Washington. -- The United States is at war in Somalia, where American bodies are playthings of Somalis whom one senator calls "infidels." That is a nice bit of 19th-century name-calling, in the tradition of "lesser breeds without the law" and:
So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy,
at your 'ome in the Sudan;
You're a pore benighted 'eathen
but a first-class fightin' man.
Does that jar your late-20th-century sensibilities? Too bad. If we are going to practice colonialism somewhere east of Suez, we had better brush up on our Kipling. You say it's not colonialism because we are not seeking dominion over palm and pine? True, we are not. Today's colonialism of compassion lacks even the redeeming clarity of rapaciousness. Many old-time imperialists had the sort of robust altruism that inspired a turn-of-the-century senator to say we would civilize the Philippines right up to the level of Kansas City.
The administration seems to think the secret of success in Somalia is better night-vision equipment for armored fighting in Mogadishu's congested neighborhoods. The theory du jour is that "getting" warlord Aidid would make Somalia safe for the people sent there to make it safe for Somalis. People who believe that evidently think the civic culture, or lack thereof, that bred General Aidid will breed no others like him.
People hot to go "get" him in the back streets of Mogadishu should first visit a video store and rent the movie "The Battle of Algiers." Their ardor for urban warfare may be cooled by this dramatization of French soldiers hunting enemies in Algiers. If we do not have the stomach for full-blooded colonialism -- we don't, and shouldn't -- we should get out quickly. The alternative is a slow self-inflicted torture of futility.
It is said that if U.S. forces are withdrawn U.S. "credibility" or "influence" or something will suffer, spoiling our ability to function well in such situations. Good. There should be no more such situations.
Furthermore, when considering apocalyptic warnings about how withdrawal from Somalia will annihilate U.S. power, consider this: In 1975, helicopters lifting off the U.S. Embassy in Saigon announced the loss of a war, but 14 years later the fall of the Berlin Wall sealed the U.S. victory in the Cold War. In 1983 one truck bomb blew U.S. forces out of Lebanon, but 10 years later the White House lawn was the venue for signing an Israeli-PLO peace agreement.