Look on the bright side: If we pull our soldiers out of Somalia (as we must) and appear to be driven away from a legitimate mission in Haiti by 50 or so gun-wielding hoodlums, at least nobody in the United Nations should want us to be part of a Bosnian peacekeeping operation.

Beyond that, one of these days it's going to occur to the United Nations that the one recent international peacemaking operation that has been - to everyone's surprise - something of a success is Cambodia, where elections were held and a government put in place and where the Khmer Rouge may behave after all, and where the United States did not take a visible role.Casualties in Cambodia while U.N. forces monitored the election and tried to keep the Khmer Rouge from killing all the voters ahead of time included a couple of Japanese, a Dutchman, some Chinese engineers and several Polish and Bulgarian soldiers.

Somehow, perhaps because CNN had no footage of the casualties, those nations' contingents hung in there and saw the job through. Or perhaps those folks are not as self-absorbed as we. I mean, surely the Bulgarians do not assume that Sofia is the center of the world.

Meanwhile, here in the United States - which essentially invented the United Nations and blew life into it for 40 years and busied itself with forging coalitions and treaty organizations and rebuilding former friends and foes alike as long as there was a bogeyman (communism) in the dark under the stairs - we are tired of it all. We have decided to sit out the rest of the 1990s. International leadership is too much trouble. Wake us the next time there's a world war or something.

We are settling, to be brief, into an isolationist funk. We the people and our Congress, especially.

Frankly, that may be one reason we were ready to toss an avowed foreign policy junkie overboard and elect a president who was as absorbed as we ourselves with domestic affairs. It's the economy, stupid. It's health care, dummy. It's reinventing government, fella. Nothing wrong with all that, unless we and our leaders turn our backs on the rest of the equation.

I do not suggest that the United States go looking for ways to spend our money abroad or ways to get our people killed in foreign lands. But I do suggest that isolationism is not the answer to our problems but rather the result of uncommon political, social and economic circumstances that can put arch-conservative Sen. Phil Gramm and arch-liberal Rep. Pat Schroeder on the same side of the Somalian debate. Once in a lifetime.

Isolationism is prominent in the opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and in the more radical remedies for our immigration problems. It blames others for holes in our economy. It transcends race and social class. Isolationism appeals to the American yearning (how else do you explain Ross Perot?) for weak-minded simplicity.

However, the Great Wall didn't save China, and U.S. isolationism has not served us well in this century. We need to remember that we take chances with the future of our world when we fail to pay the price to help shape it.