By Ann McFeatters
5 April 1993.
President Clinton and former President Bush have been right in sending Americans to fight in the former Yugoslavia — but the United States and Europe will have unclean hands when history judges the genocide in Bosnia.
It would be foolhardy to compound the killing when America’s goal in the area is unstated and unclear. But it has been a bloody year of killing, and the West has stopped none of it.
The atrocities in Bosnia are a terrifying and the so-called civilized countries of the world are impotent in the face of determined cruelty. The United Nations is a paper tiger unless the United States forces a solution, as it did in the Persian Gulf War.
Just as the world stood by and let Adolf Hitler wipe out villages and try to exterminate a race, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic has gotten away so far with his policy dubbed “ethnic cleansing.”
Week after week, innocent people in Bosnia are humiliated, starved, raped, mutilated and killed. Week after week, diplomats talk.
At his first formal press conference at the White House, Clinton was not asked one question about the savagery in Bosnia. He has not volunteered anything new for weeks.
As news reports pour forth of new massacres and mass graves, of babies crushed as refugees flee, of mothers without hope or food for their children, representatives of the Croats, the Bosniaks and the Serbs shout at each other in New York about abandoned villages on worn-out, blood-soaked soil.
At the White House, says Communications Director George Stephanopoulos, Clinton is “horrified” by the slaughter and the inhumanity.
How long, Stephanopoulos is asked, will the White House tolerate Serbian refusal to sign a peace pact? There are no deadlines, comes the answer.
It’s been a year of bloody killing, and only now has the U.N. Security Council authorized NATO warplanes to shoot down Serbian planes flying over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It’s been a year of senseless violence and Secretary of State Warren Christopher is still promising a war crimes tribunal.
It’s been a year of death and destruction and snipers and still Serbia gets arms and supplies despite a U.N. embargo.
It’s been a year of 2 million made homeless and 135,000 people killed or missing. U.S. planes drop pre-packaged military meals from 10,000 feet at night, half of them [by accident] going to the Serbs, some of the pork meals going to the Muslims [Bosniaks].
“I was surprised,” said Christopher, “how much better the MREs (meals ready to eat) are than the K rations I remember from a long time ago.”
It’s been a year of violence and U.N. vehicles are still being attacked at Sarajevo airport.
It’s been a year of violence and historic medieval towns that survived World War I and World War II have been decimated.
Clinton thrilled thousands struggling to find food, warmth and shelter in the former Yugoslavia when he said in February, “I’ll tell you, folks, we are involved, and if we don’t get involved, it could spread all over creation.”
Christopher said seven weeks ago that the United States has put its “full diplomatic weight” behind the negotiations for peace at the United Nations.
But it became quickly clear that the United States does not have a peace plan in mind and has not intention of coercing the warring parties into peace. Just as Clinton says only the Russians can save themselves, he says that only the Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats can save what is left of Yugoslavia.
Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the United States will not put American soldiers into Bosnia unless there is a peace plan in effect, even a tenuous, fragile one. “What we need to do now is stop the killing,” he said urgently.
Seven weeks later the killing has not stopped.
It is one thing to say the Untied States cannot be the world’s police officer in every conflict. It is quite another to say that this country will stand by helplessly and let innocent men, women and children be slaughtered month after month – atrocities dutifully recorded on the world’s TV screens.
Worried about Russia, Clinton seems to have turned aside for a while from his vow to cut off supplies to Serbia, make humanitarian aid real and effective, put the criminals responsible on trial and make them pariahs and broker a workable peace.
“We are making progress,” Christopher says. History will have a harsher view.
Ann McFeatters covers the White House for Scripps Howard News Service.