THE distance between excitable talk on Capitol Hill about Bosnia this week and grim realities in that country could dwarf the Grand Canyon. Lawmakers could save much breath, time, and money by acknowledging a simple truth: The US administration was not prepared to send troops to a ground war in Bosnia. White House statements about troop support were all about maintaining "unity" with Europe. The statement was done for what has all along been the Clinton administration's single most important foreign policy modus: public relations, the appearance of having a competent policy.
Hearings this week on United States troops in Bosnia with the Secretary of Defense and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff further obfuscate the issue. They confuse the public, and give European states the ability to marginalize the White House internationally.
Rather than stand up as the American president and speak the truth about a one-sided genocidal aggression that threatens the long-term security of the West, and the consequent necessity of bringing real attention to bear, a message many serious Americans would not be afraid to hear, the White House has simply allowed the Europeans to misdefine Bosnia - both in theory and practice - as a civil war requiring, as the British constantly say, "utter impartiality."
Yet it was not simply "a warring party" that shot down an American NATO plane. It was the Serbs that shot it down - resulting in a heroic Marine rescue early yesterday.
The issue of Bosnia is not about the suffering of that country alone. It is as much about the kind of international order the world is to have after the cold war. It is about the future. Sadly, the White House throws away leverage by handing off responsibility for Bosnia, and for accepting a European policy of "containment" as the best possible approach.
As a moral issue Bosnia has shown the weakness of each country that comes into contact with it. The French, for example, are using the White House wavering on troop support for Bosnia to say the Americans are "unreliable." As if Paris has shown much resolve in the Balkans.
A "containment" policy allows, it seems, nearly unlimited freedom for Serbs to be aggressors, so long as they do not go overboard. But in an electronic age, a genocide can't be "contained." We all see it. We learn from it. Will we learn to fight, or watch?