PRESIDENT Clinton this week reopened the possibility of United States military action in Bosnia in the form of air strikes. The White House says it is considering two plans - one to protect the United Nations forces in Bosnia, and one to stop the shelling of the six UN mandated "safe havens" and to ensure that aid gets through to them. The first plan is the more likely of the two.
The announcement comes during a brutal Serb offensive that may result in the fall of Sarajevo - and a related shelling of French UN peacekeepers in that city by Serb forces.
Mr. Clinton has talked tough in hopes that this would somewhat cow the Serbs, as similar talk seemed to this spring when the US was considering real intervention in Bosnia. But so far there is little evidence the 60 US aircraft waiting in Italy are ready to conduct the kind of strikes that would worry Belgrade. There is none of the necessary planning or the basic communications and logistics in Sarajevo.
The Serbs know this. They believe they have won the battle for Bosnia. Indeed, so do many Western leaders who seem irritated that Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic does not just agree to a surrender plan in Geneva.
Clinton's proposal may temporarily cloud the awful facts on the ground in Bosnia and give Americans at home a feeling something positive may soon happen there. But there is little evidence that the White House has altered its "hands off" approach. Indeed, while some in the administration urge Clinton to do more to stop Serb genocidal actions, a more influential argument is being made not to raise the Bosnian government's hopes by coming to their assistance.
Talk of military action also takes place within an argument as to who is to blame for Bosnia. US Secretary of State Warren Christopher has blamed Germany for its recognition of Croatia. Clinton this week blamed the Europeans for not backing his plan in the spring for air strikes and a lifting of the arms embargo. Is the US offering aid merely to keep up appearances?
One other item: Bosnia must now be discussed in the context of the Muslim world. For the US to say, in the middle of a genocide against Muslims, that it will protect only UN lives will further anger ordinary Muslims and offer fuel for radicals.
Of course, since the West does not protect the safe havens, enforce the no-fly zone, or deliver the aid it promised in Bosnia, the West is wide open for such criticism.