But he invoked the Vietnam syndrome - something he claimed to have slain in the deserts of the Gulf - to explain why he opposed any deeper US and allied military commitment to end the fighting and the alleged atrocities in Bosnia. 'I do not want to see the United States bogged down in any way into some guerrilla warfare - we lived through that once,' Mr Bush told a news conference.
Significantly, however, Mr Bush did not rule out wider military action completely. 'We are thinking it out very carefully,' Mr Bush said. 'I have a lot of options available to me and I will contemplate every one very seriously . . . in conjunction with the United Nations.' But he said the main focus of international efforts should be 'humanitarian relief to Bosnia' and a 'political resolution' of the Yugoslav crisis.
For the last 10 days Mr Bush, the foreign-policy expert and committed internationalist, has shown every sign of being dragged along behind the spiral of events in Bosnia, by television images of death and suffering, and US political and public opinion. His somewhat tougher approach over the last two days follows criticism by Democratic and Republican members of Congress, the Democratic presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, and - most signifcantly of all, according to some administration officials - an article by Baroness Thatcher in the New York Times.
Many of these same voices - including the New York Times itself in an editorial yesterday - are now pushing Mr Bush to 'galvanise' the international community into an explicit commitment to defend Bosnia by military force. Lady Thatcher recommended in her article that international military aid to Bosnia should take the form of air strikes and supplies of arms to Bosnian forces.
Mr Bush said yesterday: 'There (are) a lot of voices out there in the United States today that say use force but they don't have the responsibility for sending somebody else's son or somebody else's daughter into harm's way. And I do.' Fair enough, but the comparison with Mr Bush's approach to the Gulf crisis is stark. After a slow initial response two years ago, Mr Bush rapidly pushed ahead of the curve of public opinion, Congressional opinion, international opinion and even his own advisers, in insisting on a strong military response to Iraqi aggression. On this occasion, public and political opinion in the US is far ahead of Mr Bush (70 per cent in favour of some undefined kind of military action).
There are many differences between Bosnia and Kuwait. On the one hand Bosnia has no oil and is strategically insignificant; on the other hand, the US public - who saw nothing of the atrocities within Kuwait - is watching harrowing television film of dead orphans and starving detainees.
But other administration sources concede that, in domestic political terms, Mr Bush is hoist on his own exuberant rhetoric of exactly two years ago. He did not say that the US and its allies were helping Kuwait because it was a straightforward war to fight and Kuwait had lots of oil. He said the US and world community had a moral obligation to resist aggression and human rights abuses to establish a post-Cold War new world order.
Foreign policy is still the remaining jewel in Mr Bush's wobbly crown. If the fighting in the remnants of Yugoslavia continues to spread, if more evidence of atrocities emerges, the point may come when the political dangers of committing US troops will be less than the political dangers of doing nothing.Reuse content