War Fever in Washington


The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman is ready to extend the war in Bosnia "all the way to Serbia if need be." The Senate's Republican leader is all for having the U.S. "go it alone" by breaking the United Nations arms embargo and shipping weaponry to the Bosnian Muslims. The president wants NATO air power unleashed to protect Muslim cities from Serbian attack, a big escalation from humanitarian aid and protecting U.N. peacekeepers. The secretary of state feels a need "to vindicate U.S. leadership" and protect American "strategic interests" by strong, robust action.

What's going on here? Are the war vapors arising from the Potomac (or emanating from the nation's TV sets) obscuring the vision of prudent men? Is the caution about being drawn onto Balkan quicksands being lost because of affronted egos and failed policies? Is the felt need to so something -- or, as some would say, to stop the war by spreading it -- so compelling that the U.S. is prepared openly to take sides? Are Americans prepared to send 25,000 of their sons and daughters to Bosnia as U.N. peacekeepers where they would be widely regarded by Serbs as enemies?

Actually, Clinton administration decisions to deepen American involvement have been taken without anything approaching adequate public discussion or minimal debate in the Congress. Step by step we get in deeper. Policy becomes nothing but improvisation. That there is no groundswell of resentment can probably be attributed to the bloody-mindedness of Serb murderers, rapists and liars.

We would submit that it is time for this government to stop the rush toward an American military commitment that probably cannot be sustained once the body bags start coming home. Secretary Warren Christopher would have us believe a greater involvement is justified because:

* Of Serb atrocities against the Muslim people. They are indeed horrendous, but so too is the slaughter now going on in Rwanda where an estimated 100,000 people have been killed in a fortnight -- half of the total toll in a Bosnian war that has gone on for more than two years.

* Of American strategic interests in preventing a wider European war. But Americans cannot be more European than the Europeans. If the Europeans are loath to intervene, what compulsion is there for the United States to take the lead? Outside intervention in Bosnia in 1914 provoked, rather than prevented, wider war.

* Of the need to maintain NATO credibility in the face of Serbian defiance. By what mandate did NATO countries recognize Bosnia in the first place? On whose say-so did NATO offer itself as the enforcement mechanism for the U.N.? Would not NATO "credibility" be even more on the line if the alliance broadens its military engagement?

President Clinton seemed at first to realize U.S. participation in Balkan wars could destroy his administration. He should not lightly discard that wise and early caution.

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