Multilateralism's Obituary Was Written in Mogadishu

MULTILATERALISM is dead, killed several weeks ago in the alleys of Mogadishu.

Sadly, it could have been saved if the Clinton administration had honored Secretary of State Warren Christopher's vow: ``This country will never subcontract its foreign policy to another power or person.'' Collective security can succeed. But it is only supportable at home and successful abroad when American values, unilateral interests, and leadership are fused to a common international agenda. In Somalia, American lives have been sacrificed and our policy has failed because we surrendered our interests and leadership to the United Nations.

How could this have happened? By late 1992, more than 300,000 Somalis had died of starvation or violence following the collapse of the Siad Barre government. Five times this number were reportedly at risk, with children the most pitiable victims. On Dec. 4, 1992, President Bush launched Operation Restore Hope. By January, more than 25,000 heavily armed United States combat troops were leading an international effort. In conjunction with a narrowly drafted UN resolution, Mr. Bush declared, ``Our mission has a limited objective: to open the supply routes, to get the food moving, and to prepare the way for a UN peacekeeping force to keep it moving. This operation is not open-ended.'' Troops began withdrawing by mid-January.

In early March, UN Special Envoy Robert Oakley declared America's mission accomplished in Somalia. Supply routes had reopened. Farmers had returned to the fields. More than 1 million people a week were visiting feeding centers in Mogadishu. Although other nations had taken part, there was no doubt that Operation Restore Hope was a US effort. We defined the mission and our role. The public and Congress believed feeding people was in our interest.

When Ambassador Oakley headed home, the goals and role changed. Nearly 5,000 Americans remained to serve with Pakistani, Botswanan, Egyptian, and other troops. In successive resolutions, the UN charged these soldiers with the broad responsibilities of political reconciliation and restoration of law and order in Somalia. Eventually, in response to an escalation of violence instigated by Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, the Security Council authorized the use of ``all necessary measures'' against anyone who blocked the political process. The primary focus of the collective campaign shifted from feeding to the use of force. US troops were not equipped to make this transition.

At key moments senior administration officials encouraged and endorsed this evolving and perilous mission. Assured of the Clinton administration's support, flush with American treasure and troops, the UN engaged in war.

The administration was undeterred. In congressional testimony, public rhetoric and in practice, multilateralism was the dominant theme. Now, suddenly, America has lost 15 of its finest soldiers in the space of a week. The public wants to understand why.

What we heard several weeks ago was our president admitting failure and acknowledging the need to correct America's course. He returned the public focus to our initial humanitarian mission and re-established US command over US soldiers. To prevent more casualties, rescue our prisoners, and restore public confidence in American leadership, the president increased the size and strength of our military presence in Somalia. Each of these decisions is in our immediate interest.

Nonetheless, the multilateral risk remains. Several weekends ago, a senior UN official made two unsettling statements. First, insisted Adm. Howe, the UN Security Council will continue to define the mission for all troop activities in Somalia. Second, he confirmed the UN is still actively stalking General Aideed.

US troops remain in imminent danger in a country where we have no vital interests. Nameless UN commanders, committed to questionable military tactics driven by a UN bureaucracy with no public accountability, should not decide their fate. Not in Somalia, not in Bosnia, not in Haiti.

In a remarkable essay last year, Gen. Colin Powell observed that the US was the most trusted power on earth. That trust carries with it an obligation to lead. The expectations of our allies and adversaries do not stand in a vacuum. Our global economic and security interests must drive and define this leadership.

The president must now mold the results of crisis management into a sustainable foreign policy. One emergency address to the nation will not answer congressional or public questions about our medium- and long-term goals. If the Congress is to support the president, we need to know the president and his advisers will not feed US troops or interests to revive a multilateral monster.

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