State Dept. Dissenters Dismayed Over Bosnia
Key resignations signal rejection of day-to-day conduct of policy
WASHINGTON — BEFORE George Kenney resigned in protest from the United States Foreign Service a year ago this week, his father - a 35-year veteran of the service himself - strongly advised him not to quit because no one would listen to him.
Both father and son now regard the resignation as a success in drawing some attention to a Balkans policy the younger Mr. Kenney scorned.
But the scorn has only grown deeper. This month three more relatively young Foreign Service officers working on Balkans policy resigned one by one in protest against a policy they found inconsistent, ineffectual, and ultimately immoral.
Not since the Vietnam War has a series of Foreign Service officers resigned for reasons of conscience over American conduct of foreign policy. One of the officers to resign in protest then was Anthony Lake, now national security adviser to President Clinton.
Within the State Department, the same frustration of the officers who resigned appears to be widespread among those whose work is connected to the Balkans.
"It's hard for people outside the government to see how outraged people are at the day-to-day conduct of the policy," says Philip Zelikow, who entered the Foreign Service in the same 1985 class as two of the resigned officers and is now a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass.
One State official describes an "enormous breadth and depth of disagreement with the policy" among people who work on it, even those outside the European bureau that monitor the impact of Balkans policy on other regions, such as the Middle East.
In April, 12 officers signed a letter of dissent to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, asking that the administration follow through on its announced policy to lift the arms embargo so Bosnian Muslims can defend themselves and to launch airstrikes against attacking Serb forces. Mr. Christopher met with the dissenters, but nothing changed.
The officer who drafted the letter, Marshall Freeman Harris, the Bosnia desk officer, became the the first to resign this month on Aug. 4. As with his colleagues, his morale reached a low point July 21 when Mr. Christopher said three times in a press conference that the US was doing all it could consistent with its national interest. Airstrike threats a surprise
A few weeks later, the working-level officers were surprised that the US was threatening airstrikes to stop the siege of Sarajevo. Within days, however, it was clear to the officers that the American priority was persuading the Bosnians to accept Serbian territorial gains in negotiations in Geneva.
"That was the last straw," Mr. Harris says, since he sees the Geneva talks as a way of legitimizing Serbian aggression in the hope of appeasing it. It won't work that way, he adds: "By losing Bosnia, we feed rather than placate the worst elements of Serb nationalism."
Jon Western, an intelligence analyst assigned to gather evidence of war crimes, resigned a few days after Harris, in protest against a policy he said countenanced an ongoing genocide of the Bosnian Muslims and refused to use the word. On Monday, Stephen Walker, desk officer for Croatia, followed his colleagues out the door with a letter to Christopher about the dangers of the passive US posture that would draw the US into a quagmire.
"As a retired Foreign Service officer, I can only admire them," says Bruce Laingen, who was ambassador to Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis and is now president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. "I guess I'm proud that the Foreign Service is producing people of that character and commitment." Resignations respected
Senior officers are generally regarding the resignations with respect as the honorable course for expressing strong dissent. State Department spokesman Michael McCurry is adopting that posture as well, saying that Bosnia policy "is just as frustrating for the secretary as for people at the country desk officer level."
Not since Richard Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia have a series of working-level officers shown such strong dissent.
Most officers can disagree respectfully over "tortuous dilemmas" in foreign policy, says Dr. Zelikow. "What really bothers them is the irresolution and drift against the very high moral stakes on the issue," he says.
"I think part of it is a generational shift," says Andrew Steigman, assistant dean of the School of Foreign Service here at Georgetown University. Younger officers tend to have less military experience, more independence, more sense of career mobility.
When Harris resigned, he had already lined up a job as a congressional aide. Mr. Western is heading to graduate school; Mr. Walker is looking for his next job.
"I hated to resign," says Kenney, who left during the Bush administration. "Financially, it has hurt a fair amount," he says.
He works at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, but without pay except for what he can earn by speaking and writing.