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Crises in Haiti and Somalia Test US Internationalism


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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.


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