Cameras Don’t Tell the Whole Story : Outside of Mogadishu, the U.N. is winning and the task remaining is not impossible.

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<i> The Rev. Jesse Jackson writes a syndicated column from Washington</i>

The pictures are grotesque. Jeering mobs desecrating a dead American dragged through the streets. Exultant captors exhibiting their disoriented captive to the camera. The charred remains of U.S. helicopters standing like tombstones.

What are we doing there? Why are those we came to help now shooting our sons? Many want out now. Others call for revenge. The same legislators who ducked at the beginning now rush to decry the folly. Confidence in the President and the United Nations plummets as they are blamed for the horrors.

But the cameras lie. The pictures are horribly real, but tell only part of the story. We are winning in Somalia. The United Nations has not failed, and the task remaining is not impossible.


The United States went into Somalia to forestall a tragedy. More than 350,000 people had died of starvation that resulted from anarchy and civil war. A thousand people a day were dying. Two million more were at risk. Now, as a Unicef worker says, “There are no more walking skeletons” in Somalia. The famine is over.

The tragic loss of young lives is never easy, but these soldiers have not died in vain. In most of the country, order has been restored. A decent harvest has been reaped. The port is open. Children are returning to school for the first time in years; 500,000 children have been vaccinated against measles. Clinics are being rebuilt, basic medical aid can get to villages. Some of the 1.3 million refugees have slowly begun to return to their villages. Outside of Mogadishu, beyond the camera lens, we are winning in Somalia.

None of this could have happened if outside force had not provided a measure of security, and the fragile recovery would be reversed if anarchy were to return. Those who have given the ultimate measure of sacrifice did so that millions might be saved. Our grief is not less for that. But our pain over losing them should not blind us to their accomplishment.

President Bush was right to put U.S. forces into Somalia. President Clinton was right to sustain the commitment, even while turning it over to the United Nations. And he is right to insist that we will stay until the mission is complete. To leave now would only serve anarchy and ensure that those lives truly were lost in vain.

Certainly the upheaval in Mogadishu represents a failure of policy. Any attempt to impose order to save the many would inevitably frustrate the few who benefited from disorder. When the delicate political balancing turned into a hunt for a devil, the U.N. forces became partisans in clan warfare they knew too little about. In that circumstance, Americans become special targets.

Now a fragile cease-fire exists in Mogadishu. The Administration is re-emphasizing the need for a political solution in the capital, while reinforcing the troops in case the fighting breaks out again.


It is vital that greater emphasis be given to an African solution in Somalia. The United Nations provides the global mandate for the mission; but nations in the region have the authority, the knowledge and legitimacy to facilitate an internal settlement. Any African solution will require the active involvement of Nigeria and the Organization of African Unity.

In 1991, Nigeria led an OAU committee on Somalia that met with the warlords and settled the turmoil that arose after the coup that displaced the government of Mohamed Siad Barre. The Nigerian troops now in Somalia as part of the U.N. force have also suffered casualties. Under Ernest Shonekan, Nigeria has offered to convene a meeting of the leaders of Somalia’s feuding factions, and to play an increased role until a lasting settlement is worked out.

The Clinton Administration has been reluctant to engage the Nigerians, because the military of that nation has refused to embrace democracy and recognize the results of the last election. Pressure, it is true, should be maintained on the Nigerians to return to the democratic path. But that pressure need not keep us from enlisting the OAU and the Nigerians to provide the necessary regional leadership to help forge a solution.

In a global village, connected by trade and communication, we have a great stake in the slow, difficult process of building the rule of law and forging the ties of humanity. U.N. peacekeeping operations are and should be central to this. We should be willing to join with others in bearing our fair share of the burden, even as we learn from experience.

The camera’s lust for the sensational should not distract us from this goal. Our hearts go out to those who have lost their loved ones. Our support goes to the President, who should be praised for holding firm in a just cause, even against the tide.