THE grisly spectacle of a fallen US soldier being paraded through the streets of Mogadishu in a wheelbarrow evokes anguished memories in most Americans of the Iranian hostage crisis 14 years ago. The sense of humiliation and helplessness is especially galling for a people who pride themselves on being the world's most powerful and generous nation.
Launched less than a year ago as a humanitarian rescue mission, the United States expedition in Somalia has become a debacle, provoking still more violence and disorder than it came to quell. On both sides of the congressional aisle, calls for immediate withdrawal grow more insistent by the day.
The current domestic backlash against US involvement in Somalia raises much deeper questions about the longterm US relationship to UN peacekeeping. The US has historically been wary of committing troops to UN peacekeeping operations and has always insisted on retaining command over any forces it commits. Even in Somalia, where US troops are under nominal UN direction, for practical purposes they operate on their own. The American command also pursues a policy that some nations in the UN mission consider unduly aggressive. The Italian government and some relief agencies have complained that the US contingent is too quick to resort to firepower and has become obsessed with eliminating Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed.
This highly militarized and personalized approach has been a persistent weakness of US foreign policy for much of the past generation. And it has only exacerbated the bloodshed on the streets of Mogadishu. Many residents of the city's southern districts now view Americans no longer as saviors but as savages.