US Role in Somalia, Bosnia Raises Concerns at Home

Behind good intentions: troubling pitfalls for the military

NOBODY ever said that policing the new world order was going to be easy. In recent days, the US has learned some tough lessons about the parameters of peacemaking around the globe.

Somalia has become an example of how difficult it can be to gracefully exit a humanitarian operation. When then-President Bush sent United States troops into the battered African nation last December, officials hoped to be gone by Inauguration Day. Now some US forces are likely to stay until 1995, with their mission inevitably broadened from providing relief to rebuilding a nation.

Bosnia shows that sometimes it is not any easier to gather the will to enter a troubled nation to provide help. Rallying allies to the US position that Serb aggressors need to be threatened with force has become a kind of quagmire all its own. To this point, the result has been farce, with continued Western wrangling over what will cause airstrikes on Serb positions, and who will approve them. (US urged to keep up pressure, Page 6.)

The general lesson? "Be very careful about using US military forces to do good," says Alan Tonelson, research director of the Economic Strategy Institute, who has written extensively about US power in the post-cold-war era.

The killing of four US servicemen by a Mogadishu mine has only reinforced this point. While an interagency US government task force has been studying what criteria must be met for US forces to withdraw from Somalia, US officials continue to insist that troops are there for the long haul.

The relief operation that was the original reason for US intervention is now over, the US says. What's left is restoring order and putting Somalia back on its feet. That is a second operation, they argue. There were once 30,000 US forces in Somalia; now there are 4,000, and the operation is under United Nations control.

UN forces will be in Somalia "probably beyond April of 1995," said US Ambassador David Shinn, special coordinator for Somalia, on Aug. 10. The last US contingent may be gone before then, he said.

Pentagon officials are not so sure US units won't be there until the UN finally leaves. They point out that in particular the US military has logistics capabilities, such as heavy-lift transport airplanes, that few nations have.

Meanwhile, in Bosnia, NATO airstrikes still seem days away from occurring - if they will happen at all. The US admitted that UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali will need to approve the first use of force. The Serbs, for their part, at this writing continued their policy of talking about retreating from the heights surrounding Sarajevo, while hedging on doing so.

The Western world's tough-talk-no-action policy has been very counterproductive, according to a Bosnian Croat representative traveling in the US.

"It seems that all that has been done, has been done to afford Serbs the time and means possible to destroy any idea of Bosnia-Herzegovina," says Vladimir Pogarcic, chief Bosnian Croat foreign policy adviser.

In the future, US intervention around the world should be limited to situations where there is a clear US strategic or economic interest at stake, accord-ing to Mr. Tonelson. Neither Bosnia nor Somalia qualifies, in his view, though the Persian Gulf war did.

The hardship and suffering in both the Balkans and Somalia is horrible, he concedes. But there is hardship and suffering everywhere, and the US has neither the money nor the public support for the world policeman role.

"US lives are too precious to be spent on moral crusades," he insists.

US foreign policymaking has long been riven by arguments between those who believe hardheaded judgment of interests should dominate, and officials and experts who think America also has a moral role to play promoting human rights and democracy around the world. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is a preeminent example of the former, realpolitik school; President Carter is perhaps a symbol of the latter moralist approach.

In the real world, most US administrations are motivated by a mix of altruism and calculation. To Patrick Glynn, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, the problem now is that US actions in Bosnia and Somalia have so far been driven by a third factor: the perception of what is easy for the Pentagon to do.

Thus the US went into Somalia not so much because US interests demanded it but because it looked easy, Mr. Glynn says. While the operation was admirable in its intentions, exit has, in fact, proved elusive. Meanwhile, the public and government were distracted from the Bosnian situation, Glynn says, where strategic implications are far more important for the US. The result risks being a "double failure" for opposite reasons, he says.

The danger is that politicians will take the path of least resistance when dealing with foreign policy crises, Glynn says. But the dangers of inaction are just as great as those of poorly conceived action, he adds.

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