It is beginning to dawn on everyone in Washington, almost all at once, that the Clinton Administration is hopelessly lost when it comes to foreign affairs. The story of what REALLY happened in Somalia is now coming out, with two sensational articles in last Sunday's Washington Post and in this week's New Yorker, detailing a tragicomedy of incredible blunders in the handling of General Aidid. The ugly mess in Haiti is getting uglier, as Sen. Jesse Helms [R-NC] assembled an awesome, documented profile of Jean-Bertrand Aristide that stunned the Senators of both parties who gathered in Helms's office Wednesday afternoon to hear it. At the very least, it indicates Aristide is incredibly reckless in his violent language. At the worst, it indicates he may genuinely wish the deaths of his political adversaries. It is also perfectly clear that even now the six U.S. warships menacing Haiti are doing so on the assumption that the Haitian military is violating its U.N. agreement, when in fact the agreement has not been broken -- as I have been advised by a very senior U.N. diplomat in New York. The snafu is so ridiculous that nobody seems to know how to unsnarl this traffic jam without letting the public in on the depth of incompetence involved.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole has practically taken pity on our young President and is being as gentle as he can be in trying to pull together some control over the process. The New York Times today reports that Dole retreated in his attempt to limit the President's use of force in Bosnia and Haiti. In fact, Dole, who has been characterized by some as "mean-spirited" in his position on Haiti, charitably left the President a fig leaf by making his amendment "non-binding," although the President is nearly bound and gagged into submission. Who now believes Mr. Clinton will order Americans into Bosnia or Haiti without seeking congressional approval? Maybe Dee Dee Myers.
The Somalia story is one of sheer incompetence. The Sunday Post tells us: "A month before his military killed 18 U.S. soldiers on Oct. 3, Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed offered to cease hostilities and begin a `mutual dialog' with the United Nations... But the peace overture was rejected by the senior U.N. representative in Somalia, retired U.S. Adm. Jonathan T. Howe, and senior U.N. and American military commanders in Somalia, according to John Drysdale, who resigned last month as Howe's political advisor."
In the New Yorker's "Why Are We in Somalia?" by Sidney Blumenthal, we learn that the supposedly vicious warlord, General Aidid, is a pal of former President Jimmy Carter, who has been trying to warn President Clinton all year about the misguided U.S. and U.N. policies toward Aidid, led by a blustering U.N. contingent intent on killing the man who is now unquestionably the most popular political leader in Somalia. In early September, Carter received a letter from Aidid, "a desperate plea to 'prevent an impending disaster in Somalia.'" Blumenthal writes:
About the mounting battle between him and the U.N. forces, he wrote, "They have already publicly announced that they will arrest me and my colleagues or kill us all. The S.N.A. [Somali National Alliance] supporters, who are a large segment of the Somali population, have responded that they will resist this unjust war which will result in bloodshed on a large scale. We believe that this imminent tragedy should be prevented by men of goodwill and rectitude like President Jimmy Carter." Carter said, "Aidid indicated to me that he was willing to accept the findings and decision of a commission that would analyze the allegations against him from the June 5th deaths of the Pakistanis. He said that all members of this commission could be selected by the U.N. Security Council, none by him, and that he would comply with it. He said he wanted to resolve issues by peaceful means. I'm not vouching for him. He asked me to mediate."
Carter personally conveyed this information to President Clinton at the White House, the evening of September 13. The U.N. Secretary-General, Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who has long been a personal adversary of Aidid, nevertheless insisted on "neutralizing" Aidid in a September 25 letter to Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Jimmy Carter says he was left with the impression that President Clinton decided to shift to a political solution instead of a military one.
If there was a new policy, however, it was not communicated to the United States commander there, who had final approval over the use of American troops in the United Nations operation. Clinton's reversal was unrelated to the events on the ground. On the afternoon of October 3rd, on a tip, the Rangers swarmed a group of buildings near the Olympic Hotel, hoping to trap the elusive Aidid, only to find themselves surrounded by about four hundred of Aidid's men. The raid and its ghastly aftermath, according to a high State Department source, came as a surprise to Washington.
The Haiti story is just as pathetic. The story surfacing in the Senate is that Aristide, a Catholic priest elected to the presidency in 1990, had been suspended from the Silesian order of the Catholic Church in 1988 for inciting his followers to violence and class warfare against the business community of Haiti, most of which opposed him. In 1991, seven months into his presidency, the military took over because incompetence and economic deprivation reigned. Only the Vatican recognized the military regime. The United States opted for Aristide, as he had been popularly elected, protecting him in exile, and setting up the economic embargo to force his return. On July 3 of this year at New York's Governor's Island, the UN's Dante Caputo at long last secured an agreement from the Haitian military commander, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, to permit Aristide's return on October 15 in exchange for amnesty. When a U.S. Navy ship was prevented from debarking 218 Americans and Canadian troops under U.N. auspices in Port-au-Prince last week, Boutros-Ghali called for a revival of the sanctions on the grounds that Cedras & Co. "have failed to fulfill their commitments."
But wait! Cedras now insists he did not break the agreement, pointing to a formal accord he signed in New York on July 17 that stipulated that the Haitian parliament "would pass a law giving amnesty to the rebels," as the Times reported July 18. Such a law has not been passed. I called a top aide to Boutros-Ghali Wednesday afternoon, and the aide indicated that yes, the July 17 protocol had been agreed to because the July 3 agreement was not clear, as it was not certain the constitution provided for amnesty by presidential decree. Why, I asked, had the law not been passed? The aide indicated that when Aristide called the parliament into special session, he had not indicated he would be asking for amnesty, but would ask for laws opposed by the military. The U.N. official indicated this was being worked on now, by the new U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, William Swing. In other words, we have more bluster and blundering, warships steaming around, a blockade hammering the poorest of the most impoverished country in the hemisphere, and all because of, ahem, a slight misunderstanding.
What we have here is a President and UN General-Secretary playing war, like little boys in short pants, ordering troops and ships hither and yon, based on scraps of information, ill-considered news headlines, personal pique, inexperience, and crossed communication wires. The temptation is to demand a shake-up or a shake-down, tighter controls, more presidential involvement, a new foreign-policy team, et cetera. The likelihood of any of the above producing any better results is not high. There are simply no rules of engagement in this new world, and until there are, there will be no accountability. Finger-pointing will run in an endless circle as snafu follows snafu.
In remarks this morning, Senator Dole said there is now talk of a fact-finding mission that might undertake a concentrated inquiry into the problems of Haiti. Yes. As this entire dispatch indicates, there is nothing more needed by all concerned at this present moment than facts, which have been in remarkably short supply all 'round. A bipartisan, blue-ribbon, rainbow coalition panel of distinguished Americans of varied disciplines, including expertise in public finance and economic development, might do more lasting good in Haiti than all the bluster and blundering we' re getting at every flash point the world over. It might even establish a pattern, a template that could be applied and refined. Better to have a fact-finding mission before the object is incinerated, than to send in a team afterward to apply whitewash to the bloodstains.