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The case for military intervention in Syria

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Sensing the US was not prepared to lead implementation – President Clinton had won the election just six months earlier on the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid” – allies demurred.

Within a week, the Bosnian Serb parliament rejected the plan, and shelling resumed. The war raged for two more years, with the Bosnian enclaves of Gorazde and Zepa falling to ethnic Serb forces, their majority Bosniak populations forcibly expelled.

Then, in July 1995 in Srebrenica, Bosnian Serbs murdered more 7,000 Bosniaks in one, systematic slaughter. It was at that point that the West finally acted. To his lasting credit, President Clinton then determined that the US would lead. NATO used air power to suppress Bosnian Serb attacks on Sarajevo, and within months had committed to military implementation of the Dayton peace accord, driven to conclusion by American über-diplomat Richard Holbrooke. By December 1995, some 60,000 NATO troops were en route to Bosnia to implement the peace plan, 20,000 of them American.

What was the difference between May 1993 and July 1995? In terms of Western implementation – nothing. We did in 1995 roughly what we would have done in 1993, had we acted. But in terms of human cost – tens of thousands of lives were lost.

And that is the key lesson. Eventually, the West was willing to act. But it took a “catalyst” of thousands of lives lost in a single massacre to convince us to do what we could have done years before. Would it not have been better to have acted sooner and saved thousands of lives?

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