Quagmired in the Balkans

by Patrick J. Buchanan – September 29, 1997

“Well, it’s a fine mess you’ve got us in now, Stanley!” Oliver Hardy used to say in the old Laurel and Hardy movies.

Exactly that may be said of the Bosnian situation into which Bill Clinton has got his country. Eight thousand U.S. troops are tied down; we are nearly a year beyond the original withdrawal date; and Clinton aides are hinting that we may have to be there indefinitely.

The interventionists were warned this would happen, but they assured us it would not. Now, as in Lebanon, the United States has begun to take sides in a nasty power struggle among Bosnia’s Serbs. NATO soldiers shot one alleged war criminal and bagged another for a U.N. tribunal. U.S. troops have captured police and TV stations, and broken up rallies by Serbs supporting Radovan Karadzic.

If we’re leaving in June, what are we doing? Local politicians who win their fights with foreign troops tend to find their throats cut when the foreigners depart. Does anyone think Biljana Plasvic can win a Serb power struggle if NATO troops leave? Which begs the question: When are we leaving, and what is our “exit strategy”?

Answer: Clinton and the NATO expansionists have none. Having, through duplicity, sucked us in, they want us to stay.

While NATO has stopped the killing, the idea that Bosnia is on its way to becoming a multiethnic democratic state is fiction — a fiction for which not a single U.S. soldier should have to give his life.

Slovenia is a nation; Croatia is a nation; Serbia is a nation. Bosnia is a stew of Croats, Serbs and Muslims. Each group has its own memories of awful atrocities; each harbors terrible grievances against the others. Each puts religion and nationality above loyalty to any document or map drawn up at Dayton. And if Slovenes and Croats had a right to break free from a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, do not Serbs have the same right to break free from a Muslim-dominated Bosnia?

Why cannot we just depart and turn the policing of Bosnia over to the Europeans? Bosnia, after all, is in the heart of their continent, not ours, and we have responsibilities that are global; they do not.

The answer, quite simply, is our petulant allies. If you leave, they warn, we leave. Unstated threat: You Americans will then be blamed for the fratricide that follows, and you will have to go back in. Then, we will all be tied down together, forever. This is extortion. Europe is saying that if we do not protect Bosnia, they will let Bosnia bleed to death and blame us.

We are paying a huge price for not following the wise counsel of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who urged JFK to bring all U.S. troops home and let the Europeans man their own defenses. Instead, Europe came to depend on America to do its military chores and to exhibit traits common to dependencies: lassitude and ingratitude among them.

Bosnia represents not only a failure of Clinton but of the U.S. foreign policy elite. As far back as 1990, some of us argued that the United States should use the opportunity of our victory in the Cold War to craft a foreign policy that put America first and required other nations to take control of their own defense and their own destiny.

Instead, America began to expand commitments, as she drew down her military power. Now, we are giving war guarantees to Eastern Europe, where Americans have never fought before, and appear ready to accept a permanent U.S. military presence in the explosive Balkans. We have assumed the historical role of Germany in keeping Russia out of Europe, of the Austrian, Turkish and Russian empires in policing the Balkans, of the British in defending freedom of the seas and the Persian Gulf, and of the Japanese in containing China and shielding Korea.

This is imperial overstretch and an invitation to disaster. America’s elites misread this nation. Future generations will not validate these war commitments with the lives of their sons.

Our 10-year window of opportunity, following our Cold War victory, is closing. If America is not to be dragged into every future Bosnia, we need to act now. The Europeans should be told, bluntly:

You are staying in Bosnia, and we are not. And as we lifted you to your feet after World War II, your duty is to do the same for Eastern Europe and Russia, which should be put on a timetable for inclusion in the European Union. And if your answer is no, our answer is goodbye.

If this sounds like an ultimatum, it is. Sometimes, you have to kick the birds out of the nest, or they never learn to fly.