Bosnia: What’s in it for us? (1995) | THINK TANK

Bosnia: What’s in it for us? (1995) | THINK TANK


Ben Wattenberg: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. The German Chancellor Bismarck once said,
“If there is another war in Europe, it will come out of some damn silly thing in the Balkans.” He was right. In 1914, a Serbian nationalist killed Austrian
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, sparking World War I. And now in 1995, war is ravaging Bosnia, and
the United States and its allies are trying to keep the peace. Why? It’s a complicated story and hard for many
of us to understand. Joining us today are four experts to give
us some background and some answers: Gen. William Odom, director of national security
studies at the Hudson Institute and former director of the National Security Agency;
Michael Mandelbaum, director of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced
International Studies and the director of the project on East-West relations at the
Council on Foreign Relations; Simon Serfaty, director of European studies at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies and author of “Taking Europe Seriously”; and
Joshua Muravchik, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, author of “Exporting
Democracy: Fulfilling America’s Destiny.” The topic before this house: Bosnia — what’s
in it for us? This week on “Think Tank.” In 1389 — yes, that’s 1389 — Muslim
Turks conquered the Orthodox Christian Serbs and the Roman Catholic Croats. That sowed the seeds for 600 years of ethnic
strife. At the end of World War I, a new multiethnic
country, Yugoslavia, was formed from the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Following World War II, the communist rule
of Marshal Tito held the country together through the Cold War. In 1992, Croatia, Macedonia, and Slovenia
seceded from Yugoslavia. Bosnia-Herzegovina at the center of Yugoslavia
also declared its independence despite the objections of Bosnian Serbs, who wanted to
remain united with Serbia. Civil war broke out between the Bosnian Serbs
and the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government. Tens of thousands were killed, raped, and
displaced in what became known as ethnic cleansing. Serbs now control more than 50 percent of
the territory of Bosnia. In 1992, the United Nations peacekeeping forces
intervened for humanitarian reasons and set up several so-called safe areas for refugees,
including the capital of Sarajevo. The UN forces are mostly composed of British
and French troops, while American ships and airplanes enforce an arms embargo. In May, Serbs shelled Sarajevo once again. In response, American planes bombed a Serbian
ammunition dump. The Serbs then seized UN peacekeepers as hostages. During this crisis, President Clinton first
appeared ready to expand America’s military role in Bosnia. Bill Clinton [from videotape]: I believe we
should be prepared to assist NATO if it decides to meet a request from the United Nations
troops for help in a withdrawal or a reconfiguration and a strengthening of its forces. Ben Wattenberg: That phrase, “reconfiguration
and strengthening,” caused a domestic political firestorm, causing President Clinton to backtrack. Bill Clinton [from videotape]: If a UN unit
needs an emergency extraction, we would assist after consulting with Congress. This would be a limited, temporary operation. Ben Wattenberg: Gentlemen, I think everybody
is agreed it’s a mess. What would happen, Michael Mandelbaum, if
America decided just not to play? Michael Mandelbaum: I think our role is minimal;
not much would happen. But if the British and French decide to pull
out, which is possible, at best the fighting would go on pretty much as it is now. At worst, hundreds, maybe thousands of UN
peacekeepers would be taken hostage, and hundreds, maybe thousands of Bosnian Muslim civilians
in the so-called safe areas could be murdered. Ben Wattenberg: Simon Serfaty? Simon Serfaty: Well, our role is more than
minimal, it seems to me. If the European forces and other UN forces
are to be brought out, then the US part, especially in the withdrawal, will be needed, will be
painful, costly in terms of human lives, and will have to be attended to. This nation cannot stand back while the Europeans
keep on fighting there. Ben Wattenberg: Bill Odom, Gen. Odom. William Odom: Unless we participate in extracting
our European allies and they agree to that extraction, then I think we put the entire
alliance in jeopardy. So I think a great deal is at stake, not only
as concerns the conflict on the ground in Bosnia, but also the future of the North Atlantic
alliance, which I think is defining itself in a way that nobody is anticipating or really
thinking about. Ben Wattenberg: Josh Muravchik. Joshua Muravchik: Well, the Serbs on an aggressive
mission to build Greater Serbia, and it’s not going to stop with the territories they
