Today, Somalia ... . . .Tomorrow, why not Bosnia?

The success of Bush's mission could put pressure on Clinton to intervene elsewhere.

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Clinton was clearly aware last week that he will be pulled willy-nilly into foreign affairs. "The dividing line between foreign and domestic policy is increasingly blurred," he said at a press conference in Washington. "Our Administration will be forced to spend a lot of time on foreign policy whether we want to or not." In careful increments, he doled out clues to his thinking that were consistent with his campaign posture as a global activist but circumscribed to remain generally in line with Bush. Clinton acknowledged that a prolonged stay in Somalia might become unavoidable, broadening the mission from merely secure to "maintainable" supply lines. He noted that establishing a political infrastructure will take even longer. And as the West wrestled with ways to restore some hope in Bosnia, Clinton said that "anything we can do to try to turn up the heat and reduce the carnage is worth trying."

As the days go by, Clinton's team must quickly put some detail on these bare outlines. Team members are pondering the mess they will face in Somalia. By Washington's definition, U.S. troops will leave when they have made the country safe for relief efforts. In a letter to Congress last week, Bush said American soldiers would be there "only as long as necessary to establish a secure environment" for humanitarian efforts. "We believe that prolonged operations will not be necessary," Bush said.

That position does not coincide with Boutros-Ghali's. He has said all along that the U.S. will have to disarm the warring clans in order to create a "secure environment." The U.S. ducked that tricky question in writing its vague rules of engagement, which leave it up to local commanders to decide how much disarming to do. Now the Secretary-General is demanding that before going home American troops not only seize the Somali clans' arsenals but also remove the mines that have been laid in the north of the country and set up a military police force to preserve order.

Only then, Boutros-Ghali says, will the U.N. provide peacekeepers to take over. Policymakers in Washington maintain that this is not what they agreed to and not what the relevant Security Council resolution provides. When Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger first made the offer of troops to the U.N. the day before Thanksgiving, says a senior U.S. official, the terms were unambiguous: "a narrow, limited mandate for our forces." Now, says the official, "Boutros-Ghali is moving the goalposts."

This will make things very difficult for Clinton. No follow-on U.N. peacekeeping force can be put into Somalia without Boutros-Ghali's cooperation, and an American pullout without such a U.N. presence would be a disaster. "We may be looking at a very long commitment, measured in years, not months," says a Clinton aide.

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