(Washington, D.C.): With President Clinton’s foreign
policy address last Friday, the starting gun has sounded on an
intense new campaign to persuade the Congress to support his plan
to deploy as many as 25,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Bosnia.
Already, some Republicans are showing signs of being willing —
in the words of one — to “hold their noses and cross their
fingers”: They are buying into the argument that as
internationalists they have to go along, albeit reluctantly, with
the Clinton agenda.
After all, it is implied, only knuckle-dragging isolationists
are going to oppose putting a division’s worth of American
personnel in harm’s way under very dubious circumstances; only
those indifferent to the importance of NATO and the credibility
of America and its president in international affairs will try to
prevent the imminent deployment.
Fortunately, as the attached column
by William Safire published in yesterday’s New York Times
makes clear, it ain’t necessarily so. Indeed there are a number
of sound bases upon which responsible Republicans (and for that
matter Democrats) can and should vote to block Clinton’s folly.
Consider the following:
- The argument that the United States has to deploy forces
in Bosnia to demonstrate American leadership is
fundamentally a smokescreen. It is intended to conceal the
egregious lack of leadership on Bosnia displayed until
recently by the Clinton Administration. As a result
of Mr. Clinton’s past unwillingness to exercise even the
modest air power finally brought to bear last month, some
250,000 people have died and untold millions have been
displaced in the Balkans. Affording some of the many
aggrieved souls an opportunity to take out their
frustrations on American personnel will not rectify the
President’s past failures.
- A related point is that U.S. troops make better
targets than peacekeepers. This is especially true
where it is unclear that there is any real peace to keep
(e.g., places like Somalia, the Golan Heights and
Bosnia). The military understands this reality; for
example, a Marine general was quoted on ABC News last
Wednesday night to the effect that the parties to the
conflict will definitely attack Americans, first and
- Regrettably, the inherent danger to U.S. personnel
involved in such missions can be increased by politicized
planning, rules of engagement and timetables. The present
plan, such as it is, has all the hallmarks of Clinton’s modus
operandi — what Newsweek‘s Joe Klein called
“the politics of promiscuity,” the practice of
saying and doing anything to get one’s way even
ephemerally. This time the goal is to get the
President off the hook through the November election.
After that, le deluge.
- In practice, there are only two outcomes — assuming the
mission can actually be sustained as long as the fall of
1996: 1) The United States will be obliged once again
ignominiously to withdraw its forces in the face of a
renewed and rapidly escalating conflict between some
combination of the parties. Or 2) “mission
creep” will set in — the inexorable demand to
insert more and more forces for the purpose of trying to
restore a peace agreement that has broken down.
- The risks of such a Hobson’s choice are all the greater
since U.S. forces are to be assigned to what is,
arguably, the most dangerous zone of all — the
north-central portion of Bosnia which includes Tuzla and
Mostar. These communities have in the past been the
scenes of extremely brutal three-way fighting between the
various factions and can be expected to be the scene of a
melt-down in the future.
- Of special concern is the increasing unreliability of
the Croats. President Franjo Tudjman’s forces have
been engaged in their own, odious acts of ethnic
cleansing in Kraijina and before that in Bosnia. What is
more, the Croatian army and its proxies in Bosnia have
been perfectly prepared to undercut their sometime
Bosnian allies when it has been deemed expedient to do
so. Indeed, a few months ago, Tudjman actually revealed
in London the ultimate outcome he expected: a Bosnia
divided between Croats and Serbs.
- In this regard it is noteworthy that Germany has, to
date, not been called upon to provide contributions of
either ground and/or financial resources commensurate
with its interests in the region and abilities. To be
sure, there is some bad history involved here. Still, the
reality is that the Germans are probably the only ones
likely to be able to keep the Croats in check. If any
peacekeeping forces are going to be deployed to potential
Bosnian-Croatian flashpoints like Mostar, they should be
- Speaking of divvying up Bosnia, the original U.S.
commitment to put American forces on the ground in a
peacekeeping mode was in the context of monitoring a
peace settlement in a multi-ethnic Bosnian state — not
one that is, as a practical matter, about to be
partitioned. Under the circumstances now in prospect,
the American role could well prove to be a singularly
odious one, i.e., that of helping protect the Serb
aggressors from efforts by the Bosnians and the Croats
(in Eastern Slovonia) to recover their lost territory.
