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Clinton Absorbs Some Hard-Learned Lessons in Somalia

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GOOD for President Clinton and his decision to send Amb. Robert Oakley, a seasoned Somalia expert, back to Mogadishu and restored to him the decisionmaking power that Adm. Jonathan Howe has exercised so disastrously there this year.

This marks an important shift away from the bully-boy emphasis on prevailing militarily in that tortured nation to a more nuanced, appropriate, and achievable goal of winning politically in Somalia. But the president could still bungle things badly if the lack of oversight in the making and implementing of our Somalia policy this year continues.

Decisions and actions that Mr. Clinton takes on Somalia will have broad effects throughout East Africa on the future of United Nations peacekeeping and on the coherence of the international system. One good aspect of Clinton's new Somalia policy is its emphasis on regional, East African approaches.

I have long thought that nations can best assure their own stability by building strong, multilayered networks of common interest with others in their regions. With the collapse of the cold war this is particularly true. Weak nations can no longer hope to find security under the wings of distant superpower patrons.

Somalia needs good ties with its neighbors and has much to offer them. Equally important, policymakers in Ethiopia, Eritrea, or Kenya know much more about Somali politics than Westerners. Their energies need to be fully engaged in the stabilization effort.

At a broader level, Somalia is a test case for US-UN relations in the post-Desert Storm era. There are challenges. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali seems an ardent supporter of the punish-Aideed line; Washington is urging a less hawkish policy.

Nearly all the other countries contributing troops agree with the new American line. So Mr. Boutros-Ghali should not be a problem. There will be a much bigger problem for the whole concept of UN peacekeeping if the withdrawal from Mogadishu is vindictive and clumsy.

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