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The Policy Is to Ask Yeltsin to Tell the Serbs to Behave


Washington. -- The U.S. aircraft carrier in the Adriatic is the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The French carrier is the Foch. The names recall an American spirit now in abeyance, and a European memory that is not.

At age 24 Roosevelt wrote a book on the naval war of 1812. He served President McKinley as assistant secretary of the Navy (as TR's cousin Franklin would serve President Wilson). As president, TR modernized the Navy so that America could sail into history. His navy, an instrument for the projection of power, expressed the national confidence that is a prerequisite for world leadership.

When General Foch learned that his only son had been killed in the third week of the war -- August 22, 1914 -- he asked his staff to leave him alone. Half an hour later he summoned them, saying, "Now let's get on with our work."

On September 9, during a German attack, he proclaimed to the French forces, "One more effort and you are sure to win." It would be more than four years before Marshal Foch, by then head of allied forces, would announce, "Hostilities will cease on the entire front November 11 at 11 a.m. French time." By that eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, Europe had been bled white, a ruinous victory won by generals who had fought machine guns with young men's chests.

Roosevelt and Foch represent polarities of the American and European experiences in this century -- triumphalism, and tragedy. Today Foch's war is one reason Europeans are wary of doing more than watch the Balkan war, Europe's bloodiest conflict since 1945. Yet as Europeans and others watch the starvation and destruction of Sarajevo, a city virtually unscathed from 1939 to 1945, they should remember 1936-39 and another besieged city, Madrid.

British, French and U.S. "non-intervention" decisions effectively embargoed arms to both sides in Spain -- the forces loyal to the republican government, and Franco's military insurgents. This may have made formalistic sense because the conflict in Spain was a civil war, which today's war of Serbian aggression against Bosnia is not. And soon the loyalist side was so stained by Stalinism as to make a choice between the two sides unpalatable.

Still, the Spanish cockpit was the scene of two rehearsals -- of the arms and military tactics of the dictators, and of the democracies' impotent reliance on diplomacy to defang the dictators. What happened there did not matter only there, and what happens in the Balkans will matter elsewhere -- for example, at Brussels, at NATO headquarters, which might soon be boarded up if NATO has no relevance to genocidal aggression in Europe.

When the U.S. president does not lead, NATO does not act. The New Republic editorializes that it is hard to think of a major crisis since 1945 in which a president "has wielded less moral and political authority." President Clinton recently said he would ask Russian President Boris Yeltsin "to call the Serbs and tell them to quit [taking hostages and killing civilians], and tell them to behave themselves." The New Republic disdainfully says:

"To behave themselves. And if that fails, to go to their room.

Does Mr. Clinton grasp that there is evil in the world? And does he understand that he is not the governor of the United States? It is a requirement of his job that he care about matters beyond our borders, matters such as war and genocide and the general collapse of America's role in the world, matters that will not gain him a point in the polls."

On November 28, 1992, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan sent a long memorandum from Zagreb, Croatia, to the president-elect, commiserating about the Balkan disaster bequeathed to him:

"Had we seen to it that the sanctions voted by the Security Council on May 30 [1992] were instantly enforced -- Serbia imports at least three quarters of its oil -- the Serbs might have gotten the message to stop. . . .

"Had we brought the Security Council around to voting 'demonstrations' under Article 42 of Chapter VII -- taking out every bridge in Belgrade in one bombing raid -- we might have sent a message to the Serbs that 'ethnic cleansing' wasn't going to be worth it to them. But now we have some 1,600 U.N. troops spread out all over Bosnia. To start bombing Belgrade is to commence the massacre of our peacekeeping forces."

Three years later it is not too late to remove those forces, to remove the embargo on Bosnia's means of exercising its right of self-defense, and to convince Serbia that continued complicity in the genocide being committed by Bosnian Serbs will be bad for its bridges, and more.

9- George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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