WASHINGTON. — Washington. -- The sight of the captured American parroting his captors is bad enough. The picture of a dead American's naked and mutilated body being paraded through the streets is an outrage. Those who warned against putting American forces under the command of the United Nations were correct. American interests are unique and American military personnel always make an inviting target.
If a case could be made for U.S. assistance to aid the starving last December, it has long since evaporated as the naive Clinton administration now wants to engage in the folly of "nation building." We cannot even stem crime in our own streets -- what makes us think we can stop thuggery in a foreign land?
The proper analogy is to compare Somalia not to Vietnam but to Lebanon. Ten years ago, President Reagan ordered American Marines into Lebanon where they were pinned down by warring factions that temporarily set aside their own grievance to focus on killing Americans. Immediately the president removed the remaining troops. Mr. Reagan said later the Lebanon operation caused him more personal grief than any other decision he made.
Some U.S. officials are now quoted as saying the United States must remain in Somalia in order to "save face." That is the poorest reason for maintaining a policy. Lyndon Johnson tried to "save face" in Vietnam, saying he didn't want to be the first American president to lose a war. Fifty thousand Americans lost their lives. The nation lost its confidence.
Polls show a majority of Americans oppose a continued U.S. presence in Somalia. If President Clinton won't or can't rally the support of the public behind clear and well-defined goals for our presence in Somalia, Congress should intervene either through the War Powers Act or by some other means.
Already resolutions have been introduced to bring American forces home, which the administration opposes on grounds that the "dynamic" has changed. Indeed it has -- that's why we should get our people out now.
It isn't "cutting and running" when you realize a mistake has been made. Humanitarian aid was one thing, but building a nation when chaos rules is impossible. How sad that a President who took what he regarded as a moral and principled stand to escape service in the Vietnam War now sends American men to die in another even more questionable conflict.