Md. Democrats offer sometimes muted support for Clinton GOP critical


WASHINGTON -- Members of the Maryland congressional delegation had varying prescriptions yesterday for what the United States should do next in Somalia, ranging from an immediate withdrawal to capture of clan warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, who is believed to be holding U.S. soldiers as prisoners.

They also reported an influx of calls from constituents calling for U.S. withdrawal.

Democrats offered the only support for President Clinton, though it was not universal and was at times muted. Republicans were generally critical.

Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said he supported the administration's immediate effort to send added personnel and equipment to Somalia: "The immediate problem is to see that the people already there are not needlessly endangered."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, also a Democrat, said that Congress should decide whether to leave U.S. troops in Somalia and that President Clinton "needs to articulate a policy that defines our purpose and therefore outlines our presence there." If the purpose is to try to create a government in Mogadishu, "that's a far greater role than I am willing to support."

Ms. Mikulski described a briefing by Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher and Defense Secretary Les Aspin yesterday afternoon as "remarkably skimpy."

Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat, said the United States "needs to put into place sufficient force to capture Aidid and to release our men from captivity. At that point," said the House Foreign Affairs Committee member, "we need to de-escalate our involvement."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, noted that the U.S. mission changed from one of humanitarian relief to one of establishing stability in the country.

"I don't think the U.S. can permit its troops to be used through the world" in such a role, he said.

"I'm in favor of bringing the troops home," he said. Whether U.S. troops should leave before the prisoners are released is a judgment for the military. "We need to do it in an orderly way," he said. "We can't just pick up and leave."

Republicans were more pointed in their criticism.

"This was a pathetic display of a non-policy," said Eastern Shore Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest, of the Christopher-Aspin briefing.

Mr. Gilchrest said he would vote to pull out U.S. troops "if the vote were held today."

But he added: "No one wants to leave Americans behind. If we are going to use troops to get the POWs back, we are going to need 200,000."

Perhaps the most partisan reaction came from Baltimore County Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley. Likening the situation to Vietnam, Mrs. Bentley accused the House Democratic leadership of refusing last week to permit "an up-or-down" vote on U.S. troop presence in Somalia.

"What started as an American peacekeeping mission is rapidly becoming a Democrat leadership war," she said in a House speech. "We should bring our troops home now, and let the Somalis fight their own civil war."

Asked later about American POWs, Mrs. Bentley said the U.S. troops should free the American prisoners before leaving Somalia. She said she would agree to the dispatch of additional American troops to free the captives "if we had to do that."

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the Western Maryland Republican, said that "clearly, Congress wants to get out" of Somalia. "I hope cool heads will prevail and that the withdrawal leaves the U.S. with respect and dignity in the eyes of the world," he said.

That means, he added, that the United States can't leave until the American prisoners are released.

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