- Toward this same end, the United States is now talking
about lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia so as to
deliver only defensive weapons and related
training in carefully calibrated (read, micromanaged)
quantities. The Serbs will be able to get whatever
armaments they wish, particularly once the sanctions
against Belgrade are lifted.
- Then there is the matter of the Russians. It would
absurd if — after all the talk of having to put U.S.
troops on the ground in Bosnia in order to save NATO —
the United States winds up (either an indirect result or
as a direct quid pro quo) having to support
putting Russian troops on the ground in Bosnia. There
is simply no way to integrate Moscow into the NATO
command loop without destroying it. After his weekend
meeting with Secretary of Defense Perry in Geneva,
Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev made very clear
his determination to confound U.S. efforts to have NATO
control the so-called Implementation Force.
- The alternatives of continuing to subordinate NATO forces
to the U.N. or creating parallel chains of command for
NATO and Russian forces are no less problematic. With
respect to the latter, expect trouble if NATO tries to
run its own show in Bosnia but has to contend with
ongoing UN operations in Macedonia and Croatia.
What to Do?
In light of these realities, it should be obvious that the
peace agreement being brokered by President Clinton’s emissary,
Amb. Richard Holbrooke, will fail — later, if not reasonably
soon. If Congress nonetheless agrees to approve the deployment of
20,000-plus American troops to Bosnia, it ensures that it will
share responsibility with the President for the resulting fiasco.
On the other hand, if it declines to authorize such a
deployment, it risks being the exclusive object of blame for the
inevitable melt-down. It will, therefore, take courage and a
clear enunciation of the alternative approach legislators favor
if they are to receive credit for protecting U.S. forces from a
deadly morass and ensure that the responsibility for the further
bloodshed to come rests where it belongs — with the Clinton
Such an alternative approach would have the following
- The objective of U.S. policy should be to help the
Bosnian government army create and preserve conditions in
which a secure, multi-ethnic Bosnia has a chance to
exist. The United States should neither be party to
the de facto partitioning of Bosnia nor facilitate
Serb efforts to consolidate ill-gotten gains.
- The U.S. military should play a role, but one confined
to providing air cover, logistical support (airlift, air
drops, etc.) and the supply and training in the use of
advanced weaponry necessary for the Bosnian army to
counter and defeat Serb armor and heavy artillery.
- Naturally, the arms embargo against Bosnia would be
ended forthwith. If the numerically superior Bosnian
government forces acquire such capabilities, the
prospects of maintaining the Bosnian-Croat alliance are
considerably enhanced. So too will be the chances of
recovering the momentum achieved during this summer’s
military offensive against the Bosnian Serbs, thus
reversing “ethnic cleansing” and providing
defensible borders for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
- Russian troops should not be deployed in a
peacekeeping role in Bosnia either. President Clinton
should be prevailed upon to withdraw his invitation for
such troops to be brought in. If for no other reason, the
need to keep the Russians out of Bosnia is a powerful
argument for eschewing an American deployment.
The Bottom Line
William Safire is absolutely right when he observes that
peacekeepers cannot impose a durable peace on the Balkans: “Putting
outside troops in is a step backward into the morass that existed
before our air strikes.” Far from encouraging the American
public to reconnect with the Atlantic Alliance and to care about
its future viability, the deployment of U.S. forces on the ground
in Bosnia promises further to diminish public enthusiasm for this
country’s defense commitments in Europe and for international
engagement more generally.
Whether the above approach is adopted or some other, it is
imperative that there be no deployment of U.S. personnel
without full congressional hearings and in the absence of a
resolution of approval. Detailed answers must, at the very
least, be given to the sorts of hard questions posed to the
President two weeks ago by Senator Dole and others. href=”#N_1_”>(1)
(1) For more on the Dole et. al.
questions, see the Center’s recent Decision Brief entitled
Congress Should Say ‘Nyet’ To Either U.S. or Russian Ground
Forces As Bosnian Peacekeepers (No.
95-D 69, 29 September 1995).