Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Croats vs. Serbs Sheds Light on Clinton vs. Dole

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Croats vs. Serbs Sheds Light on Clinton vs. Dole

Article excerpt

CROATIA'S brazen assault on Serb forces not only risks a wider war in the former Yugoslavia but also raises the political stakes at home for President Bill Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.

It puts into sharper focus the different approaches that these two political powerhouses have espoused.

The mess that is Bosnia now is turning into a major test of each's mettle in foreign policy and of their leadership in trying to resolve it. It could intensify already intense political bickering over a complex, distant war.

For Clinton, the stakes are higher, if for no other reason than he is the president in charge of trying to rescue a policy that has undergone many twists, turns and setbacks and has led to a virtual no-confidence vote by the Republican-led Congress.

"The president is a loser whenever he's in a situation where he does not appear to be a leader," said Charles Jones, presidential scholar at the University of Wisconsin. "Dole is a congressional leader who can only react to the situation in Bosnia as to what the president has or has not done."

Clinton's failure to condemn the attack puts him at odds with U.S. allies, who did so forcefully on Friday.

It appears to represent a White House gamble that the Croatian offensive will help check Serbian advances, especially on the "safe area" of Bihac, and save the embattled U.N. peacekeeping mission.

The gamble comes down to this:

If the war is widened as a result of Croatia's move and the peacekeeping mission no longer proves viable, the United States is committed to sending in ground forces to help extract U.N. forces. This would be a highly dangerous operation and something Clinton wants to avoid.

"The feeling of the American public is: Let's stay out of it," said Greg Schneiders, a Democratic political consultant. "I suspect that as long as Clinton does not get us more deeply involved and raise the specter of Americans fighting on foreign soil, it probably doesn't cut much either way politically. …

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