THE apparent obtuseness among Western leaders about the magnitude of tragedy, pain, and terror in Bosnia is a marvel. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has played the West for a fool going on one year now - in Croatia, and now in Bosnia. The recent "cease-fire" negotiated in London between Lord Carrington and the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats in Bosnia did not last one minute. The shelling of Sarajevo and the besieged city of Gorazde - 50,000 Muslims cut off by all but a ham radio operator - never stoppe d.
Serbs have grabbed two-thirds of Bosnia, turned villages and cities literally to rubble, and, out of the gaze of Western reporters, are conducting a barbaric "ethnic cleansing" campaign of death and violence against civilians - mostly the majority Muslims who have been vilified by Belgrade's propaganda. Veteran observers of fighting in El Salvador, Cyprus, Lebanon, and the Kurdish areas of Iraq say the terror in Bosnia is like nothing they have ever seen. Nor does it end: Serbs are moving toward Bihac, a
city with 100,000 Muslims.
British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd traveled to Sarajevo last weekend to deliver a very obtuse message indeed. With shells exploding nearby, Mr. Hurd first said the West would not countenance a partitioning of Bosnia along ethnic lines. But then he said the West had no military plans to help Sarajevo fight its attackers, even if the city were to fall. The White House, under its breath, agreed.
The West is coming to a crossroads. It will either sit back and watch a sovereign, civilized European state sink into blackness. Or it will aid Sarajevo. In practical terms, only the US and Britain can lead the world to intervene in Bosnia, and the British won't. President Bush must lead a coalition, or this fall's election coverage will mingle with photos of Bosnians freezing in a city without heat.
Airlifts to Sarajevo have been interrupted by fighting. This opens the door for the UN to declare what Western leaders have all said publicly: that aid will get through "by all necessary means," and that interference - Serb or Croat - will be punished.
This is not mainly an ethnic dispute, but a case of aggression. Arming Bosnians is no final solution. But it makes the fight fairer.