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Bosnia Fumble

April 12, 1996



WHILE the Bosnian conflict was at its worst, this paper and others reported that the Bosnian government was getting arms from Iran through Croatia in violation of the international arms embargo on all the former-Yugoslav parties.

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As this was going on, the administration's official policy was that, while the US didn't like the UN-approved embargo and had tried to get it lifted, the US was bound to observe it. This brought down on the president's head the anathemas of many in Congress, including Sen. Bob Dole. Congress even came close to unilaterally lifting the embargo. Only the Dayton accord and the dispatch of US troops to Bosnia kept that from happening.

So it's ironic to hear Senator Dole and others now calling for an investigation of reports that the administration knew of the Iranian shipments.

According to press reports, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman asked the US what its position would be if Croatia allowed Iranian arms shipments to transit en route to the Bosnian government. The administration, its hands tied by European allies but wanting to appease a US public and moderate Muslim countries, is supposed to have told Tudjman that the US had no position. This was a diplomatic way of letting it be known that, though the US was legally bound to enforce the embargo, it would cover its eyes to the Iranian shipments.

Dole and others are now calling for an investigation as to whether "administration officials were intentionally duplicitous in their dealings with the Congress, but also whether laws were broken and a covert operation conducted," according to a Dole statement. Wait a minute. The people who demanded the US violate international law by lifting the arms embargo are now condemning the president for, in effect, doing what they wanted done?

It's true that the shipments led to an Iranian presence in Bosnia that is now causing the NATO-led international force serious concern. IFOR has demanded that Iranian agents who have been training Bosnian government officials in terror techniques be sent home, something the Bosnians have been loath to do. But the only reason the Bosnian government was able to hold on as it did was the admittedly illegal aid it received from Iran and elsewhere - especially since the Bosnian Serbs got warehouses full of Yugoslav Army equipment.

The real target, of course, is the president's foreign policy, which he has gotten better marks for lately. Yes, it's an election year. And yes, Clinton's handling of Bosnia was less than deft, especially as he ended up doing what he criticized President Bush for doing during the 1992 presidential campaign. But Congress hasn't distinguished itself on Bosnia, either. Surely Dole can find a better issue than this.