WHAT IS OUR SELF-INTEREST?

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No wonder President Clinton is biting his lower lip with increasing ferocity.

North Korea. Haiti. Rwanda.

What is the poor man to do? I don't think he knows; I don't believe anyone knows for sure. Except the pundits in their newspaper columns and on the tube. Certain not that Warren Christopher, our increasingly befuddled secretary of state. Or our even more obscure national security adviser, Anthony Lake.

Where is our Bismarck? Where is our Disraeli? Where is today's Cordell Hull? Maybe even those foreign policy eminences would have been confounded by the crises, small and large, doing such damage to Bill Clinton's lip. Even I, who majored in English but took a minor in political science, must confess confusion and despair.

How do you solve the insoluble?

Like General Washington, I have always been wary of foreign entanglements, once actually putting theory into action when we became entangled in Korea, inarguably a foreign country, and going over there in an attempt to extricate us and work things out, by shooting at chaps.

Eventually, of course, once enough chaps had been shot on both sides, the war ended and we came home.

Not that this solved anything, as Jimmy Carter's latest mission made manifest. Nor have our gallant allies or the U.N. been of great help. North Korea is a mean mother and when we urged the rest of the world to support our call for sanctions, there was an enormous silence. Our gallant allies, the Japanese, and our most friendly trading partners, the Chinese, went out to lunch and there was no one home when Secretary Christopher called. As for our even more gallant allies, the South Koreans, whom you might think would be somewhat interested, they seem to think the Americans are a greater threat to their prosperity than old Kim Il Sung.

So Kim of the South (our Kim) will meet in July with Kim of the North (an S.O.B. I don't believe when he says "Good morning!") and if you think that's going to solve the Korean question, I have a volume of "Peter Cottontail" stories I can provide you.

As far as the South Koreans are concerned, their self-interest appears to be primarily mercantile. I mean, let's not do anything that might interfere with the selling of cars. They don't even really want a unified Korea since they remember what happened in Germany when all those Easterners crossed over looking for jobs. When South Korean students demonstrate, it is usually against us and not against "The Great Leader" up there in the North.

So while no one will support sanctions against North Korea, 30 nations have already signed up to impose sanctions on Haiti, which is bothering nobody but its own people.

Haiti won its independence from France in 1804, about 25 years after we cut loose from the Brits. Now, two centuries later, Haiti is still screwed up. Not because of us or the Russians or old Hitler or colonial powers or any outside force. The Haitians run Haiti; they just can't seem to run it very well.

They elected a new president a few years back and then the colonels threw him out. This is in the long and honored tradition of Haiti where the man with a gun pretty much runs things and has been doing so since the salad days of Dessalines. There are only 5,000 soldiers in the Haitian army but 4,000 of them are colonels. They are not very great at fighting wars but are excellent at bumping off civilians and torture. The president they threw out is a priest who had been quoted as favoring the "necklacing" of his political enemies, in other words killed by having a gas-soaked tire placed 'round a person's neck and set ablaze. Father Aristide, the president, is also said to suspect he may be Jesus.

So now we may be about to invade Haiti to set things right and 30 nations seem to be backing us up because it would be so much simpler to invade Haiti and shoot a few chaps than to settle things with Kim Il Sung.

You might inquire what the U.N. is doing about Haiti (aside from letting us do it) or about North Korea. And to broaden the question, what is the U.N. supposed to be doing anyway? Keeping the peace? Negotiating disputes? Preventing genocide?

The fact is that all over the world people are being butchered and human rights disregarded and in Bosnia and Azerbaijan and the Sudan and Rwanda and Zaire atrocity piles on atrocity and in New York at the U.N. they make noble speeches and vote censure and nothing happens. Nothing! After nearly 50 years of having the U.N. on earth it seems that what it really does is give diplomats from obscure places an excuse to come to Manhattan and attend cocktail parties and drive around in limos and meet blondes.

And issue platitudes and wring their hands. What? I'm being unfair?

Of course there are brave and serious people in the U.N. now and in the past and let's not forget it was a U.N. army, including a lot of Yanks, that saved South Korea the last time, defeating the North and fighting the Chinese to a bloody standstill. But of what use is it today to insert courageous young men in the U.N. blue berets into chaotic and murderous brawls they cannot possibly control and are not supposed to win?

Roger Rosenblatt reminds us of such folly in his eloquent but horrendous essay in the Sunday magazine of The New York Times, reporting on what happened to 10 U.N. "peacekeepers," Belgian paras, assigned to guard the Rwandan prime minister, a woman. As the PM was pulled out and murdered, the U.N.'s Belgians, under U.N. orders, did not fire. Then, also under U.N. orders, they surrendered their weapons to the Hutus. At which point, Mr. Rosenblatt writes:

"The Hutus then turned on the Belgians, first cutting their Achilles tendons so they could not escape. Then they cut out the eyes of one, sliced off the nose of another and plunged a machete down the throat of a third ... before they shot them in the head."

Recall that grisly scene before you cheer on those in Washington or the U.N. who propose sending in young men to settle affairs in distant chaos.

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