HOW dare Western commentators and other ``experts'' declare the war in Bosnia ``over.'' For Bosnians of all religions and beliefs, the war is far, far from finished. The only sense in which the war is over is that the Western powers' policy of dithering has reached a new, baser phase. How ethnocentric, how provincial, can you get?
What remains - behind all the Western posturing, all the increasingly irrelevant anguishing about ``the future of NATO'' - are two big issues:
* Do we want to see a viable, multiethnic Bosnia existing at all, however small, on the map of Europe?
* Is there any way to reform existing intergovernmental bodies, primarily the United Nations, to make sure that a string of Bosnias and Rwandas does not stretch out well into the 21st century?
Right now it is more important to keep sharp focus on Bosnia. Defeats around Bihac have grabbed much attention. But the (democratically elected) government continues to hang on to between 30 and 40 percent of the territory we recognize as Bosnia-Herzegovina. To declare Bosnia ``dead'' is to say nothing about the fate of this land and its people - except, by default, to accept that over time it will get swallowed up by a Greater Serbia.
What long drawn-out agony that would cause, we can only guess. But if Western ``peacekeepers'' weren't there, and we therefore didn't need to ``be concerned about NATO,'' perhaps those who now declare Bosnia dead would simply turn away?
It wouldn't be that simple. Too many others around the world would think that the caving of Western military might in the face of Serb aggression gives them a green light too. Letting Bosnia ``die'' would not prevent other conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere from escalating. Just the opposite.
The people and government of Bosnia need to know what, other than the pain and ignominy of slow death, the West intends for them. The most helpful advice comes from Morton Abramowitz, head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who urges Western help in consolidating the Bosnian government and population within the government-held lands in central Bosnia.
He argues that Western powers should help to evacuate the pro-government populations of the outlying zones whose ``safety'' the powers are unwilling to ensure. An agonizing choice for Bosnians? Yes. But it would allow consolidation of their national energies and withdrawal of the UN's hostage forces from the ``unsafe areas.'' The Western powers must back up their support for the legitimate Bosnian government with the use of real force against the aggressors, if necessary. A smaller Bosnia (which still holds a substantial industrial base) must have real economic help to resettle refugees and to integrate with Western economies.
As for the portion of Bosnia ``left'' to rebel Serb control, let rebels stew in their own economic woes. They could confederate with a chronically impoverished Yugoslavia or not, as they choose, later.
Under such a scheme, Croatia may need to be pressed to recognize the loss of its secessional Serb area, the Krajina. There might be four Serb-dominated units inside Yugoslavia instead of the present two. None of this looks pleasant. But is is probably the least unpleasant and least unstable of the options facing the southern Slavs. And yes, Bill Clinton, Francois Mitterrand, and John Major, it is doable.
Will the Western powers, in their collective ``wisdom,'' end up pursuing a policy that ensures the survival of even a truncated Bosnia? The precedents from Palestine and northern Iraq do not look good. In those two places, stricken populations made wrenchingly difficult political decisions in return for promises of Western financial and political support. That aid has not materialized.
If, 10 years from now, there is no Bosnian state and the world is haunted by the twin horsemen of ethnic disorder and Muslim revenge, we will know who to blame. Our leaders and, since we are three democracies, to a certain extent ourselves.