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U.S. Politics Have No Place in Bosnia

The Consequences of American Troops' Presence May Outweigh the Benefits

By Riad M. Abrahams

A December 6 Time magazine poll reveals a nation in strong opposition to President Clinton's decision to commit 20,000 US troops to the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. I am part of this majority.

The usual argument which members of this majority use to would-be interventionists centers around a comparison between Bosnia and Vietnam. Look no further than Gary J. Vachon, a Vietnam veteran, who voices his aversion to American intervention with the simple yet powerful exclamation of "Hell, no."

This is a valid comparison. Much like Vietnam, Bosnia is a land foreign to American soldiers. It presents an unfamiliar terrain and adds to it a people with unfamiliar language and cultural traditions. The origin of the Bosnian conflict is largely alien to the average American GI, and the rationale behind American intervention is further hidden in ambiguity. In as much as Vietnam became the manifestation of George Kennan's containment doctrine, so has Bosnia become the symbol of America's ambivalent role as the global superpower. If not with Vietnam, then similar comparisons are provided by the military disaster in Somalia, one whose hazy military objective resulted in the useless sacrifice of American lives.

The anti-interventionist argument extends however, beyond such superficial points. Surely, our military technology can avoid the mistakes of Somalia and Vietnam. Opposition to the mission is correctly rooted in an evaluation of America's vital national interests with respect to Bosnia. And upon analysis, it demands that America soldiers remain at home.

Simply stated, the deployment of troops to Bosnia in no way serves the vital national interests of America. Such a stance is harsh; it might truly be described as Machiavellian, but it is nonetheless correct. Our position in Bosnia requires a long-standing future commitment to Clinton's frivolous Dayton peace accord. From any perspective it is a position which, rather than serve our national interest, works against it.

Interventionists immediately reply that American lives are worth the thousands of innocent women and children whom our presence might save. This is true, only during the year of our presence within the war-ravaged territory. The peace accord, much as the settlement in the Middle East following World War II, is far from a stability-inducing measure. Though Clinton would like us to consider it in the same light as the historical handshake between Rabin and Arafat, the accord anticipates a renewed conflict following the removal of the NATO force.

The temporary security granted by NATO's year-long presence will surely necessitate a permanent position for America within the Balkans, and as such, one which is clearly dissonant with any interpretation of the nation's interests. The much lauded "exit plan" fantastically assumes our ability to retreat from the Bosnian situation once we have morally as well as physically entangled ourselves within it. One would hope that no president is so callous as to renege on an already assumed responsibility. For as many predictions and guarantees have been made, when the time for withdrawal approaches and the situation is at best unstable, global political pressures will force our extended presence within the artificially constructed federations.

Since the accord seeks to create a multi-ethnic state from the existing warring factions, it is painfully obvious to any sane-minded individual that catastrophe awaits. The consolidation of the Muslim-Croat federation also is a precarious move. One must remember that the Muslim-Croat alliance arose not out of good will but of a common enemy. To combine such a federation with the existing Serbian republic is sheer madness.

To be sure, if the NATO force is sufficiently powerful the peace shall be kept for the duration of its presence. To anticipate harmony in the Balkans subsequent to NATO's withdrawal however, is not cynical or pessimistic as many would have you believe, but the unfortunate reality of a terrifically fierce ethnic conflict. Even Bismarck, who advocated a policy of "Blood and Iron" avoided intervention in the Balkans following the Crimean War for fear of the possible repercussions. Upon his removal by the Kaiser, Germany asserted itself, and World War I resulted.

The historical lessons aside, the accord finds itself in direct philosophical conflict with existing UN resolutions both establishing the War Crimes Tribunal and indicting more than 52 Serbian military officials. Those counted on to implement the accord are already on tribunal prosecutor Goldstone's list, and more importantly to imagine that Croatians or Muslims or Serbs, for that matter, shall submit themselves to the rule of the other parties is preposterous.

The fantastic visions of the accord's framers notwithstanding, opposition to Clinton's decision would remain solely upon the lack of a clearly defined national interest in Bosnia. America is a superpower but is has risen to that status not upon a policy of altruism and morality but one of military and economic efficiency. Many cite the misguided reasoning behind the Gulf War describing it as a war for oil, but as such it served American interests. Bosnia has no such resources to offer.

Moreover, Clinton's decision reveals his ignorance of the potentially volatile situation surrounding the upcoming elections within Russia. With the ascension of ex-communist hard-liners a likely possibility, renewal of the classical conflict involving an American presence in Russia's backdoor shall surely emerge as a significant component of leaders such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky's platform. Our presence in the Balkans may very well refreeze the Cold War.

The American-arbitrated Bosnian settlement presents itself as contrived political move in the face of the upcoming Presidential election. Each President requires a mini-war and Clinton's Presidential resume remains empty in that regard. (One might note the hypocrisy of his decision in light of his own military record). The American troop deployment is a decision opposed by former Chief of Staff General Colin Powell, and it is a decision which fails to reconcile itself with a sound foreign policy; lacking though it may be in the present administration.

As opposed to the measure as the public and myself may be, however, Clinton's executive power will have placed 20,000 troops within Bosnia before Christmas. Had the embargo been lifted at the war's beginning, or had America truly demonstrated its resolution in the face of Serbian atrocity, perhaps the present action would be a distant thought. Yet as Vietnam has taught us, it is best to have a public in support of the President and more importantly, our soldiers in such situations. Such is the reasoning behind Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole's bill supporting the troop deployment.

So despite strong opposition to their mission. I say God bless to our troops as they don the American uniform and sacrifice their lives for our nation.

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