have taken and ethnically cleansed up until now. They’ve got more on their agenda, and if
the world turns its back, they’re going to push forward, and there will be a lot more
fighting. Michael Mandelbaum: Let me give you a different
view. Although the Serbs have behaved in brutal
and, in some ways, criminal fashion, I don’t believe they pose a threat to vital American
interests, and I don’t believe that the governments of Britain, France, or the United
States have ever been persuaded that vital interests were on the line, because if they
had been so persuaded, they would have made a greater effort. William Odom: Let me respond briefly to that
by saying that — let me accept your premise, and I think you could make a very strong argument
that what happens in that part of the world won’t necessarily disturb Europe in a way
that hurts our vital interests. But can we go on with this halfway position
of being involved partially and ineffectively, which creates quarrels between President Clinton
and European leaders and among European leaders themselves? It seems to me that sets in motion a deterioration
within the alliance, which is disturbing. Now, I can see two coherent strategies. I think the most clear articulation of it
probably was in Sen. Dole’s statement which he released, and I think he agreed to participate
in the extraction and then to wall the area off or abandon it and look at it more or less
like you’ve suggested. That makes sense. I think the other strategy, which I think
also a strong argument could be made for, is the one that’s been articulated by Sen.
Lugar. And that is to knock together a consensus
in NATO and be prepared to lower the level of violence in there and keep it from spreading. Now, I think you can have very serious debate,
and I’m not sure in my own mind which one involves the higher risk. There’s certainly great risk with going
in, and I think the great risk you’re betting on that being — that that can be isolated
if we stay out. Ben Wattenberg: Josh, your view, I’ve heard
you talk about it, you would be even more cosmic than Bill Odom. It’s not just threat of the alliance deteriorating
or the economy in Europe. I mean you see dominos that a lot of other
people don’t see. Joshua Muravchik: Well, I think we’re setting
certain precedents in establishing the rules of the game for the way the post–Cold War
world is going to work. Ben Wattenberg: And does this ultimately sort
of erode the future of democratic values in the world? Is that where you come to at the end of the
— at end of your road? Joshua Muravchik: Well, it does that. It erodes the sort of most important value
of international law that’s enshrined in the UN Charter, which is the law against aggression. And at the beginning of the program, Ben,
you said this was a civil war, but it’s never been just a civil war. It’s always been a war fueled from Serbia
against neighboring states, and so it’s a cross-border aggression. And I think the world has a very big stake
in drawing the line against those kind of aggressions, as we did in Desert Storm against
Iraq. Simon Serfaty: The journey, I think, goes
a bit too far, both in time and in space. This is not 1914. The defining feature of 1914 was the quickness
with which a regional war developed into a global war that killed tens of millions. And that’s not happening, and that’s not
about to happen. And I think the journey goes too far in space
as well, to the extent that the Greater Serbia is not comparable to a Greater Germany or
whatever else. They are defining boundaries in this crisis,
and if we overdramatize it, then indeed some of the consequences we fear might happen as
a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a serious crisis, but it should not
be overstated. William Odom: Simon, let me offer an alternative
view, the historical analogy. You’re exactly right, it’s not a situation
like 1938. The problem in the Balkans really started
at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. It just took a long time for that fuse to
burn to the explosive point. So what I’m suggesting is not that we face
an imminent blowup in Europe, but we’re setting a context which will just lead to
continued exacerbations over the years, and we don’t know who the contestants will be,
but that will be a place where they will compete with one another and play games. I think there are good arguments to be made
that an effective diplomacy might wall it off, if you can get that kind of cooperation
within Europe. Ben Wattenberg: Let me just go on to something
else. Let’s talk for a moment about American policy. Michael Mandelbaum, you are — according
to my research, you — (laughter) — well, you don’t know what I’m going to say. What are you laughing about? You are the coauthor of a book with the current
undersecretary of state, Strobe Talbott. You were a student in England, although not
