President Clinton appears before the United Nations today caught between his promise to supply half the 50,000 troops needed for a peace-keeping mission in Bosnia and his pledge that he first would seek congressional approval for such a mission. He is in a time-bind, too, because if Bosnian authorities accept an ethnic partitioning plan, NATO would be expected to provide forces to separate the opposing sides by the end of October.
Collectively, Capitol Hill is more than skeptical about another foreign adventure in the wake of the U.N.'s humiliating experience in Somalia. Sen. Sam Nunn, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has asked "how do we get out" if fighting resumes among the Serbs, Croats and Muslims. He expressed uncertainty whether Congress would support sending 25,000 American troops to Bosnia unless the administration can make a case that attracts broad public approval.
So far, the president and his national security team have been all over the lot on this issue. Candidate Clinton, after criticizing President Bush's timidity in Bosnia and Somalia, called for a "standby, voluntary U.N. rapid deployment force." By mid-summer, a high-level inter-agency group presented President Clinton with a proposed "Directive 13" that envisaged having U.S. troops contribute to such a force "under the operational control of a United Nations commander."
Since then the administration has been in retreat as the humanitarian mission in Somalia disintegrated into a hunt for a recalcitrant warlord and the situation in Bosnia increased pressures for actual deployment of American forces.
Madelaine K. Albright, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, emphasized last week that any U.S. troops sent to Bosnia would be part of a NATO force under the direct command of the U.S. military. She also set out stiff conditions for U.S. participation in international peacekeeping operations, demanding "a clear mission, competent commanders, sensible rules of engagement and the means required to get the job done." Not a single one of these criteria has been met in Somalia. Clearly, the experience there has caused the administration to stress U.S. unilateralism.
Part of the administration's problem is that Ambassador Albright has been a chief critic of U.N. ineptitude in carrying out military functions at the same time she has had to justify what is happening in Somalia and what may take place in Bosnia. This has left the administration in a convoluted position that has made many members of Congress apprehensive and far from eager to provide the approval Mr. Clinton says he will request.
The president will try to clarify U.S. foreign policy when he speaks to the U.N. General Assembly today but his operative audience will be the legislative branch in Washington. It was unwise for the president to cede war-making powers to the Congress, but now he has to live with the consequences of his inexperience and vacillation.