Published in the Indiana Daily Student, October 13, 1997
By Scott Tibbs.
Things are heating up in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that could spell trouble for American troops. According to The New York Times, the Bosnian Muslims have been rebuilding their armed forces and could mount an offensive to take back Serb-held areas of Bosnia very soon. In the face of any such offensive, Serb-held areas could topple within days.
This presents a major problem for the Clinton administration, as a rising tide of anti-West sentiment is gripping the Serbs. As they start to see that the Muslims are rebuilding their armed forces in an attempt to overpower the Serbs, the anti-American sentiment will only increase.
NATO's questionable actions in the last few weeks only make the situation worse. USA Today reports NATO shut down Serbian-run TV stations after stations run by Serb general Radovan Karadzic repeatedly ran stories critical of NATO, comparing it to Nazi Germany. But infringing on free speech in the name of protecting the Dayton peace accords is just the kind of action that will inflame those emotions further.
Clinton's preferential treatment toward the Bosnian Muslims could very well backfire. When NATO forces first arrived in Bosnia, there was no question who the aggressors were: Serb war crimes were atrocious and terrifying. But all three sides had committed war crimes. The reason the Serbs committed the most war crimes might very well be that they simply had more weapons.
Even more disconcerting is the Iranian connection in rearming the Bosnian Muslims: intelligence reports of an Iranian general arriving in Zagreb to help the Croats smuggle weapons to the Muslims, and Bosnian Muslim soldiers allegedly training in Iran and Malaysia. The Iranian involvement raises serious concerns because it would be very detrimental to American interests for Iran to gain influence in Europe. With Iran's well-documented power-grabbing activities since the end of the Gulf War, including an arms buildup and a re-igniting of tensions with Iraq, Clinton should be taking a stand against Iranian involvement. But Clinton has remained silent on this issue, and tensions are building to explosive levels.
There is no question the Serb leaders are horrible, especially the war criminal Karadzic. But recent events suggest a more even-handed approach would be advisable, as a one-sided NATO involvement will only anger the Serbs more. It is especially mind boggling that Clinton can approve of shutting down a Serb television station while not condemning Muslim and Croat violations of the arms limitation agreements.
A more even-handed approach should be used if we ever hope to get out of this engagement. First, Clinton should enforce the agreement on all sides, not just when the Serbs are the violators. Second, Clinton should look at reopening the Dayton peace accords, because without some tinkering the war will re-ignite as soon as NATO troops leave. A long-term settlement all sides can live with is essential here. If the New York Times is correct, the Bosnian Muslims and Croats will begin ethnic cleansing of Serbs as soon as they get the opportunity. As bad as the war crimes committed by the Serbs were, retaliation against Serb civilians is not an appropriate answer.
If Clinton does not re-examine present policy, the only way to prevent future bloodshed will be to keep American troops in Bosnia indefinitely. That is not a viable option. Without a workable peace accord, tensions will eventually reach the point where American troops will become enmeshed in the fighting. This would create the mission that administration critics have been warning of since the operation began.
Hopefully, Clinton will realize this and work toward a more permanent solution. But Clinton's desire to keep troops there until after the June 1998 deadline suggests he isn't looking for a more permanent solution. It begs the question: Will this be another multiyear quagmire, or will we actually complete the mission? With Clinton in charge, one can never be sure.