at what he termed "foreign intervention" in Somalia's internal affairs on the part of UN officials:
"Only American diplomats," Aideed declared, could understand Somalis' differences, solve the country's political problems, and bring its people together.
(Somehow, US intervention is quite different in Aideed's mind from "foreign intervention" and is much more acceptable.)
"Only American troops," he added for good measure, were "impartial, disinterested, and welcome among Somalis as peacekeeping forces."
Even though General Aideed's opinion echoes that of many other Somalis, it implies a broadening of the US agenda in Somalia and an extension of the Marines' assignment that Americans are not yet prepared to accept.
But it also suggests that, unless the US and its allies act quickly to shore up the authority and prestige of UN civilian and military personnel in Somalia, the Marines may have real trouble finding someone else to carry the ball when the Restore Hope game plan calls for a handoff.