THE White House casts Secretary Warren Christopher's latest trip to Europe as a reaffirmation of United States leadership and the vitality of NATO and as concrete action to limit suffering in Bosnia and contain a wider Balkan war.
This is a scam. The administration has failed in Bosnia because it lacks the nerve to lead NATO and use force. It does not admit this failure because it means surrender to genocidal aggression and the unraveling of Europe. So it masks failure with talk of containment.
This new policy will fail too. Western surrender in Croatia and Bosnia makes it inevitable for Serb president Slobodan Milosevic to move against Kosovo and trigger the wider Balkan war Mr. Christopher wants to contain. Appeasement and deterrence do not work together in the face of Nazi-style aggression. We are witnessing a historic moment. It will cost us dearly down the road. We won the cold war. But we are losing the peace.
Under nine Democratic and Republican presidents, America won a tremendous historic victory. This victory is defined by World War II, the Marshall Plan, NATO and the Berlin airlift, the United Nations Charter and Helsinki Final Act, the cold war's end. This victory paved the way for a Europe whole and free, and a prosperous America.
Presidents Bush and Clinton have squandered this victory. Southeast Europe is ravaged by Mr. Milosevic, whose aggression exposes a lack of political will and moral backbone in two straight administrations. The failure of US leadership has put the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, and the UN Security Council on their deathbeds, issuing communiques with no impact on the ground.
We are indeed entering a new era. But it will be more dangerous than the cold war. Equivocation and redefining problems away have replaced straight talk, conviction, and brave decisions. Our core principles and collective security institutions aren't holding.
This era will consume the peace dividend America hoped for. It will see us reacting to instability and aggression rather than building a "new world order." Aggressors like Milosevic will set the rules of the game.
The White House wants to mask its failure in the Balkans and the consequences for the post-cold-war world with the same kind of maneuvers Bush used to disguise inaction.
Step 1: Redefine the Balkan crisis to delete the imperative for strong action. Thus, Mr. Clinton and Christopher stop talking about Bosnia in terms of genocidal aggression that challenges world order and US security. Clinton goes quiet. Christopher downgrades Bosnia to a civil war, a "humanitarian crisis a long way from home." He even insinuates that Bosnian Muslims are perpetrators rather than victims of genocide.
Step 2: Abdicate leadership to Europe by appeasing Milosevic.
Step 3: Dress this up as a wise marshaling of US resources since we won't exert any leadership.
Step 4: Reassure critics that America leads when it must, as Christopher just tried to do in Europe, as if leadership is talk about "safe havens," a symbolic US peacekeeping unit in Macedonia, and a NATO summit in late '93, instead of action now when it's needed.
I watched these maneuvers with mounting outrage. The Bush administration did no better in 1992, but it was playing out the clock to Jan. 20. Do Clinton's advisers imagine they can play out the clock until 1996?
It isn't too late to win the peace. Clinton needs four things: a strategy to lift the West from defeatism; a strategy to defeat and contain Milosevic in Bosnia and Croatia; a security team that can design these things; and the courage to lead. If he can't find these, the American people are in for real trouble.