Readers write

American engagement in the Balkans

Regarding Ted Galen Carpenter's Jan. 29 opinion piece "Exit the Balkans pronto": Mr. Carpenter's suggestion that the US precipitously withdraw American troops from missions in Bosnia and Kosovo would threaten regional peace and damage, perhaps irreparably, America's relations with its NATO allies.

Comparing American engagement in the Balkans with Korea and Southeast Asia is fatuous. US combat deaths from those wars totaled nearly 100,000; in the Balkans they total precisely zero.

Mr. Carpenter avoids mentioning that the US share of the Balkan missions amounts to only 15 percent, while our European NATO allies contribute the bulk of the rest. This small US contribution is nonetheless vital to maintaining the NATO alliance, which the Bush administration has rightly decided to keep as a cornerstone of American foreign policy.

NATO will have to remain in Bosnia until it arrests all indicted war criminals and until the international community tackles the country's root problems, such as an election system that has entrenched nationalist parties in power.

Withdrawal from the Balkans would be the epitaph of the US as a European power, undermining its credibility and interests worldwide.

Kurt Bassuener and Eric A. Witte, co-directors Democratization Policy Institute Washington

I was surprised with the opinions and suggestion of Ted Galen Carpenter in his Jan. 29 opinion piece "Exit the Balkans pronto." After all these years in dealing with the nations in the Balkans one would think that the leaders of the most influential countries would have learned some lessons. Recent history has shown that not dealing with problems in the Balkans is counterproductive.

It is rarely mentioned that in 1991, when the wars in the former Yugoslavia broke out, then-Secretary of State James Baker openly gave the green light to the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic to attack any republic seceding from the federation. There might have been no war if the US government had understood and supported the differences between the republics and their rationale for seceding.

The world learned about Milosevic and his regime when it was too late, and this could have been prevented by the previous Bush administration, which was unwilling to act. The present administration therefore inherited this mess from the administration under the current president's father and not from Bill Clinton's, as the author suggests.

The comparison between the Balkans and Vietnam is also inaccurate. In Vietnam, the conflict was ideological, whereas in the Balkans it is ethnically derived.

Meta Z. Novak Milwaukee, Wis.

Present frustrations and those of 1960

Godfrey Sperling says in his Jan. 30 column "Bush's promising start, Clinton's sorry exit" that the "silent protests" surrounding Bush's inauguration remind him of 1960, "...when millions of Americans couldn't accept John F. Kennedy ... because he was Roman Catholic." Does Mr. Sperling really mean to suggest that the natural and legitimate frustrations which so many Americans are now feeling can somehow be equated with the religious intolerance and bigotry of that earlier election?

Such a comparison, whether intended or not, seems unworthy of Sperling's position as a respected journalist writing to a worldwide audience.

David Carico San Luis Obispo, Calif.

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