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Western Press Review: Clinton Concedes The Predictable in Bosnia

  • Don Hill

Prague, 19 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- When an apartment dweller hears one shoe drop to the floor in the flat upstairs, he typically lies sleepless until the second shoe falls. Well, the second combat boot has fallen in Bosnia. Western analysts and commentators examine today U.S. President Bill Clinton's long-predicted announcement that U.S. troops will remain there indefinitely.

WASHINGTON POST: Clinton has decided to keep U.S. military forces in Bosnia

John F. Harris' analysis in The Washington Post describes the announcement this way: "With a blunt admission that he misjudged how long it would take to build lasting peace in Bosnia, President Clinton announced (yesterday) that he has decided in principle to keep U.S. military forces there past a June 1998 deadline and into the indefinite future. While the administration remains in the midst of an internal debate over how many U.S. troops should stay in Bosnia and precisely what they should do, Clinton said pulling out the U.S. force now would invite a return to the ethnic violence that made one in 10 Bosnians a casualty of war before a U.S.-brokered peace settlement two years ago."

Harris writes: "While Clinton's announcement was a culmination of months of debate and speculation over the future of the U.S. military mission in the Balkans, many questions remain about what 'benchmarks' will eventually be used to determine future progress in Bosnia."

NEW YORK TIMES: The early decision demonstrates an improved appreciation of how to enlist congressional support

In a New York Times news analysis, James Bennet recounts how Congress could upset the Clinton plan, and describes frustrations in implementing the Dayton accords. He writes: "Congress' only avenue to block the extension of the Bosnia mission is the politically unappealing one of cutting off money to U.S. troops in a combat zone. While they expressed aggravation with the Administration's broken deadlines --Clinton has now extended the mission twice-- and its still-undefined strategy, Republicans in Congress said they were unlikely to take that step. Clinton's admission of error appeared to be intended to blunt their anger."

Bennett continues: "(Yesterday's) announcement had been previewed for weeks in comments by the president's national-security aides. Critics of the administration's Bosnia policy said that the decision to abandon deadlines for withdrawing the troops, coming as it does seven months before the expiration of the current mission, demonstrated an improved appreciation of how to enlist congressional support." He concludes: "Despite efforts to create a unified government, Bosnia remains split along ethnic lines, without a common currency or flag or a unified postal service. In a sense, the Dayton accords that ended the war in 1995 and were intended to reunify the country have ratified the boundaries that separated ethnic groups when the three years of fighting stopped. But the administration rejects the idea of partitioning Bosnia."

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER: The U.S. Army has steadily reduced its troop commitment

Now that U.S. troops are to stay, questions must be faced as to how many and with what mission, Eric Rosenberg writes in a San Francisco Examiner news analysis. He says: "Anticipating (Clifton's) decision, the U.S. military has for several weeks been reviewing with NATO leaders America's future troop commitment in the international force that has kept the peace in the former Yugoslav republic for two years. Some officials say a reduction of 2,000 GIs is possible."

Rosenberg writes: "Two prestigious public policy organizations --the Washington, D.C.-based Atlantic Council and the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson Center-- concluded earlier this week that at least 5,000 U.S. troops are needed to help bring democracy to the war-torn nation." And he adds: "The size of the U.S. military contribution after June will depend on the new NATO mission, which has evolved from separating warring factions and halting artillery barrages to patrolling streets and providing security for local elections."

The writer says: "The U.S. Army has steadily reduced its troop commitment and stressed the use of other weapons as the political climate has improved. For example, it now uses fewer tanks that can fend off an organized enemy and more armored Humvees, rapid-jeep-like vehicles that allow troops to travel quickly to a hotspot of civil unrest."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: This represents a new U.S. approach toward intervening in trouble spots

Staff writers Jonathan Peterson and Tyler Marshall say in an analysis in the Los Angeles Times that the Clinton announcement signals an even deeper shift in U.S. thinking. They write: "The new policy not only was a significant change in White House policy toward Bosnia but appeared to represent a new U.S. approach toward intervening in trouble spots around the world. Since the lengthy struggle of the Vietnam War, U.S. presidents have been wary of open-ended military intervention. And Clinton's decision to commit the U.S. troops to Bosnia without a specific deadline for withdrawal was greeted with a fair amount of skepticism." The writers add: "If the Bosnia mission eventually succeeds under the open-ended terms, it would likely bring new flexibility to presidents on future deployments of U.S. military power. But observers agree it would take only a few incidents of American casualties to generate intense pressures for withdrawal. Recent history is proof of that."

TIMES: Yesterday's arrests could be the prelude to an operation to seize big-fish

Western press analysis also examines the effects of an announcement yesterday that Dutch members of the Bosnian SFOR arrested two long-sought indicted war criminals. In a news analysis today in The Times of London, Tom Walker in Stari Vitez, Bosnia, and Tom Rhodes in Washington write: "The operation, which was planned over several months, belied NATO's claim that war criminals are arrested only during the course of normal duties for troops of the Bosnian Stabilization Force. Their analysis continues: "The Dutch soldiers had been in Bosnia less than a week after undergoing special training in America. NATO sources in Sarajevo said yesterday's arrests could be the prelude to an operation to seize big-fish war crimes suspects still at large, the wartime Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Dr. Karadzic is in the Serb stronghold of Pale and General Mladic is in Han Pijesak in eastern Bosnia."

NEW YORK TIMES: NATO commanders have so far refused to risk the casualties

Bosnian Croats reacted angrily and the arrests still left the principal indicted offenders untouched, The New York Times' Chris Hedges says in an analysis. He writes: "The detention and swift extradition of the men to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague sparked angry protests by ethnic Croats in the central Bosnian town of Vitez. Heavily armed NATO troops blocked the crowd from marching to the house of one of the men who was seized."

Hedges continues: "The arrests came three days before a visit to Bosnia by President Clinton, who announced his decision Thursday to keep American troops in Bosnia beyond a scheduled June 1998 pullout. They follow angry allegations earlier in the week by the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, that Bosnian Serb suspects were allowed to live openly by French troops operating in eastern Bosnia." The writer says: "The former Bosnian Serb wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, and former army chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic, both indicted twice for genocide, remain at liberty. The two men are heavily guarded and NATO commanders have so far refused to risk the casualties they believe would occur in any attempt to capture them."