Clinton is too shady about Bosnia policy

American troops began withdrawing from Bosnia last week amid heightened congressional criticism of the Clinton administration’s all too inconspicuous plans to extend the U.S. peacekeeping mission beyond the Dec. 20 deadline. The removal of just a few hundred soldiers from Bosnia was accompanied by an announcement that another 5,000 troops will be sent to the region for a six-month deployment. Administration officials insist the additional soldiers are necessary to facilitate a smooth and safe withdrawal.
At the same, time, however, Secretary of Defense William Perry informed the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon intends to continue its military-backed monitoring role in Bosnia through at least March of next year. A more defined policy may not be made public until that time. While we agree that further U.S. involvement in the region is necessary in order to stifle residual tensions among the hostile factions, the president’s evasive unwillingness to concede that his administration is likely to pursue support for a continued military presence in Bosnia is deplorable.
Congress only agreed to authorize the deployment of more than 16,000 soldiers to Bosnia as part of NATO’s Implementation Force last December on the condition that the troops would return in one year. Even then, though, a majority of the nation’s lawmakers expressed considerable skepticism that 12 months would be long enough to ensure the implementation of the Dayton peace accords that called for an end to the fighting and the election of a Bosnian Federation government. While substantial progress has been achieved, the doubts have been confirmed.
Completely withdrawing U.S. troops from Bosnia risks tipping the delicate balance established in the recent election of a three-membered presidency comprised of Croat, Muslim and Serb representation. Designs to orchestrate the new central legislature as well as build an integrated economy stand on shaky ground. A continued U.S. monitoring role can help safeguard the region from reeling back to its bloody past during the interim needed to devise an effective agenda for building joint government and economic institutions. Clinton, nevertheless, has a responsibility to the American people as well as our allies in Western Europe to be more vocal and honest about his administration’s burgeoning plans to extend a U.S. military presence and provide further diplomatic assistance to Bosnia.
Deploying American troops in any contentious region is a public matter. Clinton’s cagy promise to offer a more resolute agenda for dealing with Bosnia in late October or mid-November is an insult to American voters. The president cannot be allowed to defer full disclosure of his administration’s plans for further U.S. participation in Bosnia until after the election. As candidates for the presidency, both Clinton and his Republican challenger Bob Dole should be required to provide the American people as well as our allies in Western Europe with a comprehensive and long-term U.S. policy toward the region.