What the U.S. Should Do Now

August 09, 1992

The United States should prepare to use military force, in concert with European allies, to deliver humanitarian supplies to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The United States should help defend personnel assigned to the United Nations from attack. The United States should use its mountains of food and medicine to insure that Bosnian civilians have enough. The United States should consider use of military force to open the gates of the alleged 105 Serbian-run concentration camps -- if U.N. monitors confirm their existence -- as well as such camps maintained by others.

President Bush has moved correctly, if slowly, to obtain U.N. Security Council resolutions to create United Nations authority for limited military intervention for humanitarian purposes. Gov. Bill Clinton has been right, if imprecise, in his calls for action. The pit bulls of both political parties should be leashed from attacks on the other side on this issue. The tragedy of Yugoslavia belongs in the American election campaign, but as a test of the presidential qualities of Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton -- not their skills in demagogy.

What the U.S. should not do is act alone militarily in a European catastrophe. The U.S. should be clear that the objectives of military action are humanitarian, not political. The U.S. should not intervene militarily to stop the fighting, which would spread the fighting. The U.S. should not try to throw the Serbs out of Bosnia because we would absorb high casualties and fail, in terrain that favors guerrillas and that the Austrian, Turkish and German Nazi empires, in turn, failed to pacify.

But the economic and diplomatic pressures of sending ambassadors to the breakaway republics, and embargoing federal Yugoslavia, announced by President Bush, can be strengthened with two goals in mind. The first is bringing about a cease-fire. The second is removing Serbia's aggression against its neighbors.

Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia are up against it, but Serbs in Serbia are comfortably immune from the suffering their leaders inflict. Many have protested against the mad excesses of Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. The U.S. can ensure that all of them are bombarded with information. They must be informed of the atrocities perpetrated in the cause of Serbian nationalism propounded by federal President Dobrica Cosic. They must have no doubt that Greater Serbia will be a pariah state until it withdraws its tanks and relies on negotiation for any border adjustment. There is a major role here for Radio Free Europe (which a U.S. advisory commission has prematurely concluded to have outlived its usefulness).

No Serb should be permitted to live in ignorance of the horror inspired worldwide by "ethnic cleansing," by mass deportations, the reported murder and torture and starvation of non-Serbs in Serbian camps. The U.S. must act -- with clear purpose and commitment. And soon.

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