The Clinton administration failed to muster the necessary support in Europe and Congress for its preferred solution to the Yugoslav problem, limited intervention on Bosnia's side. Therefore, it redefined the problem so that intervention is not the remedy.
Previously, Mr. Clinton thought what was going on in Bosnia was aggression and atrocities perpetrated mostly by Serbs. That called for a range of responses.
Now, according to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Bosnia is a "morass," a "war of all against all" and a "problem from hell." That calls for different responses.
Since politics is the art of the possible, Mr. Clinton should not be faulted for this. He and Mr. Christopher tried valiantly. Now they have to regroup. European allies similarly failed so far to enlist Mr. Clinton in their preferred solution, large ground forces to separate the combatants after a cease-fire. Mr. Clinton is having some success selling non-military measures, such as sanctions, which are wrecking Serbia economically as Serbia has wrecked Bosnia and Croatia militarily.
Americans who don't want to bomb Serbs in Bosnia -- whose views have prevailed -- make a number of good points. They say that advocates of bombing minimize the risk of reprisal, death to innocents and failure, which is true.
But to justify inaction, many pretend the atrocities are less than they know them to be, and more reciprocal than they know them to be.
And they pretend that the issue stops in Bosnia, when they know that it extends to Kosovo, and that the U.S. and allies will soon face the same moral and tactical problems again, with even less prospect of success and greater cost of failure.
Whenever there is massive persecution in the world, somebody tries to awaken concern by calling it "genocide" or "holocaust," and someone else takes offense that this is trivializing the destruction of the Jews in Hitler's Europe.
The word genocide was coined in 1946 to make the murder of a people an international crime. The U.N. General Assembly called it such in 1946 and adopted a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, which came into force in 1951.
The word genocide passed into the language. The word "holocaust," and then "Holocaust," to describe the unique experience of Europe's Jews in 1942-1945, came into use after 1960. "Genocide" is defined by Merriam-Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary of 1983 as "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group." That sounds like Bosnia.
The U.N. Convention defines genocide as acts intended to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The acts include killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent birth, and forcible transfer of children. That also sounds like Bosnia.
In other words, "genocide" always included crimes of less magnitude than the Nazi "final solution." To use it now trivializes nothing.
The first legal case under the 1948 Convention was brought by Bosnia against Serbia, last month. Bosnia asked the World Court at the Hague to break the Security Council arms embargo on Bosnia.
The court, which lacks enforcement power, rushed to judgment in six days because of the "grave risk" of genocide. The 14 judges decided unanimously, April 8, with a partial dissent by the Russian judge.
They did not convict Serbia of genocide or claim jurisdiction over sanctions. They did call upon federal Yugoslavia to "immediately . . . take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of acts of genocide." They specifically included acts of incitement and actions of Bosnian Serb paramilitary and irregular groups.
What the Serbs are doing to the Muslims is not the German "final solution" against the Jews of 1943-1945 (though it resembles German policy of the preceding decade). It is, however, genocidal as the United Nations and English language have used the term for 45 years.
As things are going, the Bosnian Muslims will probably cease to exist as a people, though only a fraction will have been murdered and more dispersed and all dispossessed.
A strong case can be made for not sending American pilots to bomb Serbs in Bosnia.
But it does not justify denial that something at least approaching genocide is taking place today.
F: Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.