As Bosnian Genocide Continues, the Bush Administration Looks Away
By George D. Kenney
The Washington Post
(Kenney resigned last week from the State Department, where he was acting chief of Yugoslav affairs)
The United States’ approach to the Yugoslav crisis is classic appeasement. From the first signs of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia last year, the Bush administration has repeatedly made it clear that the United States would not intervene militarily to control the conflict. This gave the green light to Serbia’s thuggish leaders to implement their plans for a greater, ethnically pure Serbia.
Their method: genocide. The U.S. reaction: feckless diplomatic negotiations. Why?
Senior administration officials cite the dangers of greater U.S. involvement — military involvement — in the Yugoslav conflict. Remember Vietnam. Remember Beirut. We’re told that the Serbs are great fighters. In World War II, they held the German army at bay. In short, military force is not an option. Instead, we will use diplomatic, economic and political pressure.
Why these should work without the credible threat or use of force is never explained.
The argument of a potential quagmire is a smoke screen. It is cold political calculus that explains why the administration does not want to exercise U.S. leadership in this crisis, does not want to contemplate any significant use of U.S. and Western military force, and does not even want to face the fact of genocide.
The administration, I believe, made a basic decision at the highest levels that it cannot afford politically to get involved in a messy foreign conflict in which it cannot count on an easy or quick solution yet risks getting the blame for failure. On another level, I believe the administration, all its rhetoric to the contrary, simply doesn’t care about Bosnia.
Would U.S. military involvement lead to a quagmire? Unless we were extraordinarily inept in our deployment of force, I doubt it.
Although I am not a military expert, I believe that the Serbian forces in Bosnia are poorly disciplined, loosely organized and, to a large extent, nothing more than wild young men who have gone on a mass killing spree.
These are the disgruntled who have no stake in what was normal society in Bosnia or in Serbia. But they have the guns and, for now, face only weak opposition. I am convinced they would not stand up to a strong attack.
We don’t have to take the ground and hold it. That is the Bosnian government’s problem. But we could undertake a number of limited military actions that would greatly support the Bosnian government in its effort to reclaim its territory.
First, an air cap over Bosnia. Serbian aircraft are reported to be using napalm and cluster bombs on Bosnian towns (reports that I believe are true). Would an air cap be terribly costly to the West? No.
Second, a threat to destroy Serbian artillery positions in Serbian forces continue their shelling of besieged Bosnian towns. I am certain they would not comply and just as certain that we could significantly reduce the ferocious and indiscriminate shelling without any deployment of U.S. and allied ground forces. Costly? We could expect to lose some pilots and aircraft.
Third, the interdiction of any and all military supplies flowing from Serbia and Montenegro to Serbian forces in Bosnia. This, combined with the threat to destroy Serbian logistical facilities in Serbia and Montenegro, could stop much of the material going to the Serbian forces in Bosnia.
Fourth, arm and train the Bosnians. We armed the Afghan resistance, and we hadn’t even recognized them as a government, much less established diplomatic relations. The only difference there was the Soviet threat. Is that such a difference?
It makes no sense to maintain a U.N. arms embargo against the whole region when we only hurt the very group of people we say we want to help.
I strongly believe the Bosnian government has the right to self-defense.
I would remind policy-makers that if the Bosnian government falls, if Serbian forces complete their conquest, the problem will not go away. It will get worse.
Several million Bosnian Muslims will quite righteously be enraged. They will become radicalized. The region will remain in turmoil.
I would also remind policy-makers that the war in Croatia subsided only when the forces on each side came into rough balance.
In my judgment, the Serbian forces in Bosnia are overextended. A combination of strong U.S. and Western air strikes, air cover and armed Bosnians will largely push back Serbian gains.
Perhaps not all of this will work. But none of it comes at a prohibitively high cost, nor even a very great cost. Certainly, we would experiment with different strategies, try more of what works, less of what doesn’t. One thing, though, remains certain — such an approach would not yield the result the administration really wants: a quick, clear-cut victory and its consequent political boost.
What galls me the most about the administration’s handling of the crisis is that it doesn’t really want to know the facts of the horror in Bosnia, because the more we know, the greater the public pressure to act.
For months, I found little interest in the State Department to know more about starvation, about Serbian shelling, about “ethnic cleansing,” about all the things that amount to genocide. We must lay a solid groundwork for future war crimes trials. The perpetrators of these crimes must know that they will be individually punished.
The administration has supported cycle after cycle of fruitless negotiations. It has tried to maintain an artificial balance in attributing blame to all sides — especially in pushing the Bosnian government to sit at a negotiating table with those who should be tried for war crimes.
But the Serbs only give empty promises; they continue to create a greater Serbia through genocide. What’s next? Kosovo? Macedonia?
Rationalizing this appeasement is wrong. It is time for a different approach.