Fear of Flying

THE Serb attack on the UN ``safe haven'' of Gorazde and the West's feeble response is another milestone in the two-year bloodletting in Bosnia. As the Serbs dismember another Bosnian town, the UN and NATO seem paralyzed. We applauded NATO airstrikes last week against Serb forces outside Gorazde; those forces, led by General Mladic, who is accused of war crimes by the State Department, were creating new killing fields in Bosnia during US-led peace talks.

Yet after four NATO jets fired a few missiles at Serb tanks, a fly-swat in military terms, the White House lurched back to its old saw of ``not taking sides'' in the conflict. Serbs then saw the military action as a bluff and pressed the attack on Gorazde - and now have nearly taken the city, defying a UN resolution, and more important, a NATO ultimatum.

It is not clear that most Americans recognize how much is being given away by this latest inaction in the face of Serb aggression. The Serb attack on Gorazde is intended to tell the world that the Serbs have won the war, and that the West is too weak and selfish to stop the changing of borders by a systematic genocide, even one covered by CNN.

Americans ought to know that what is being further eroded in Bosnia is NATO credibility, and the basic moral and strategic order in Europe of the past 45 years.

The Serbs say: If you can't stand up to us, we will take what we want. And they have done so. Since the Sarajevo ultimatum and NATO airstrikes, they have taken 150 UN peacekeepers hostage. They have shelled Sarajevo in defiance of the ultimatum. They have shelled Tuzla. They have ethnically cleansed Muslims around Prijedor. They have broken agreements and killed hundreds of civilians. They have revoked the press credentials of five foreign news organizations in Belgrade, including The Christian Science Monitor.

Yet in some ways, the issue isn't the Serbs. What Belgrade has done is clear to see. The issue is now the Clinton administration and its constantly changing signals. The US had presumably taken the lead on Bosnia. Yet absent from any discussion on Gorazde has been US special envoy Charles Redman. It seems that when US policy does not go well, the White House blames the UN. It has been extraordinary, as Gorazde was attacked and the crisis lay on a knife's edge, to watch the great powers of the world allow UN civilian bureaucrat Mr. Akashi call the shots on Bosnia.

Bosnia is no less a problem because two US administrations have done little about it. Reconstruction of the country will be harder. Peacekeeping is being made more dangerous. Nationalism, hatred, and ethnic division in Europe are stronger. A loss of faith in Western values is deeper.

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