DESPITE - or perhaps because of - the Bush administration's slogan of cautious attention to national interests, the United States is actually placing vital national diplomatic interests at risk by insufficient action in Bosnia, and the US is missing out on a unique opportunity to advance its national interests.
The entire Islamic world is watching to see if America will intervene on behalf of the Bosnians. Middle Eastern diplomats have openly attacked the United Nations resolution on Bosnia as inadequate. This is only the tip of an iceberg of a sentiment that is fast-developing in the Islamic world.
The Muslims of Bosnia are not only the most aggrieved group in the former Yugoslavia, they are also the most democratic group. They alone in the former Yugoslavia ran a pluralistic democratic government - until the Serbs sabotaged it. Of the leaders of the former Yugoslav republics, all are recycled communists except one: Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia, who was never a communist.
This is an opportunity for the West to intervene on behalf of relatively democratic Muslims, against undemocratic Christians. Since such opportunities to show its bona fides are likely to be rare, it is damaging to American diplomacy to pass them by.
Thus far, the conclusion of the Middle Eastern press has been that the US will never intervene on behalf of Muslims against Christians. The plight of Bosnia tells them that the "new world order" is meant only for Western Christians, not for themselves.
The Gulf war liberation of Kuwait, incidentally, is not seen as an intervention on behalf of Muslims; it is seen as Western intervention for oil and against an Islamic Iraq that was too powerful.
If America did intervene on behalf of the Bosnian Muslims, it would gain sympathy across the Middle East. Muslims everywhere would regain hope that the world order which is led by the US is not directed against them, but really has a modicum of regard for Muslims as well as for Westerners.
IN the absence of serious American and Western intervention, the arms embargo against the former Yugoslavia serves to perpetuate the gross imbalance of power, in which the Serbs of the Yugoslav Army control the heavy weaponry. Since this imbalance is on the side of the forces that are committing the greatest apparent atrocities, it creates a moral vacuum. Outside powers are sucked into this vacuum.
If there is not a concerted international intervention to stop the slaughter in Bosnia, a neighboring power will intervene instead. Then other neighbors will intervene against it in turn, and the Balkan conflict will escalate into a wider regional conflict.
At present, Turkey and Iran are threatening to intervene. Saudi Arabia has offered massive funding for such an intervention. Turkey says a couple of divisions are ready. Iran is organizing volunteers.
A Turkish or Iranian intervention would transform the Balkan war into a war of civilizations between the Islamic Middle East and the Christians. It would be an irretrievable disaster for American diplomacy, setting the Islamic world much more bitterly against the West than before. It would create a possibility of the Balkan war spilling over into large-scale terrorism in Europe and America, and into a full-scale war between the Middle East and the West.
To head this off, the West need only intervene promptly and in a concerted way to protect the Bosnian Muslims, making full use of NATO and of the auspices of the United Nations. Instead of disaster, we would then reap better relations throughout the Middle East. From the standpoint of the national interest, the choice is clear.