Questions on Bosnia

July 20, 1995

Congressional efforts led by Sen. Robert Dole to force a unilateral U.S. lifting of the U.N. arms embargo on Bosnia are a dangerous assault on presidential foreign policy and war powers. We might even go along with the White House jibe that it is a "nutty idea" if the administration's intellectual bankruptcy on this issue were not the prime cause of legislative discontent.

While Mr. Dole contends his proposal would insure that the war remains de-Americanized, the result would probably be the opposite. While he argues that it would give strength and moral purpose to NATO, the more likely outcome would be the shredding of the alliance. Before Congress moves to undercut administration policy, however incoherent it may be, its advocates on Capitol Hill ought to confront some tough questions.

The Dole resolution, now on hold, assumes that a withdrawal of United Nations peace-keeping forces under U.S. military protection would precede the lifting of the embargo and the subsequent arming of the Bosnian Muslims. But why would the Bosnian Serbs allow a withdrawal if they know it will be followed by the arming of their enemy? And who other than U.S. G.I.s would be able to train the Muslim troops in the use of their new weapons, a step that could involve this country in a war with the Serbs that has little support at home? And why should Washington expect that Russia would stand by idly while its Serb allies are weakened? Is this the way to stop the Balkan conflict from widening?

No doubt Senator Dole has a bipartisan majority big enough to pass his resolution and even override a presidential veto. This might further his image as a strong Senate leader, but what does it say about his prudence in foreign policy should he achieve the presidency? It is notable that all our NATO allies vociferously oppose the Dole plan even if they are divided on how the alliance should proceed. Only the Bosnian Muslims support it, and this in an effort to draw the United States into the conflict even though vital U.S. interests are not involved.

Americans should be uniting in opposition to France's call for an all-out effort requiring extensive use of U.S. attack helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to defend the remaining "safe havens." This makes no military sense, and would subject U.S. pilots to unjustified danger.

Far better, although far from perfect, would be to strengthen the Muslim core in central Bosnia from Sarajevo to Tuzla -- a prospect that could unleash the British-French rapid deployment force for action and thus avoid a U.N. withdrawal that could drag a promised 25,000 American ground troops into the conflict. If at all possible, the United States should stay out of Bosnia.

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