The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy since Vietnam: Constraining the Colossus

By Richard Sobel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
Bosnia II: Public Opinion's Influence on
Clinton's Intervention Policy

INTRODUCTION

As the Clinton administration became aware of public opinion, the preferences of the American public began to affect Bosnia policies. Because those policies were made relatively recently and most of the internal discussions are still not on the public record, Chapter 13 incorporates the decision-makers' public statements in the media or in front of Congress as well as their senses of public opinion during benchmark periods. The major decision-makers were President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and Secretary of Defense William Perry.

The Clinton administration's central involvement in the crisis in Bosnia began with the Clinton presidency in January 1993 and continued beyond the Dayton Accords in November–December 1995, with the deployment of U.S. peacekeepers as part of a NATO force. Reviewing candidate Clinton's campaign speeches criticizing the Bush administration for its weak approach to the problem would suggest that the new administration would pursue a more resolute policy. In reality, for reasons that had to do with weak public support and a categorical opposition to the use of military force from the European allies and some U.S. leaders, the Clinton campaign rhetoric long remained unmatched by the Clinton policies.

From the outset Clinton began with a faltering Bosnia policy that proposed what became known as “lift and strike,” a plan that Secretary of State Warren Christopher sought unsuccessfully to sell to the European community in the spring of 1993. The Europeans, whose troops were stationed on the ground in Bosnia, fearing that a wider war would endanger their forces if the arms embargo was lifted, rejected the plan. After this attempt, the administration took a low profile in Bosnia, becoming involved again only in February 1994.

The first benchmark of Clinton's term was the step of pushing for NATO air strikes following the killing of civilians at a Sarajevo marketplace in February 1994. NATO had recently taken its first military action in shooting down four Serbian planes earlier in the month. In the wake of the massacre, the United States pursued forceful NATO action; after false starts, NATO undertook its first air strikes in April mainly with American F-16s. Serbs retaliated by taking U.N. peacekeepers hostage, and the situation again stagnated until the summer of 1995.

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