The Moral Stakes in Bosnia: An American Muslim Convert; the U.S. Has A Vital National Interest in a Just Settlement

By Noakes, Greg | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 1995 | Go to article overview

The Moral Stakes in Bosnia: An American Muslim Convert; the U.S. Has A Vital National Interest in a Just Settlement


Noakes, Greg, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The Moral Stakes in Bosnia: AN AMERICAN MUSLIM CONVERT; The U.S. Has A Vital National Interest in a Just Settlement

By Greg Noakes

Opponents of increased United States involvement in Bosnia argue that no vital U.S. interests are at stake in the Balkan crisis, and thus America should keep its distance. It is true that Bosnia is not floating on a lake of oil, nor is it a nuclear power, an outlaw statesponsor of international terrorism, nor an old and trusted ally of the U.S. The Balkans are not the Persian Gulf, and Bosnia-Herzegovina counts for little on the geostrategic map. Nevertheless, what is at stake in Bosnia is the United States' credibility as a world power--indeed, the world power following the end of the Cold War--and the reactions of a billion Muslims around the world.

Two things set Bosnia apart from other world crises. First, Washington already has made countless promises to the Bosnians, either unilaterally or as part of NATO or the United Nations. That is, the U.S. is already involved in this conflict.

Second, what is happening in Bosnia-Herzegovina is not a typical case of civil unrest or even civil war; rather, it is plain and simple genocide, happening in full view of the outside world. Since the vast majority of those being massacred are Muslims, their fellow believers around the globe are saddened, stunned, angered and left wondering why no one is moving to put an end to the outrageous crimes being perpetrated in Bosnia.

Keeping Promises

Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton have, over the past three years, made a number of pledges to the government and people of Bosnia. These include guaranteeing humanitarian relief supplies, ensuring the safety of the U.N. "safe havens," pursuing a fair diplomatic solution, and deterring further Serb aggression through means ranging from sanctions to air strikes. None of these pledges has been kept.

The message to the world is clear: the value of a U.S. commitment is worth less than the paper on which it's written. Because of our inaction in the Balkans, our allies around the world are questioning our resolve everywhere.

The collapse of the Soviet Union left the United States as the only nation on the planet with both the political prestige and the military and economic power necessary to lead in the international arena. That provided a golden opportunity for the U.S. to step up to the challenge of its international commitments and influence the course of world events for the better.

Bill Clinton, however, with his finger in the air to see which way the political winds blow, is on the verge of squandering that opportunity through his waffling over Bosnia, the second great international test of the post-Cold War era. In the earlier conflict, the 1990-91 Gulf war, George Bush was able to assemble an impressive international coalition through his use of American prestige and his own resolve. Subsequent heady talk of a "new world order" was predicated on a world governed by international law based upon American principles and ideals as well as U.S. leadership. After Bosnia, the "new world order" has become a rueful joke. The reserve of U.S. presidential prestige is almost expended. Will anyone associate "resolve" with "White House" again?

Bosnia is not a cut-and-dried issue, the skeptics say. There are allies to consult, U.N. procedures to be observed, global interests to be balanced, precedents to uphold. All of this is well and good, but, even combined, these excuses do not provide reason enough for President Clinton to allow his hands to be tied over Bosnia.

Despite three years of consulting, observing, balancing and upholding, the conflagration in Bosnia is still at a fever pitch. It seems clear that it is time for new thinking from Washington on Bosnia and bold U.S. leadership.

The Europeans had their chance to resolve the conflict, and failed. The United Nations also has failed, in the process squandering whatever prestige it may once have enjoyed. …

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