YES: It's genocide, not Vietnam Should we bomb the Serbs?

David Rieff

April 30, 1993|By David Rieff

THE Clinton administration is considering limited bombing raids on Serb positions in Bosnia and lifting the arms embargo against the Bosnian government.

However welcome and even long overdue such actions may be, if the goal is to stop the genocide of the Muslims, neither step will be sufficient.

There appears to be a consensus in Washington that full-scale military intervention, including ground troops, is the one thing that must be avoided at all costs. But such a commitment is also the one thing that is likely to make a real difference.

The other options are wishful thinking. While bombing Serb artillery positions around Sarajevo would significantly change the military balance there and make life a lot safer, it would not lift the siege. And since the Serbs would almost certainly cut off the supply routes along which humanitarian aid moves, it also ensures that the city's population would soon go hungry.

Similarly, lifting the arms embargo is almost as unworkable. There are only two ways to get arms to the Bosnians. The first is overland through central Bosnia and territory controlled by the local Croatian militia. Given the fact that this militia and the Bosnian government forces have been at war intermittently over the last year, the Croatians are hardly likely to permit shipments that would radically alter the military balance.

Arms shipments by air to airports in Sarajevo and Tuzla would be vulnerable to Serb anti-aircraft and, as the planes were unloaded, to small-arms fire. The airport runway is less than 800 yards from the closest Serb artillery, an easy mark.

The answer is not for the West to throw up its hands but to accept the solution in Bosnia that the hawks have been calling for all along: full-scale military intervention.

If U.S. or NATO troops secured the airport in Sarajevo, the arms could flow in freely. If a steady, rather than symbolic, campaign of bombing Serb supply lines in eastern Bosnia were undertaken, the enclaves of Gorazde and Zepa would not go the tragic way of Srebrenica.

And if the Bosnian Serb airport at Banja Luka were destroyed, the just-renewed Serb offensive against Bihac in northwestern Bosnia might be blunted.

The argument is not whether such intervention is feasible (unlike the half-measures being considered, it can be done, most military experts agree), but whether it is wise and in U.S. interests.

Opponents say Bosnia is not a vital concern and that we risk another Vietnam. The one-word answer: genocide.

The problem with the Vietnam War was not that it was a quagmire but that the United States neither had any business there nor could ever formulate a policy for involvement.

The Clinton administration should spend the political capital to put the case on Bosnia to the public with the commitment the Bush administration showed in mustering support for the gulf war, because the reasons for intervention are equally stark.

This genocide is the third massacre of a small European minority in this century. Nothing was done to protect or defend the Armenians and the Jews; inaction is particularly intolerable now.

Though we knew little about the mass murders in 1915 and 1943, we know what is happening to the Muslims, yet we stay on the sidelines as a people dies.

U.S. policy must be based on moral criteria. If it is not possible to intervene in Bosnia to prevent genocide, it is time to admit it is not possible to intervene anywhere, to say frankly there are no just wars, only national interests.

The Bosnian people deserve better than that. So do the American people.

David Rieff is writing a book about the war in Bosnia.

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