AGAINST a year's worth of grim evidence to the contrary, Western leaders have hoped the Bosnian genocide could be ended by UN negotiations and a peace plan.
But it is impossible for anyone to believe this now. The Vance-Owen peace plan for Bosnia is collapsing - if a plan that had little chance of success can be said to collapse. Ironically, the signature of Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic last week doomed it. By agreeing to carve his country into cantons, something he should not have had to do, Mr. Izetbegovic put the Serbs on the spot to actually sign for peace. They are balking.
Since initiating a campaign in the heart of Europe that has left 130,000 Bosnians dead and 2 million homeless, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has spoken very little truth. But after Izetbegovic signed last week, Mr. Karadzic came as close as he ever has.
He doubted his people would ever accept Vance-Owen, bluntly stating in New York: "There is no chance they will accept the map." On his return this weekend to Belgrade, he added, "First they satisfied the Croats, then the Muslims. Now they have to satisfy the Serbs."
After months of Western double talk and delay - time the Serbs use even now to "cleanse" men, women, and children in East Bosnia - the truth comes out.
President Clinton must go past his half-policy on Bosnia. The White House points to its airlifts to Muslim enclaves. But in the face of brutal Serb acts that all can see, the airlift may only serve to prolong the suffering.
Mr. Clinton's policy continues to be economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure. Evidence shows, however, that sanctions are counterproductive. They have galvanized Serbs against the West. And they have led to the rise of powerful criminal conglomerates in Belgrade.
The leader of the post-cold-war free world will be judged not only by the American public but by history. Among his options is the arming of the Bosnians so they can defend themselves. Clinton has recently hinted he may have to take this course.
Short of a broader military involvement by the United States or Western Europe, which neither are willing to undertake, the US should work to see that the UN lifts the arms embargo against Bosnia.
The Serbs have shown a consistent disdain for cease-fire agreements, including those designed to allow the flow of humanitarian aid. There is little reason to think this attitude will change. Faced with such aggressiveness, the Bosnians have a right to mount a credible defense of their country.