at Oxford, with Bill Clinton. Your relationship goes back that far. You were offered, according to our research,
the job as head of policy planning at the State Department. What’s going on there? Michael Mandelbaum: Well, let me comment indirectly
on that by going back to a point that Bill Odom made. Where are we now? The policy of the allied powers, if we can
call them that, is incoherent. And as Bill said, we either ought to get in
or get out. That is, either we ought to say this is our
fight, this is an important issue, and then, as Bill has suggested, let’s send in a complement
of ground troops to sort this out, or we ought to wash our hands of it and just get out and
let the parties fight. That is correct. Those are the two coherent options. But there is a problem, and that is that the
prelude to either of those sensible policies is to withdraw the UN peacekeepers. And if those UN peacekeepers are withdrawn,
there is the danger, first, that the Serbs will take lots of them hostage because they
will fear that the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers is a prelude to a bombing campaign against
them, or — and/or in the same context — the Serbs will fear that the war is going to escalate
against them and so they’ll slaughter a lot of Bosnian civilians in the safe areas. And I believe that the governments of Britain
and France in particular, although I trust they understand that the real sensible options
are as Bill has described them: recoil from carrying out either one of those options for
fear that getting from here to there would eventuate in a blood bath. Ben Wattenberg: Let me continue with that
question about the Clinton administration. Perhaps there are some people who would elucidate
on that. I have a quote here from Raymond Seitz, who
is the recently retired US ambassador to the United Kingdom, and he said that Clinton’s
behavior, and I quote, “conveys to the Europeans that this administration is utterly unreliable
and adolescent.” Simon, is that what the Europeans are saying? Simon Serfaty: They may be saying this, and
we are saying the same about them. This is everybody’s fiasco, not just that
of Clinton, not just that of any one state. Everybody has been handling this issue poorly
for the past three years, including the Europeans, who were still teenagers who frankly attempted
to deal with an adolescent game in 1992 and 1993. So I would not focus on — Ben Wattenberg: Josh Muravchik, in 1992, you
wrote some foreign policy speeches for then-Gov. Clinton. How do you think they’re doing? Joshua Muravchik: Well, they’re doing terribly. But Clinton had exactly the right idea, and
it’s the option that Michael Mandelbaum left off, which was the so-called lift-and-strike
option, which was to arm the Bosnians to defend themselves, and strike, meaning giving them
support with NATO air power. And this option was put on the table by the
Clinton administration in its first months, in May of 1993, and Secretary Christopher
went over to Europe and said here’s our policy. And then he didn’t say, you know, would
you guys please get on board with us? He said, well, what do you think of this? And they turned him down, but there was a
real failure at that moment. It was a great mistake by the Europeans, but
a real failure of leadership on our part to say this is our policy, we think it’s important,
and it’s important for you to join with us. Ben Wattenberg: Bill, let me ask you a question. You were a four-star general, which is about
— William Odom: Three. Ben Wattenberg: A three-star general, which
is almost — William Odom: Thank you for the — Ben Wattenberg: That’s all right — which
is almost as many stars as they give out. I was an airman second class, so I have always
wanted — I’ve had this sort of fantasy that I could always grill a three-star general. What on earth could we really do militarily? William Odom: Well, you know, one can only
speculate about this, but let me offer some speculation with that caveat. I could be wrong about this, but I’ve looked
at maps of the ground and I’ve talked to the commander of the Bosnian army and some
other former Yugoslav officers about the situation. My initial notion was that a mission for a
ground involvement ought to have three points. First, the commander of that mission should
be told, operate in a way that prevents the spread of this beyond the Yugoslav boundaries. Number two, that it lowers the level of violence,
but you are not required to try to pacify the country in the sense we did in Vietnam
or that we’re trying to do in Haiti. Merely take up the big weapons and do not
try to track bands down and go off to the hills, fight. But you stop them, and you — by doing that,
you deny any party an ability to achieve its goals. And you don’t go in on anybody’s side,
you go in against anybody that shoots. Then to do that, I think I would — the last
point would be, be able to hold this posture for a long, long time until people are ready
