FINALLY, Mr. Clinton has sent his top strategic team to Capitol Hill to begin to make the case for sending American soldiers to Bosnia as part of a NATO peacekeeping force.
It will be a hard sell. Most Americans have never understood why the US should be involved in the Balkans. The Clinton administration, like the Bush administration before it, has done a poor job of enunciating its Bosnia policy. Here are answers to some of the objections the administration must overcome:
1. The US has no interests in Bosnia. Not so. It is a primary US interest that there be no war in Europe and that democracy flourish. If this war resumes, it could spread to Macedonia, Albania, and maybe Greece and Turkey (NATO allies).
Human rights are an integral part of US foreign policy. It's inconsistent to criticize repression in Cuba or China, then close one's eyes to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. The killing must stop permanently, and the United States can help stop it.
2. Why aren't the Europeans doing something about it? Americans should remember the facts: Britain and France together have had tens of thousands of peacekeeping troops stationed in the former Yugoslavia for several years. The Netherlands and Canada have also contributed to the UN force. The US has had zero peacekeeping troops on the ground to date. When NATO began its airstrikes, British and French planes flew alongside US planes. But NATO action requires US leadership. Unlike the lightly armed UN peacekeepers, US and other NATO troops will go in with enough weapons to defend themselves.
3. American soldiers will be attacked. If the US refuses ever to deploy troops on those grounds, it might as well shut down the Pentagon and send everybody home. Serving in the military means facing danger, just as being a police officer does.
4. The mission is poorly defined. Fair point. The rules of engagement must be carefully drawn so that US soldiers (and the US press) understand them. If Bosnian Serb soldiers start shooting Muslim civilians (or vice versa), will NATO troops intervene? Will they go after snipers? Will they arrest Bosnian Serb leaders indicted for war crimes? NATO should decide these questions now, not later.
5. The US won't be able to get out. NATO is perfectly capable of sending in the military force required to extricate its troops if it comes to that. But NATO peacekeeping troops shouldn't be sent in until there is a real peace to keep. And we're not there yet.
Doubts persist about the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, which requires Congress to approve the dispatch of US troops abroad. Even so, the Clinton administration will be in a much stronger position, at home and abroad, if it can build a consensus in Congress about what to do in Bosnia. Domestic harmony demands it.