THE WORLD FROM WASHINGTON. Bosnia Burns, Congress Waits

Clinton team blames Europe for not acting, and Congress has gone along with the argument

MAKE no mistake about it - Bosnia is not the talk of Capitol Hill. It's not that the level of members' preoccupation with the House-Senate budget negotiations is unjustified. But members of Congress are amply capable of spinning several plates at once, and Bosnia just isn't one of them, even as its capital, Sarajevo, careens toward collapse at the hand of Serb aggressors.

Should Congress be exerting more pressure on the administration to do more to help a people so profoundly unfortunate?

"Perhaps, but....," sighs Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We had a short contretemps of a sort on the Foreign Relations Committee, more privately than publicly, about a month ago, to pass a resolution, but there was not a majority sentiment, so we did not do so."

Mr. Lugar has been waylaid by a reporter on his way out of the Senate chamber, but will field as many questions on Bosnia as the reporter can serve up. Lugar is one of a handful of Washington legislators who follows every twist and turn of events on the ground in Bosnia, and of administration policy, and he appears troubled.

Last week Secretary of State Warren Christopher said the United States was doing all it could to help Bosnia in a manner "consistent with our national interest." He also blamed Europe for not being willing to lift a United Nations arms embargo against Bosnia, which has locked it into a position of being vastly outgunned. But the US will not break away from its European allies.

Lugar calls this a mistake. The US, he says, is "still trapped in the multilateralism syndrome." Ultimately, he continues, "the US will have to take leadership. The consequences for the failure to do so are likely to be severe."

He recalls President Bush's reluctance to get involved with the Iraqi Kurds until US television screens were filled with images of starvation. Before long, the US military was feeding and housing Kurds.

So in Bosnia, Lugar says, "you can say, `why the US?' Well, simply because we are the US."

Rep. Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expresses views more in line with Clinton administration policy.

"The crisis in Bosnia is of very deep political and humanitarian interest to the United States," he said in an interview.

"But I don't think a vital US interest is at stake. What is vital is a strong alliance with the Europeans and a common approach."

Lugar agrees that acting with the Europeans is better than going it alone, but he urges one more US bid to convince them to do what the President proposed initially: offering air cover while the Bosnian Muslims arm to defend themselves and gain credibility in negotiations.

"But if they [the Europeans] prove intransigent, then we ought to act unilaterally," Lugar concludes.

That, however, hardly seems to be the administration's plan. In fact, Secretary Christopher's remarks have so discouraged hopes for a reenergized US role in Bosnia that Representative Hamilton warned that he did "not want to see the United States disengage" on Bosnia.

But President Clinton need not worry about much pressure from Capitol Hill on Bosnia.

For now, at least, members of Congress - and the Americans they represent - are not lining up at the microphones to call for action.

"It's not that people don't care," says an aide to Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware, another senator who has taken great interest in Bosnia. "It's that there are no good options."

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