No Easy Answers

In early December 1992, I made my second trip to Somalia to visit American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) staff and assess program needs. Though it was not planned this way, my arrival coincided with the launching of "Operation Restore Hope," the massive U.S. Marine-led intervention of more than 30,000 troops (28,000 U.S. and 2,000 from other nations) into Somalia, with the stated purpose of safeguarding the delivery of food and preventing further mass starvation. With anguish I watched the young soldiers in their gargantuan vehicles and at their installations surrounded by coils of unfriendly barbed wire, holding their weapons in tense readiness for action.

I was deeply distressed that the tragedy in Somalia had come to this. Images of starving Somali children on Western TV and in the press had cried out to the moral consciousness of the world, long after warnings of the impending disaster. With too little and too late, the United Nations had failed. Many relief agencies were pressing for stronger action.

Following the elections in November, then-President Bush announced the military operation, and another giant step was taken in the post-Cold War use of the military in humanitarian crises. Were there other alternatives?

The case of Baidoa is instructive. There, in the weeks before the United States made known its intervention plans, a delicate set of negotiated agreements among the factions in conflict had succeeded in creating a substantial, albeit fragile, measure of stability. Looting of food supplies was down to 5 percent, and the death rate had dropped significantly.

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