CLOSE OBSERVERS of the Bosnia conflict will hardly be surprised that the Clinton administration has turned a blind eye -- call it "active acquiescence" -- to the supply of Iranian arms to Muslims and Croatians. While the operation may bear a superficial resemblance to the Reagan era's Iran-contra scandal, there is one crucial difference: The political risks are minimal.
When it was learned in the 1980s that the Reagan White House had arranged for the secret transfer of U.S. arms to Iran and subsequently diverted the cash received to the contra rebels in Nicaragua, the liberal Democratic opposition in those days erupted.
This time there should be little criticism from Republicans now in opposition. Its leader, Sen. Bob Dole, has long been one of the most vocal advocates of the Muslim cause in Bosnia. He led the congressional fight last year to have the United States defy a United Nations arms embargo against any of the factions in the Bosnian civil wars. President Clinton's halfway response was to proclaim the United States would not enforce the embargo.
While this verbal charade was going on, Islamic nations were openly proclaiming their intention to come to the aid of their co-religionists. And so they did, as weapons started flowing from Iran, Turkey and Pakistan to beef up the Croatian and Muslim armies. As a result, Croatian forces routed the Serbs from their Krajina region and Muslim troops in Bosnia were able to fight the Serbs to a standstill.
What is new about this situation is a Los Angeles Times report, carried in The Sun Friday, that revealed collusion between Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and American diplomats operating on behalf of White House insiders. They let Mr. Tudjman know Washington would have no objections to the arms flow.
Even if the president gets little flak for this exercise in duplicitous statecraft, the present administration can hardly escape the consequences of its actions. Close ties between Iran and Bosnia's Muslims can be seen in the continued presence of Iranian troops in Bosnia in defiance of the Dayton peace accords. They can also be seen in the split between religious and secular factions in the Bosnian government and in that government's chafing against NATO peace enforcement orders.
The arming of the Muslims -- the most aggrieved faction in the struggle for Bosnia -- could lead to a resumption of conflict if NATO troops withdraw on schedule at the end of this year. America's intervention in Bosnia could yet turn sour.
Pub Date: 4/08/96
Islamic arms for Bosnia; U.S. duplicity: Republicans after Iran-contra have scant reason to criticize.