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Somalia pressing policy issues.

NEW YORK -- "Somalia is now an occupied country," David Funkhouser, an American Friends Service Committee official, told NCR a day after he returned from a brief mid-December visit to that famine-wracked land.

"While the U.S. may pull this adventure off in terms of public opinion," he said, its sending Marines to ensure food-aid deliveries "won't resolve anything. In fact, it's likely to prolong a resolution of the conflicts there."

The most concrete accomplishment of the U.S. military presence in Somalia, Funkhouser said, will be to further legitimize a new U.S. policy direction, encouraging military interventions in the name of humanitarian relief.

"Somalia is the second major step, the Kurds in Iraq having been the first, in finding a new role for the military in the post-Cold War era," said Funkhouser, an Episcopal priest and interim head of AFSC's Somalia and Mozambique programs.

He cited two major reasons for this new direction:

* A desire by U.S. political leaders to find ways to "keep the military busy in the post-Cold War" and to minimize cuts in the military budget.

* The concern of the military-industrial complex -- whose weapons industries helped flood Somalia with guns during the Cold War -- to justify continuing "business as usual."

The U.S. military presence in Somalia has sharpened debate among American pacifists and others on the moral dilemmas posed by the use of force for humanitarian ends, and the practical dilemmas of differentiating police actions from engagement in war. As U.S. Catholic Conference adviser the Rev. J. Brian Hehir noted in a Dec. 21 New York Times article detailing this debate, many are now rethinking traditional notions of sovereignty and intervention.

Arguing that the U.S. decision to intervene reinforced a deliberate policy direction, Funkhouser recounted how a State Department used a meeting with private voluntary organizations -- barely a week before Bush acted -- to orchestrate their support for stronger action in Somalia.

"They wanted to pre-empt an actively negative response. They didn't mention anything to the PVOs about what they were really contemplating," Funkhouser said.

While AFSC, Interaction (an umbrella coalition of relief and development groups) and others had reluctantly urged a stronger U.N. peacekeeping presence in Somalia in late November, many were appalled at the scale, military emphasis and unilateral nature of U.S. intervention.

|Saving' the U.N.

The U.S. intervention has proved convenient to U.N. Secretary- General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. "He wants Bush to get the U.N. off the hook," Funkhouser said. "He wants the U.S. to save the day, because his own face is bloody."

Funkhouser said "bureaucratic infighting and lack of effective leadership" made the U.N. ineffective in Somalia, charges echoed by Rakiya Omaar, a Somali who was recently dismissed from AfricaWatch for publicly opposing the U.S. military presence in her country.

Funkhouser said Somalis had been demoralized by Ghali's dismissal of Mohammed Sahnoun as the special U.N. representative to Somalia.

Sahnoun had negotiated a web of mini-peace agreements and really worked with the complexity of Somali society, said Funkhouser. "He was a maverick," he said "He went outside U.N. protocol to get the job done. It was one reason he was so successful. And also the reason he was fired."

Ghali, by contrast, has deferred to the two big Somali warlords, and all official U.N. negotiations have focused on those two. "But the warlords don't control the armed bands. There are so many factions, a very complex web of loyalties, and many more traditional leaders that the U.N. -- and now the U.S. -- is continuing to ignore," he said.

Although the U.S. military presence in Somalia is now a fait accompli, aid agencies still face the difficult question of how to relate to the U.S. troops there.

Some, like World Vision, have reportedly urged a "strategic alliance" with the U.S. military and even visited the military center in Florida that is coordinating U.S. operations in Somalia. Others feel that the U.S. presence will grow more problematic over time and think agencies should keep their distance.

Funkhouser said many Americans think Somalia is populated only by starving people.

"It's important for people to know that in some parts of Somalia, life is going on and that Somalias do know how to run their own affairs," he said.

A need for self-help

Funkhouser went to Somalia to visit the Omaria agricultural cooperative, about 80 miles southwest of the capital, Mogadishu. A multi-clan endeavor that serves a community of 1,800, the cooperative's members include many women, rural farmers and some small-business owners.

AFSC has helped them with milling equipment, livestock, veterinary services, agricultural inputs, such as seed and tools, and a storage barn. "AFSC has lost nothing to looting," he said, crediting "our Somali staff, who know how to negotiate."

Funkhouser said the U.S. had no comprehensive plan for what it is trying to do in Somalia. "It's attempting a |quick fix' of a complicated situation," he said. "If we see starving people, we send in the military."

And the longer the troops stay, the more problems their presence will generate.

"Our Marines are very vulnerable," Funkhouser said. "They look tense. And why shouldn't they be. They can't even communicate with the people. So they surround themselves and their positions with long coils of barbed wire and hold their automatic weapons in a tense way. It's just a matter of time before there are more incidents."

And Islamic fundamentalists are well-placed to exploit them, Funkhouser said. Mogadishu vibrates to the sound of U.S. helicopters all day, he said, so he asked several children whom they thought the helicopters belonged to. "One said, |The Americans.' A small boy told |non-Muslims.' Still another said |white people."

Asked what the U.S. could constructively do in Somalia, Funkhouser said, "Help the Somalis to help themselves. We need to understand Somalia, to look at its regional complexities. We need to take a back seat and trust the Somalis to find their own solutions. But it takes time. And our military is not too used to this.

"The U.S. would like to quickly wipe away those images of starving children, partly out of guilt. But Somalis need a slow process. Can our leaders, our military, live with the messiness of waiting while allowing deeper solutions, rather than a quick fix, to emerge?

"We need to emphasize peace and reconciliation. This requires humility. It requires our stepping back and really listening. This is not our national tradition. Our answer to problems is our might. We need to learn from Somalia that won't work."

Disarmament is important, Funkhouser said, but it must be done voluntarily, by buying weapons. Any attempt to disarm by force would likely cause many deaths.

"But we need economic incentives for young people to give up their weapons for a more productive life. We need employment schemes. That's what some agencies are looking into now," he said.

"[It] would be very bad in the long-run if the U.S. tried to rush the reconciliation process or push formation of a national government too quickly. The Somali political process takes a long time. Peace conferences take a long time," he said.

"The U.S. needs to work with leaders of all factions, not just the two biggest ones, and to realize that the food delivery timeline will be quite different from the peace and reconciliation timeline.

"We need to develop regional peace initiatives, to build peace from below, not try to impose it from the top down. There are grass-roots movements for peace in Somalia. We need to find them and give them logistical support."
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Title Annotation:American Friends Service Committee debates Operation Restore Hope
Author:Collins, Carole
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 8, 1993
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