Rattled by foreign fiascos, Clinton turns on allies

BILL CLINTON'S criticism of Britain, France and the United Nations at the weekend is a measure of White House irritation that the administration's political recovery from a disastrous first six months is being torpedoed by foreign policy fiascos. It is also clearly rattled by television pictures of downed helicopters and American dead in Somalia which look like the Vietnam war revisited.

But Mr Clinton's remarks do not mark any change in policy. In Bosnia, he said, the British and the French felt it more important to keep the arms embargo than to save the country. This is sharper rhetoric than he has used before but he has also made it clear to the Bosnian Muslims that they can expect no help from the US. The only surprise is that Mr Clinton should revive an issue over which Americans have ceased to show much concern.

The burden of Mr Clinton's remarks on Somalia is that he made a mistake in over-relying on the UN and did not realise that the political process gradually was being abandoned. There is some truth in this but the policy of pursuing Mohamed Farah Aideed was carried out by forces provided by the US that never came under UN command.

The UN Security Council had responded to the death of 24 Pakistani peace-keepers at the hands of General Aideed's militiamen on 5 June by calling for his arrest. But it was retired US admiral Jonathan Howe, the special UN envoy, who used his contacts in Washington to obtain fresh troops. According to an aide to the Defence Secretary, Les Aspin, Admiral Howe engaged in 'frenetic and obsessive' lobbying for more military forces.

For the moment, however, it is extremely tempting to present the debacle in Somalia as the result of an overtrusting US trying to do its humanitarian duty by following the more militant policies of the UN General-Secretary, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. But on 17 June, after US gunships were used against General Aideed's headquarters, Mr Clinton said: 'The purpose of the operation was to undermine the ability of Aideed to wreak military havoc in Somalia. The military back of Aideed has been broken. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.'

The danger for the administration is that in accepting the thesis that the US was shanghaied into Somalia it will make it difficult to get domestic support for co-operation with the UN in future. In the shorter term, blaming the UN is convenient because it satisfies the right, which wants nothing to do with multilateral ventures, and the left which wants an end to foreign ventures of any sort.

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