Republicans taking control of Congress have signaled their intent to make Bosnia an issue not just involving debating points but the possible commitment of vast U.S. forces in a war situation where objectives and limits cannot be clearly foreseen. This is not only bad policy; it is bad politics.
A recent Roper poll shows that Americans oppose the sending of U.S. troops to take part in United Nations peacekeeping operations by a margin of 58 to 34 percent. The situation, however, poses even tougher questions as the Bosnian war scene deteriorates. Aggressive action advocated by future Senate majority leader Bob Dole and Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich would require the dispatch of thousands of U.S. troops to help evacuate U.N. forces -- a position now adopted by the Clinton administration. But they would go farther by supplying massive quantities of arms to the Bosnian Muslims and launching "robust" U.S. air attacks on Bosnian Serb military targets.
Are the American people ready to support such risky steps? Are they willing to confront the danger of having U.S. ground forces drawn into the Balkan morass, or a serious rift with NATO partners Britain and France or a confrontation with Russia, an ally of the Serbs, that could reignite Cold War tensions? We think not. The Clinton administration thinks not. And some Republican senators with considerable military expertise think not.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and John W. Warner, R-Va., members of the Armed Forces Committee, oppose the Dole-Gingrich position on Bosnia. Mr. McCain, a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict, questioned the effectiveness of air strikes unless they are so heavy they will cause significant civilian casualties. "Massive numbers of ground troops" would be necessary, he said, adding: "The American people aren't willing to do that." Mr. Warner, a former Navy secretary, refuses to give up on the U.N. peacekeeping operation.
If these two senators reflect sizable divisions in GOP ranks, and we think they do, the GOP may yet be spared the consequences of Dole-Gingrich policies that could quickly remove the glow from Republican victories in the November elections.
Presidential hopeful Dole, as befits his wide experience, spoke softly but loudly enough to draw bitter replies from British and French cabinet officials. The less-experienced Mr. Gingrich, a baby-boomer who avoided service during Vietnam, is the soul of belligerency. He would tell the Serbs: "If you launch a general
offensive, we would reserve the right to use air power against every position you have, against every command-and-control center, against every position everywhere. We would reserve the right to take you apart, and we would do it in three to five days, and we would paralyze your capacity to function as a society."
The only thing he didn't utter was a threat to bomb the Serbs back to the Stone Age. No wonder Senator McCain says the situation has a "haunting familiarity" to Vietnam.