October 19, 1995

October 19, 1995 | Commentary on Russia

ED101995a: Administration Fails to Make Case for U.S. Troops in Bosnia

On Oct. 17, hearings on Capitol Hill exposed the Clinton administration's plan to use 25,000 American troops to implement a Bosnian peace accord as a haphazard and risky enterprise with no coherent political or military rationale.

Lawmakers repeatedly challenged members of the Clinton foreign policy team to present clearly defined, attainable political goals and military objectives, estimates of the probability of success, the risks entailed, and readings of the level of support from the American people. Former U.S. Secretary of State Robert McNamara recently noted in his Vietnam memoirs that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations failed to address these fundamental issues in the early debates over Vietnam. It was evident from the responses of President Clinton's team that his administration is making the same deadly mistake.

The Clinton peace plan for Bosnia is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse. Instead of making a troop commitment that is tailored to support a known, specific, workable mission, President Clinton made the commitment of 25,000 U.S. ground troops first, more than two years ago, without any peace plan in hand. Now, his team is busy figuring out how to shoehorn a plan to fit an arbitrary U.S. military commitment only incidentally related to military conditions that may exist on the ground. This is strategy backwards -- a formula for confusion and disarray -- and members of Congress are correct to question it.

The hearings on Capitol Hill raised other basic yet prescient questions. For example, what are the objectives of this mission, and how will America know when they have been achieved? The 25,000-troop U.S. "Implementation Force" has been given no clearly defined and attainable military goals, nor specific criteria by which U.S. commanders can measure their success. The Clinton peace plan doesn't even address military objectives, and commits American forces to static "picket duty" in buffer zone. U.S. forces are intended to sit there (as in "sitting duck") and "monitor" infractions of the peace accord.

In testimony on Capitol Hill, Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, a Canadian who commanded the first U.N. troops in Sarajevo, made no bones about the fact that, of all the various national contingents, U.S. troops would be the primary targets for disgruntled belligerents. He also let the House National Security Committee know that while the administration may try to portray the Implementation Force as a neutral "peacekeeping" presence, the United States is clearly the enemy of one side in this conflict. After all, the Serbs aren't likely to regard U.S. air strikes against them as acts of neutrality. Under such conditions, Gen. MacKenzie said if he were an American military officer, he "wouldn't touch this mission with a ten-foot pole."

Another problem is that we have no exit strategy. Since U.S. forces have no well-defined and achievable military goals, "mission creep" -- in which adverse circumstances force greater military commitment to avert disaster -- is built into the Clinton peace plan. The administration will be under tremendous pressure to succeed after deploying 25,000 troops to Bosnia. President Clinton will be sorely tempted to escalate U.S. military efforts when faced with inevitable resistance from the warring factions and the threat of widespread American casualties.

Aware of these concerns, the White House's answer is to pledge that U.S. forces will be pulled out in 12 months. This is a purely political decision unrelated to actual conditions that could arise on the ground. Almost all lawmakers recognized the electoral motivations behind this pledge and were extremely skeptical when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. John Shaliskavili defended the 12-month timetable as being based on unexplained "operational reasons." As former Under Secretary of Defense Richard Perle testified, "An exit date is not an exit strategy."

The entire Clinton plan is based on a best-case scenario. Yet, astute military planning, down to the lowest levels, must always take into account what to do when anything (or everything) goes wrong. Senators were rightly astounded when Secretary of Defense William Perry stated he "could not conceive of circumstances where troops would stay longer" than the one-year target date. This comment exposed the political and military naiveté that permeates this administration.

Needless to say, there are no contingency plans to address a worst-case scenario. Should there be anything less than cooperation by the Bosnian parties, America would be forced to cut and run, or reinforce troops and escalate military efforts to make the peace plan succeed.

The Clinton foreign policy team has failed to provide satisfactory answers to Congress on the fundamental issues involved in any military action, to say nothing of the host of other questions that arise about this particular mission. In the absence of such a rationale or credible plan for U.S. involvement, Congress should withhold its approval of President Clinton's Bosnia peace plan.

Note: John Hillen is former defense policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy institute.

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