President Clinton's "more now, out later" plan for Somalia is based on a presumption that may or may not be true - that things will be better over there on March 31. If one were a Somali warlord, the smart thing to do would be to lay low until March 31, let Clinton pull U.S. troops out in good order, and the following day - well, the following day is April Fools' Day.
Thus far, Mohamed Aidid has been smart enough to make monkeys out of the U.N. troops who have been chasing him. Two days after Clinton announced that almost all U.S. troops would be out by March 31, Aidid told his militia to stop taking potshots at the U.N. forces. He can wait six months; he's on his own turf. The time will pass much more slowly for the U.S. and U.N. forces stationed there.The United Nations has been trying mightily to catch Aidid and lying about it. Every time U.N. troops stage a raid on his "headquarters" and come up empty-handed or with a couple of underlings, U.N. officials say, "Oh no, we weren't after General Aidid." The heck they weren't. They say, "We were just trying to strip away his organization and support." The heck they were. Bearing at least the obligation to appear civilized as they blast away at the populace, they would not drag his body through the streets if they captured him - but they would display him with great pride.
Aidid has done one thing for U.N. and U.S. credibility. They have maintained, while he has denied, that previous attacks on U.N. forces were done with his knowledge or consent. Now he has demonstrated they are right in saying he is in charge of his forces. When he called for a truce, there was a truce.
The United Nations is negotiating with the Aidid faction and at the same time insisting on "accountability" - that someone be held responsible for attacks on the U.N. forces.
It is one thing not to know what Aidid's game plan is. It is quite another not to know our own. On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said our game plan had changed. We were no longer committed to helping Somalia build a stable government. Most Americans had believed our commitment was limited to feeding starving people. We are now, said Christopher, turning the stable government task over to neighboring African governments. Our mission in Somalia now is limited to helping the United Nations restore order. Which will be done by April Fools' Day.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., is waiting in the wings with an amendment to the defense appropriations bill cutting off all money for U.S. forces in Somalia. Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., has said it might pass. Depending on the cutoff date, the administration might be happy to have Congress pull us out. Clinton could tell the United Nations it wasn't his fault.