to negotiate. I think to do — Ben Wattenberg: Does that mean American troops
on the ground? William Odom: To me it meant about two Europeans
for one American, and the first time when I looked at this, I thought it might take
three [hundred thousand], 400,000. I’ve since been convinced that it could
be done for probably 150 [thousand] to 200,000. Ben Wattenberg: So that would still mean 50
— at least 50,000 American troops on the ground. William Odom: Right. Michael Mandelbaum: Ben, let me make two comments. First, let me respond to your question about
the Clinton administration, what’s wrong with its policy. Well, at a minimum, the problem is that it
has spoken about this issue as if the stakes were as high as Bill Odom and Josh Muravchik
think they are, but it has acted as if the stakes are as low as I say they are. And that has led to an incoherent American
policy. This week we’ve had quotes from the assistant
secretary of state for Europe, Mr. Holbrook, who has said this is the most explosive part
of the world, the Balkans, thereby invoking World War I, and this is the West’s worst
failure since the 1930s, thereby invoking World War II. Well, if both of those are true, then we at
a minimum ought to be doing what Bill Odom and Josh Muravchik suggest, but the president
of the United States said, but we’re not going to send any ground troops. That is incoherent. Now, let me make one other point. There are two debates here. One is the debate between people like me and
people like Bill and Josh over what the stakes are. Among those who think the stakes are high,
there is a debate about what would be required to vindicate American interests between people
like Bill, who say we really have to put troops on the ground, and people, I believe, like
Josh, although he’ll correct me if I’m wrong, who think that we can just get it done
with bombing. My own view, for what it’s worth, and since
I’m not on that side of the argument, it may not be worth all that much, but my own
view is that Bill is right. If we are serious about pacifying the Balkans,
if we’re serious about a political outcome that we can live with, then we really do have
to be serious about committing ground troops. Joshua Muravchik: The question here is that
there has been a very clear case of aggression and that the fabric of world peace depends
on upholding certain rules against aggression, as we did in the Persian Gulf. This is a war by Serbia against its neighbors,
and there is a clear right and wrong in this war. You can go on and then argue — there is
lots of room to argue about what is the best strategy, what’s the best approach for the
United States, but there’s a clear right and wrong here, and not just the pain that
the Serbs have inflicted against the Bosnians in the war they have waged against Bosnian
civilians, but also the very flagrant violation of this most basic rule of international law. William Odom: Let me accept your argument
and then look at your prescription. Your prescription is to lift the embargo and
then strike. I don’t know what you achieve with air strikes
other than making the people who are bombed very mad and causing them to turn to other
people for supplies and widening the conflict. Now, I could — Ben Wattenberg: If the Bosnian Serbs are being
supplied by Serbia, which has a major military force with airfields and airplanes and communications
hubs and all that kind of stuff, and you, as we used to say, went to the source, or
threatened to go to the source, couldn’t that change the whole balance there? William Odom: Sure. You widen the war into Serbia, and that’s
exactly the point I was making. Now, the argument that I heard Michael make,
I think, is that our interests are not at stake there. And I think that implies, and correct me if
I’m wrong, Michael, that it will not spread in a way that involves the other European
powers in, if not direct hostilities, then tensions and diplomatic competition that really
do destabilize Europe. Then it seems to me that would — that would
affect our interests. So spreading the war on the ground there to
Serbia, and as he rightly pointed out, it may well of its own accord expand to Macedonia,
and the Serbians and the Croatians have not had the last word with one another, I think
you have to hope, if you’re going to take this withdrawal attitude, this lift attitude,
then I think you’re going to have to hope that it will burn itself out. And to take actions that increase the prospects
if other European powers, say, Russia, decides to supply the Serbian side while we’re bombing
is not a pattern for containment. It’s a pattern for much broader expansion. Ben Wattenberg: Josh, you quickly and then
over to Mike. Joshua Muravchik: The hope is to try to achieve
some kind of balance of power there by giving the Bosnians a chance to defend themselves. They’ve been attacked, and they’ve been
