Troops in Bosnia: A Fait Accompli
Jude Wanniski
November 28, 1995


It now is perfectly clear that the President will dispatch 20,000 troops to Bosnia and there is nothing we can do about it. His speech to the nation last night to win over public opinion was pro forma. So was his invitation to Congress to debate the issue. Once the President decides to bear the risks of armed intervention on his own determination of national security, Congress will fall in line behind the commander-in-chief, and so will we. That’s the way our country works. All we can really do now is hope and pray that our own assessment is drastically wrong and that the President’s initiative will be completed as easily as he suggests, with no muss or fuss.

We are not opposed to putting our troops at risk. If there is to be a Pax Americana in the century that beckons, our country will have to be prepared to shed blood and treasure in even more remote corners of the world. The American people were not adverse to putting 500,000 troops at risk in the Persian Gulf, even when some serious analysts projected as many as 10,000 casualties. We supported President Bush only after he genuinely persuaded us that Iraq was bent on using its enormous military power to march across the kingdoms of the Middle East. This was a textbook example of how a superpower should act in the post-Cold War world. In the Balkans, there has been a family feud -- a civil war -- in the Yugoslav federation. The President last night assured us the 20,000 troops are not going to be used for combat purposes, but simply to keep the peace. This is exactly why I oppose the idea. In this new world order the United States should not be in the business of supplying peacekeepers in regional conflicts. U.S. ground troops should be used exclusively to combat a threat to world peace, never simply to keep local political factions from breaking local laws. The rest of the world watches our every move for clues as to how we will behave ourselves in the future, and what we expect of it. This is exactly the wrong kind of precedent to set, which is the reason why there is little public support for the idea.

What are these 20,000 soldiers going to do in Bosnia anyway? The President would like us to think of them as monitors. Who knows? He may actually have persuaded himself that this is what he is doing. My own surmise is that the hardliners who have been eager to get U.S. ground troops into Bosnia all along have succeeded by this back-door method. I believe that they fully expect the NATO force will be used to cripple the Bosnian Serbs who have stood in their way of creating a unified Muslim state out of Bosnia beholden to NATO. In the process, NATO gets an entirely new role, a post-Cold War raison d’être. These are no peacekeepers. In so many words, Defense Secretary William Perry and National Security Advisor Tony Lake tell us the troops will immediately shoot anyone who gives them trouble. At the same time, Secretary of State Warren Christopher tells us the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia have all assured the President that none of their people will cause any trouble. The heavily armed NATO peacekeepers will walk around forcing the Bosnian Serbs to keep the peace treaty their leaders signed in Dayton, Ohio last week. Secretary Perry imagines that after a year or so the people of the Balkans will get used to living in peace and our troops will be able to leave. Perhaps, he adds, the Europeans will be asked to stay for a little while longer. 

If anything, the presence of 20,000 American troops on the ground will prolong the conflict. This is because the treaty itself provides for a bizarre partitioning of Bosnia while pretending it will remain a unified country. When I learned of the patchwork accomplished by the strenuous efforts of Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrook, I thought of Humpty Dumpty, broken despite the best efforts of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. The Bosnian-Croat and Bosnian-Serb enclaves are senseless creations of the Clinton diplomats, who were driven by orders to preserve the original borders of Bosnia. Why? So that the hawks in the Eastern Establishment can say they won the argument over whether this was Serbian aggression (hawks) or civil war (doves). NATO forces are necessary to paper over this fictitious settlement, which can succeed only if the people on the ground behave as if the entire four-year bloodletting was unnecessary. President Clinton obviously believes the best-case scenario that has been painted for him, which leads to a Nobel Peace Prize. The fact that he could put troops on the ground in Haiti without bloodshed, after Jimmy Carter and Colin Powell negotiated a truce with the warring factions there, has put Mr. Clinton in a mood for rosy scenarios.

My guess is that as soon as the troops are on the ground, there will be a provocation by the radical Bosnian Muslims, who have spent centuries perfecting the faked provocation. Another bomb will explode in a Sarajevo marketplace killing a few dozen Muslims. The Serbs will be blamed. Instead of merely a rain of bombs to punish them, the NATO forces will go in to dig them out once and for all. Their leaders will be tried as war criminals and executed. Serbia will sit still for this pacification of its Bosnian brethren, just as it did when Croatia three months ago cleansed its turf of its Serb population. Serbia is now prospering, as the international economic embargo was lifted last week as a reward to President Slobodan Milosevic for his role in cutting the Dayton deal.

If you recall, Milosevic last July told the world via Time magazine that he was ready to cut a deal, which led me to predict that we would see one before Christmas. The Muslims had clearly lost the war, with President Clinton wisely refusing to do anything to help them. The offer of a no-risk deal with Milosevic gave our political establishment its opportunity to rush in and take credit. A bomb went off in a Sarajevo marketplace. NATO dropped some bombs on the Bosnian Serbs, which demonstrated the effectiveness of air power in bringing the Serbs, who were already sitting at the bargaining table, to the bargaining table. There followed the Holbrooke hustle in Dayton and a Thanksgiving celebration. 

We can forget any serious discussion in Congress. House Speaker Newt Gingrich must protect his Contract With America. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole is part of the old Cold War team which designed this stratagem. One of Dole’s private advisors, Richard Perle, actually represented the interests of the Bosnian Muslims in Dayton. Dole said he would “keep an open mind” on the President’s plan, but in truth he is in the President’s pocket. By the way, Perle’s Pentagon sidekick, Paul Wolfowitz, writes on today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page of the need to arm and train the Muslims. This is so they can defend themselves against the “aggressor Serbs” when the U.S. peacekeepers come home a year from now. 

We, of course, hope that all the peacekeepers can come home a year from now -- no muss, no fuss. My grim reading is that the radical Muslims will not pass up a chance to light the time bomb we are setting up. In the Gulf War, where we were prepared to lose thousands of lives, we lost hundreds. In Bosnia, we are being prepared for minimal casualties, which I take to mean hundreds of lives, though we may lose thousands. It seems a fait accompli. Still, I wonder what Colin Powell thinks.