In his six years of tumultuous rule, Field Mar shall I Idi Amin has often taken on the superpowers verbally and flirted with political disaster by threatening invasion of one or another of his back when he found himself on the brink of self destruction.
Whatever the burly giant of the unhappy terror-striken East African nation of Uganda may be - a demented megalomaniac, an African hilter, a tasteless buffoon or just the region's on fool when it comes to calculating his own survival.
Furthermore, for all his blundering and blustering Amin has never attacked any of his neighbors and has generally spared resident Westerners from his ugly reign of terror that has reportedly taken somewhere between 50,000 and 300,000 lives.
Thus it does not seem likely he will risk a serious confrontation over the 240 Americans residing in his country unless he is provoked by sheer fear of attack frim the United States or some combination of neighboring states, such as Kenya and Tanzania.
For this reason alone, however, the situation remains fraught with risks and danger and a misinterpreted move or word could provoked a tragedy. In addition, the developing crisis is bound to raise still bitter memories in Uganda of the raid by Israeli troops on Entebbe airport in July to free 103 Israeli hostages from a Palestinian terrorist group.
As the murder of one hapless Israeli hostage, Dora Bloch, by Ugandan security men showed, Amin is not above killing foreigners in retaliation for stinging humiliation such as Israel dealt him.
Just why he has decided deliberately to create a situation of tension involving a superpower like the United States is not altogether clear, but there is often more to Amin's strange behavior than at first meets the eyes.
For exampel, it may be that by calling all resident Americans to the capital he is signaling to the Western powers that they back any new attempt to overthrow him. In this manner he perhaps hopes to forestall or avert such an effort.
Amin has just once again emerged unscathed from another imagined or real plot to assassinate him, the latest in an incresingly frequent number of reported coup attempts. He has reportedly rounded up over a thousand Acholi and Lango tribesmen suspected of conspiring against him and scores of them have apparently been killed adding to the already monstrous death toll of his regime.
To all appearances, Amin's power base that depends on the minority Moslem population - about 15 per cent of the country's nearly 12 million people - has been steadily shrinking and even a large proportion of his own carefully picked and groomed army has turned against him.
One recent report estimated that a quarter of his army was under arrest, incliding most of its officers.Whether or not this is an exaggeration, all evidence seems to point toward growing problems and tribal conflict within the Ugandan armed forces.
In the latest alleged coup attempt, set for Jan. 25, the sixth anniversary of Amin's seizure of power, disgruntled troops were said to have plotted his assassination because he had appointed members of his own tiny West Nile Kakwa tribe to practically all key security and military positions and excluded members of other tribes from high post.
The Longo and Acholi tribes have felt most aggrieved under Amin and have borne the burnt of his periodic purges of the army and government. Uganda's former President Milton Obote, who now lives in the Tanazanian capital, Dar es Salaam, is a Longo and the Acholi people backed him. In September 1972, Obote and his followers tried to invade Uganda and oust Amin but the invasion failed.
As his power base within the army continues to shrink, Amin has sought to bolster his position by hiring southern Sudanese mercenaries - as many as 5,000 - and by seeking the help of outsiders such as Palestinians, Libyans and other Arabs.
Most recently, he reportedly has turned to Cuba for help, a seemingly strange alliance for both sides. Agence France-Presse reported today that a Cuban delegation had been in Kampala since Monday discussing with Amin ways of strengthening his Soviet armed forces.
Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi has announced that his forces are at Amin's disposition in the current situation.
But whether such outside support can compensate for his narrowing base within the army remains to be seen. It seems that the former boxing champion turned military dictator is coming toward the end of his tether defense and in his suppression by force of the internal opposition even more dangerous is the worlwide campaign to condemn the Ugandan regime for the killing of Anglican Archbishop Jahani Luwum and two of Amin's Cabinet ministers allegedly involved in the latest plotting.
As he grows more isloated, Amin will probably also grow more dangerous and desperate and seek to use any means at his disposal to survive.
A too-hostile gesture or verbal assault from Washington could provoke a distrustful Amin into taking some of the Americans in Uganda as hostages in the hope of forestalling an invasion from Ugandan exiles in Tanzania or another coup attempt.
Thus the United States is facing a delicate and dangerous dilimma in trying to protect its nationals from becoming Amin's pawns in the game for power in Uganda.