WHAT IS HAPPENING in Bosnia and in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations demonstrates that nothing big occurs in today's world without the United States. The very tentative agreement among Muslims, Croats and Serbs to form a figleaf state came only after U.S. bombers changed the power balance in the former Yugoslavia. The more focused accord to be signed at the White House today between Israeli and Palestinian leaders is the result of decades, not weeks, of U.S. diplomatic effort.
There are striking deficiencies in both documents. Hard-nut questions are left to be solved by U.S. pressure if they are ever to be solved at all. The future of Jerusalem and Sarajevo is still a matter of dueling concepts. Maps defining the territorial reach and authority of the various adversaries remain a matter of fierce controversy. The viability of a Bosnia partitioned in fact if not in name and of a potential Palestinian state remains in doubt.
Yet for all the problems, the fact that age-old enemies are talking to one another under U.S. aegis is testimony to the American role in the post-Cold War world.
The present situation forces fundamental adjustment not only on this country, but on all others. Russia is humiliated by loss of empire and searches for ways to contain explosive nationalist sentiments. China pushes inexorably into the international forefront, its huge population and booming economy an elemental force. Japan adjusts painfully to a lack of natural resources that has motivated its economic aggressiveness. Western European nations acknowledge a secondary status hardly in accord with their historic heritage.
Given this dramatic change in the world scene, the United
States tries to find security in supremacy. Mistakes abound. Administration bashing of China and Japan too often appears gratuitous and counter-productive. Congressional insults flung at Russia make as little sense as taunting a wounded bear. Britain, France and Germany need not be reminded constantly of their reduced status.
For all these faults, the Clinton administration seems finally to have found some diplomatic footing in pushing for peace in the Balkans and the Middle East. This week's accords, however, are only short steps in a long process. U.S. initiatives could come to naught in the bloody-mindedness of combatants. And -- unfortunately -- mistakes in the Washington political hothouse could still confound the best of American aspirations.
Lurking not so far ahead is the fate of up to 25,000 American troops the administration plans to send to Bosnia if there is a peace settlement. The Clinton White House has not quite reconciled its decision to back the Muslims militarily with the danger American G.I.s may face in dealing with Serbs who consider them enemies. The Republican leadership in Congress cannot make up its mind whether to support another overseas deployment or to hunker down in Fortress America.
So the Israeli-Palestinian accord and, even more, the Bosnian agreement are occasions for U.S. introspection, for U.S. attempts to find a more coherent formula for dealing with an unruly world. While U.S. leadership cannot be avoided or denied, it can be sullied and undermined unless this nation finds the wisdom to fulfill its destiny.