Clinton purges foreign advisers: Officials take blame for US policy failures

FAILURE in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia is leading the Clinton administration to purge its foreign policy team as it looks for somebody to blame for these setbacks. The latest official to lose his job is Clifton Wharton, the number two at the State Department, who says in his letter of resignation this week that 'in the past two weeks it became unmistakably clear that I was being subjected to the classic Washington practice of sustained anonymous leaks to the media'.

Mr Wharton had an administrative job with little input in formulating policy, but the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, himself under heavy fire for recent reverses, wanted a more experienced diplomat as his chief lieutenant. Mr Christopher's own job is not yet on the line but it is doubtful if he can survive another foreign policy debacle.

It was the television pictures of downed helicopters and US soldiers killed in Mogadishu on 3 October - looking like a battlefield in Vietnam - which was the turning-point for Mr Clinton's foreign policy. Ever since, the White House has been rubbing its fingerprints off US policy in Somalia by blaming the UN and its own officials.

In fact, President Clinton's role appears to have been greater than he has admitted. In an interview with Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post in early July Mr Clinton 'left no doubt that he was intimately involved in the effort to run (General Mohamed Farah) Aideed to ground and would not be satisfied until the Somali clan leader is jailed. Decision-making on airstrikes targeting Aideed's lieutenants and the warlord himself has been entirely in American hands.'

Although retired US Admiral Jonathan Howe, the UN Special Envoy in Somalia, was widely seen in Washington as the man most responsible for what had gone wrong, he was difficult to fire because his appointment had been forced on the UN by the US earlier in the year. This made it embarrassing to demand that the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, sack him.

Instead, it was the US Special Envoy to Somalia, Bob Gosende, who was fired in late October. A cable sent by him to the State Department on 6 September entitled 'Taking the offensive' was leaked to the press. Mr Gosende wrote that 'any plan for negotiating a 'truce' with Aideed's henchmen should be shelved. We should not deal with per

petrators of terrorist acts.'

Given that the US has now effectively negotiated a truce with General Aideed none of this looks good in retrospect, but there is also no doubt that Mr Gosende's attitude at the time was in keeping with White House policy. Only since the 3 October killing of the 18 US Rangers has the administration pushed the line that it always preferred political to military action.

Mr Gosende is not the only casualty. At the State Department, David Shinn, the head of the Somali task force, was removed and replaced by Jim Dobbins, whose experience is primarily in Western Europe. At the Pentagon, Tom Longstreth has been newly appointed to look after Somalia.

The problem for Mr Clinton is that by frequently blaming somebody else for failures, which may relieve the short- term political pressure, he reinforces the impression that he is not in charge. Secondly, he gives comfort to opponents - be they Haitian generals or Serbian politicians - by failing to give full backing to his chief lieutenants such as Mr Christopher and the Secretary of Defence, Les Aspin. On Sunday he said he would keep the men at their their posts 'as long as we're still working together'.

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