Bosnia Misconceptions

CONGRESS did the right thing in acquiescing to President Clinton's deployment of American troops in Bosnia, although it did so grudgingly and conceded as little as possible to the White House. It turned its back on isolationism and reaffirmed US leadership and commitment to NATO. It refused to undercut the men and women in America's armed forces who will undertake a risky but necessary mission.

Representatives and senators made some distressing, albeit sincere, assertions during the debate. One is that the US has no interests in the Balkans. America's primary foreign-policy goal in this century has been a stable and democratic Europe. US membership in NATO is a direct expression of that goal. For NATO to stand by and do nothing while Serbian aggression and genocide continue in the middle of Europe would be to reduce it to a debating club and encourage fanatic nationalists elsewhere in the former Communist countries.

Morally, perhaps the most disturbing argument against deployment is that, since the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims have fought one another for centuries, NATO and US troops cannot establish peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina in one year and therefore should not try. True, the parties themselves must want, and implement, peace or there will be none. But to wash our hands of the matter because of a history of ethnic conflict is to accept the fatalistic view that nothing in human affairs can be improved. Do we really believe that? NATO forces break the cycle of violence and give peace a chance.

Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia made an important point when he repeated his long-held view that the War Powers Act has never worked and never will work. That law, passed in 1973 over President Nixon's veto, supposedly requires congressional approval of any deployment of US troops for more than 60 days, and requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours of sending US troops into "hostilities." Many view the law as unconstitutional; all presidents since have danced around the issue, so as not to provoke a constitutional confrontation. It's time Congress took a serious look at revising or repealing it.

In the meantime, as US troops take up their positions in Bosnia, they should know that Americans' support and prayers go with them.

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