Washington. -- Before President Clinton and his Pentagon advisers make their next decision regarding America's tragic involvement in Somalia, they ought to read these lines written by Alexander Pope 282 years ago:
Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools.
Bush-administration officials erred in December when they began a mission of mercy without seeing that top U.N. officials had a self-glorifying political agenda. Clinton-administration officials erred doubly when, with many Somalis saved from starvation, they got gulled into a U.N. scheme to build a new Somalia.
It was pride, that "never-failing vice of fools," that prevented the Clinton administration from pulling U.S. forces out of Somalia at the time of the first American casualties, when it became obvious that the Somali people had begun to view the U.S. and U.N. forces as invaders and enemies.
It was pride that propelled the U.S. into an embarrassingly futile effort to capture or kill Mohamed Farah Aidid, lest the world say that the mighty U.S. military had been defeated by a two-bit warlord. So, U.S. forces lurched into a tragic battle Sunday. Twelve American soldiers were killed, 78 were wounded and perhaps 6 were captured.
Now pride again sends live bodies after dead ones. Mr. Clinton orders in more U.S. troops and armor. Pride provokes Warren Christopher, the secretary of state, to say that "In the face of these kinds of attacks, it's time for Americans to be very steady in our response and not talk about getting out." Pride, posturing as patriotism, is supposed to make us approve a compounding of months of arrogant stupidity.
Pride merges with anger over the desecration of American bodies and provokes President Clinton to say that the U.S. will not pull out of Somalia until there is enough political stability to ensure that the country will not "revert to . . . anarchy and chaos."
That's a frightfully open-ended goal for an area in which there is no discernible U.S. national interest. At least 24 American soldiers have died because of 10 months of erring judgments. Only God knows how many more will die before U.S. forces can achieve the prideful goal of tranquility that Mr. Clinton articulates.