disarmed by the international community with this completely unconscionable embargo. If they can fight back and stop the Serbs
the way the Slovenians and the Croatians had some success in stopping the Serbs, you might
get a settlement. Michael Mandelbaum: Let me disagree with Josh’s
analysis of the conflict. He says it’s a clear-cut case of aggression. I believe one has to make a distinction between
the causes of war and the way a war is being fought. There is no doubt that the Serbs are waging
this war in a criminal fashion. I think there is no doubt about that. I do not see this, however, as purely a war
of aggression. What we have, I think, is the international
community saying it is wrong for Bosnian Muslims to live in a multinational state dominated
by Serbs, known as Yugoslavia, but it is right and necessary for Bosnian Serbs to live in
a multinational state dominated by Muslims, known as Bosnia. That is, even though the United Nations recognized
Bosnia as an independent country, I don’t think that makes the Bosnian Serb desire to
secede and be part of a Greater Serbia automatically criminal or illegal, although the way they
have pursued that goal is clearly criminal and illegal. Ben Wattenberg: Josh — Simon, go ahead. Simon Serfaty: The stakes are not high enough
to justify the sort of intervention that would be required if we were to go into the war
full time. There is no word for this. I agree with Mike. But I think that it is quite clear that the
stakes are getting higher as the war goes on. Ben Wattenberg: Are they getting higher because
the old alliance is acting like a bunch of amateurs? I mean, is that playing into the substance
of it? Simon Serfaty: It’s because it’s a cause
for discord amongst European states, between the United States and the European states. It gives a stage for Russia to be heard in
an increasingly vocal fashion. It does have a tendency to creep out in a
way that is enormously damaging. Ben Wattenberg: We are just about out of time. Let me test your powers of summarization here. Let me just ask this question, and again a
very brief answer summarizing your position. And we’ll go around from Mike to Josh. What should we do and why should we do it? Michael Mandelbaum: We should sit tight, pursue
the current strategy, even though the prospects are not good, because doing something more
coherent risks a large-scale loss of life, and the stakes for us are relatively low. Ben Wattenberg: Simon. Simon Serfaty: The game is up. Let’s pull out the UN forces, and let’s
assist these forces in getting out of the area. Let’s lift the embargo, and indeed let’s
stand ready to provide some support from the air as and when needed. Ben Wattenberg: Gen. Odom. William Odom: If there was a political consensus
or a president could build one, then I would be for a NATO intervention. But in light of the political realities, I
think doing what Simon has suggested, helping UNPROFOR get out — Ben Wattenberg: UNPROFOR is the UN — William Odom: The UN peacekeeping force, British,
French, and other countries which are there. And then I think we have to lift the embargo
and hope that it doesn’t spread. Ben Wattenberg: Josh Muravchik, what should
we do, and why should we do it? Joshua Muravchik: We should lift the arms
embargo on the Bosnians so they can start to defend themselves. We had wonderful success in the1980s arming
the Afghans, the Nicaraguans, the Angolans, Cambodians in the so-called Reagan doctrine,
helping people to fight for themselves. That’s what the Bosnians want to do. We ought to give them the arms to do it, and
we ought to give them some help with air support. Ben Wattenberg: All right, we ought to do
a show on the Reagan doctrine. Thank you all. Thank you, Michael Mandelbaum, Joshua Muravchik,
Simon Serfaty, and William Odom. And thank you. Please address any questions or comments to
New River Media, 1150 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20036. We can be reached via email at [email protected] I’m delighted that we were able to settle
this matter so thoroughly. For “Think Tank,” I’m Ben Wattenberg. Announcer: This has been a production of BJW
Inc., in association with New River Media, which are solely responsible for its content.

3 thoughts on “Bosnia: What’s in it for us? (1995) | THINK TANK

  1. Imagine how they would be discussing this issue if this was Israelis that were being ethnically cleansed instead of Croats and Bosniaks.

  2. Just from what I know about this war and the fact that my uncle was in this war, the serbs we're actually fighting for a noble cause while the islamists were just being islamist.

  3. OMG most of them are so brainwashed with 90s propaganda (it was so effective that westerners still hate serbs). Serbs evil bla bla meanwhile there were al qaeda training camps in bosnia. Don't believe me? You can find "conflicted" podcast where mI6 spy that was in al qaeda talk about it.

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