June 6, 1996

June 6, 1996 | Commentary on Russia

ED060696a: Jerry-Rigged Foreign Policy

The Clinton administration is about to make the same mistake in Bosnia it made in Somalia, where 18 U.S. Marines died unnecessarily.

The White House recently announced it would expand the role of the U.S.-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia to include scouring the countryside for war criminals. This is something the administration specifically promised not to do, a role that was purposefully left out of the Dayton Peace Accords because of its divisiveness and its potential for indefinitely expanding the Bosnia mission and producing casualties.

Why is the administration taking this step? It wants to apprehend Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic, both still exercising control over Serb-held territory. And no wonder: If these two are not apprehended, it will be difficult for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to sanction elections scheduled for September, as called for in the peace accords.

Without elections, no stable government will be established in Bosnia. With no government, withdrawing U.S. troops, as President Clinton promised, may not happen. In other words, the house of cards the president set up in Bosnia could come crashing down.

Of course, if by November election time it doesn't look like U.S. troops will come home soon, the president's Bosnia policy will be revealed for what it is: a jerry-rigged, politically tuned deal that puts U.S. forces at the mercy of events that can spin out of control at any time. To avoid this perception, the White House apparently is willing to risk substantial U.S. casualties -- both Karadzic and Mladic travel with 50 to 60 heavily armed escorts. But if Americans die, a la Somalia, the backlash could be even worse.

The whole mess is typical of the foreign policy ineptitude shown by this administration from the beginning. The Clinton team, influenced by its opposition to the Vietnam War, came into office confused about which situations warrant U.S. military intervention, and which do not. It became clear that the president believed multinational peacekeeping was the wave of the future for U.S. foreign policy. The administration appeared more comfortable with the idea of "foreign policy as social work." This global utopianism led the president to commit America to dubious peacekeeping efforts in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia, with sometimes tragic, never satisfactory results.

Few Americans realize how many gross errors and misjudgments have been made in foreign policy. Consider:

  • The White House has wasted precious years during which America could have erected global anti-missile defenses. For less than $3 billion it could have upgraded the Navy's Aegis fleet air-defense system as many experts have proposed, spending another $5 billion later on space-based sensors. Instead, the administration has done nothing in the face of CIA estimates that at least 20 countries already have or may be developing weapons of mass destruction and the ballistic missile systems to deliver them.
  • The Clinton Pentagon determined that America needed to be able to fight two regional conflicts "nearly simultaneously." Yet the president has neglected to provide the funding needed to sustain this capability.
  • The administration has zig-zagged on China policy, at times threatening, at other times appeasing, sending confused signals throughout Asia that have undermined U.S. credibility in the region and heightened tensions between China and Taiwan.
  • The administration secretly tried to make a deal with Fidel Castro whereby Cuban boat people would be sent back forcibly to Cuba instead of being allowed into the United States. This betrayal of the Cuban people -- overturning 30 years of principled U.S. policy -- was only abandoned after Cuba shot down two U.S. civilian aircraft.
  • The White House has organized a multi-billion-dollar deal that will give North Korea two nuclear reactors -- and still we don't know for sure whether Pyongyang has discontinued its budding nuclear-weapons program.
  • In Haiti, America spent $2 billion to put in office an avowed Marxist known for his hostility to the United States, all in the name of "restoring democracy." Whatever it is, the regime now in place is no democracy.
  • Finally, with no U.S. interests at stake, the White House sent U.S. forces to Bosnia, when it could have simply lifted the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims and allowed them to defend themselves. Now, worried that failure in Bosnia could threaten its standing in the polls, the White House is playing with the possibility of expanding and lengthening the mission, thus unnecessarily placing U.S. forces in even greater danger.

This is no way to conduct foreign policy.

Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D., is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies and Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D. Distinguished Fellow
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy