Crises in Haiti and Somalia Test US Internationalism


IN Washington ``peacekeeping'' is becoming a dirty word.

American casualties in Somalia, plus Haitian hard-liners rampaging against a United States presence, are souring Congress on international interventions and forcing the White House to continue to redefine its foreign policy.

Capitol Hill's mood of semi-isolationism is such that Clinton administration officials felt it necessary early this week to say often that if US forces ever land in Haiti they won't have any sheriff-like duties.

``This is not, has never been, a peacekeeping, peacemaking mission,'' said a senior administration official briefing reporters on Haiti.

That is true, as far as it goes: The forces on the now-retreating US troopship Harlan County were mainly engineers and carried few weapons. Their orders, if attacked, were in essence to run the other way.

But a United Nations peace effort to reinstate ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is what brought the Harlan County to the Haitian coast in the first place. Analysts point out that it is the same kind of international intervention that is now taking place in Somalia, though one with tighter limits on the dangers troops are willing to face.

Congressional pressure is forcing the White House to back off from UN efforts that the administration approved and helped organize in the first place, worries Maj. Gen. Indarjit Rikhye, a former UN peacekeeping commander and now a special consultant to the US Institute of Peace. ``I'm very unhappy about it,'' he says. ``It was US support of UN peacekeeping that made it work at all, all these years.''

Graphic reports of maimed or killed US soldiers in Somalia are rapidly turning the public, and in turn Congress, against UN actions.

A new ABC ``Nightline'' poll found 74 percent of respondents agreeing that the US should reduce its involvement in world affairs. Sixty-two percent disapproved of President Clinton's policy in Somalia.

THE Senate is expected to vote on a proposal by Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia to cut off funds for US troops in Somalia by the end of the year, months before Clinton's announced March 31 date for withdrawal. Senators may also consider a proposal that would call for prior congressional approval of any US peacekeeping action in Haiti and Bosnia.

The outcome of the Senate effort is uncertain as the president has attracted some rare Republican support for his peacekeeping policies. ``We ought to give the president the flexibility he needs,'' said Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas, Senate minority leader, on Tuesday.

After backing the creation of a UN-led rapid-deployment peacekeeping force while still a candidate, President Clinton has distanced himself in recent weeks from UN leadership.

He took the occasion of his first address to the UN General Assembly to take UN peacekeeping to task, saying that the UN had to know when to say no to getting involved.

As a member of the Security Council, the US itself has much influence over whether the UN involves itself in peacekeeping actions. What's really happening, according to Cato Institute senior fellow Christopher Layne, is that Clinton is moving back to Bush-era US rhetoric about foreign policy.

``He's saying that when there is a crisis we will create an ad hoc coalition to intervene, but command and control will remain in American hands. He is basically going back to a more traditional American policy,'' Mr. Layne says.

Even Clinton's rhetoric about why it is necessary to remain in Somalia sounds reminiscent of decades past, Layne points out.

An intervention in a part of the world with few US interests has suddenly become a test of US credibility and forcefulness.

``These commitments tend to generate a momentum of their own,'' says Layne, who opposes the US presence in Somalia.

However, the Clinton administration is now on record promising a final pullout time from Somalia.

To help ensure that the vacuum caused by a US departure doesn't cause the UN peace effort to collapse, US diplomats have begun canvassing Ethiopia and other African nations on the possibility of an African solution to Somalia's problems.

If that means US officials want African peacekeeping troops they may be disappointed.

A current major African peace effort in Liberia is dragging on and on, causing casualties and domestic unrest in troop-providing countries in a similar manner to the Somali situation.

``Short of a political settlement on the ground, the African solution isn't practical,'' says Stephen Stedman, an assistant professor of African studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Mr. Stedman says that the chances of establishing stability in Somalia through UN action are minimal. Somalia is in the throes of a bitter civil war, and only about 20 percent of civil wars end through negotiation, he says.

``Even in cases where there are negotiated settlements of civil wars, it usually comes after years of fighting,'' Stedman says.

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