Gen. John Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has declared victory in Somalia and is bringing the troops home. What happens to the country after the United States pulls out, the general says, is up to the political leadership of that country.

While the United States went in with the right motives and for the right reasons, the pullback is right but for all the wrong reasons. Even our allies - especially Germany and Italy - are leaving. The United States is sending its diplomats to the nations whose U.N. troops are staying behind, namely Pakistan, India and Morocco. What reassuring words do we have for them?One reason the United Nations and the United States went into Somalia in the first place was because of the absence of political leadership. What has changed since 1992? Nothing, except the warlords have agreed to talk to one another.

Another reason was the humanitarian one. The Somali street gangs were accosting Red Cross and other workers and stealing food meant for their own people. The stark images of starving Somali children still linger. The hunger in Somalia has not been abated, though relief supplies are making it out of Mogadishu, the capital, under U.N. auspices.

The Somali goon squads are merely biding their time until March 31, when all the Americans will be gone. How is the invisible Somali leadership going to deal with them then?

Shalikashvili said that while a return to chaos can't be discounted, "I have high hopes for progress providing the political leadership can get its act together." Given Somalia's history, the thugs - not the government nor the 28,000 U.N. troops left behind - can be expected to wield the power.

Somalia isn't the only African nation that is coming apart. Sudan, Angola and possibly South Africa could be heading toward civil wars. U.S. and U.N. good intentions are not enough when people can't get food or when the gang with the most weapons rules a nation.

The Somalia episode has shown Americans if you intervene to stamp out hatred, the warring factions soon gang up on the rescuers. Twenty-six Americans lost their lives in Somalia. That's a costly reminder of a lesson we should have learned much earlier in Vietnam.

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