THE effort to capture Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed in Mogadishu Oct. 4 proved the worst nightmare so far for US troops in Somalia. The US mission in that country is not only under attack by General Aideed, but by members of Congress who sense the White House isn't quite sure what path to take in Somalia and want the US out.
One feels sorrow for the 12 dead Americans and their families, concern over the lack of coordination by the administration, and worry that the mission will get bogged down further if the perception grows in Somalia that Americans have become the ``ugly outsider.''
We do not believe, however, that the US can suddenly withdraw from a mission it helped formulate and implement. The original assumptions of an easy operation were never correct. But that does not mean, faced with a more serious problem, Washington can simply cut and run. The US mission has been down a twisting road. It was a humanitarian mission in the winter, it became a nation-building mission in the spring, and it took on a security focus in the summer.
The White House would like to capture Aideed, declare victory, and leave by January. Perhaps it can. The security problem is in south Mogadishu. But to leave under just any terms would jeopardize the success in Somalia of good crops and order restored, cause a collapse of the UN mission, and risk another mass starvation.
Somalia is what happens when UN peacekeeping, with good intentions but fuzzy goals, mixes with an uncertain American foreign policy. The US wants to participate in peacekeeping, but does not want to use force unless US interests are at stake. US interests are not at stake in Somalia. Sen. Bob Dole (R) of Kansas would pull US forces out of Mogadishu but use force in Bosnia, a European genocide that is fracturing NATO.
The Somalia policy results in half-hearted intervention that seems ineffectual, and risks losing popular support. The antidote is a more certain foreign policy in which American power and purpose are aligned. The Pentagon is now pushing ahead militarily in Somalia while the State Department is planning an exit strategy. Mr. Clinton this summer was committed to Somalia; two weeks ago he planned an early departure, and now wants to send more support troops. Some may wonder: What next week?
Despite Mr. Clinton's UN speech, the White House still lacks a focused foreign policy. To exit Somalia precipitously will not help focus it.