WHAT’S A RESPONSIBLE REPUBLICAN TO DO? OPPOSE CLINTON’S FOLLY — A U.S. DEPLOYMENT IN BOSNIA

(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
    foremost.
  • 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
    German troops.
  • 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
Administration.

Such an alternative approach would have the following
features:

  • 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)

– 30 –

(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).

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