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In kabul the Taliban are cutting off people's hands and stoning adulterers. Women are forbidden to go out without the veil or to hold down serious jobs. Public executions are held on a regular basis as an amusement, the way we have sitcoms in this country.

In Central Africa people are starving to death and dying of cholera in the camps or along the roads toward home because the Hutu and Tutsi tribes are at it again and would rather that people die than that the other tribe achieve advantage. Dictator Mobutu of Zaire plays with toy automobiles in his chateau on the Cote d'Azur and forbids U.N. relief workers to cross Zaire's borders to save the children.

In Bosnia the first snows are falling and the Serbs are blowing up good houses lest the Muslims move back in under the derisory "peace accords." As U.S. and Russian (Russian!) troops attempt to stop the fighting, Muslims storm a village and the Serbs fire back.

In Belfast what seemed just months ago to be the true beginning of the end of the Northern Ireland "troubles," encounters the same old intransigence. The killings resume and again there is a darkness over the land. But the IRA offers a Christmas truce. So if we're lucky, Harrod's won't be bombed this year. And how long does the truce last this time?

The Iraqis are being beastly to the Kurds, that SOB Saddam. But then, so too are the Turks being beastly to the Kurds, our gallant NATO allies the Turks. Even the Kurds are being beastly to the Kurds, and killing one another. Everyone is being beastly to the Kurds who live in the mountains of three or four countries all of which are beastly to the Kurds and where the snow is already deep.

This is what we have these days instead of The Cold War.

You don't really need larger than life monsters like Stalin or even Hitler to serve up horror. A ration of religious and tribal and racial animosity will do the job, though on a smaller scale. A little bigotry, a dash of hate, an ill-defined border, a tinpot despot or two, a local tyrant, are all that's needed to harvest these latest killing fields.

And along comes this headline in The New York Times, "Clinton may be pressured to act on global stage," with its dismaying subhead, "Some see a threat in disengagement overseas."

As for words that send a chill, consider these of retiring Secretary of State Christopher:

"We cannot advance American interests by lowering the American flag. Our global presence should be expanding, not contracting."

A couple of days later, the election safely behind us, Clinton went back on his word to announce he was keeping the troops in Bosnia for another 18 months or so and sending a couple of thousand soldiers to Central Africa. He's not yet ordered deployments to Kabul to disarm the Taliban or restore women's rights but that may be coming. No word as of now about the Kurds or the Belfast Irish but you can expect they won't be overlooked. If there's a place we can meddle, count on it.

As dreadful are the things that are happening in those places and as awful the conditions, is that what Secretary Christopher means about "expanding.*.*. our global presence?"

If it means sending some dough, offering our diplomatic good offices, donating relief supplies, surplus food, medicine, trucks to carry the stuff, water purification gear, tents and field hospitals, OK, then. I'm all for humanitarian aid and plenty of it.

But if it means having American soldiers dragged naked through jeering street mobs as happened to our Rangers in Somalia, then no.

Has there been any cogent, reasoned and serious foreign policy debate on all this in recent days? Clinton overlooked it in the campaign and Dole, obsessed by prayer in the schools and desecration of the flag, never brought it up.

But now that the elections are over, a lame-duck Secretary of State wants us getting more rather than less involved in the sinkholes of the globe.

Has Bill Clinton thought this through? Up on the Hill, what about the Republicans? What's their take? Do you know who the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee is? Jesse Helms. Jesse's foreign policy agenda begins and ends with, I'll hold hearings when I'm good and ready.

Who speaks for America in defining vital national interests? I don't believe they include Central Africa or Bosnia. Let's have some answers before the Marines ship out anywhere.

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