Leading Article: Bob Dole's big gamble

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The Independent Online
Senator Bob Dole has no desire to see American soldiers sucked into the multiple conflicts in former Yugoslavia. Yet that prospect is drawing closer as a result of the US Senate's decision to end US participation in the United Nations arms embargo on the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

Should the Senate eventually override a Clinton veto, it is certain that Britain, France and other countries will order their UN contingents out of Bosnia. This in turn will trigger a US-led Nato operation to assist the withdrawal. No one expects it to proceed peacefully. American troops will suddenly be in Bosnia, firing their weapons at elusive targets, taking fire from that country's rich variety of gunmen and paramilitary gangsters, finding themselves held up at checkpoints, wondering what to do about civilians lying in front of their tanks, and possibly being taken hostage. Moreover, all this will happen before the lifting of the arms embargo improves the performance of the Bosnian government armies.

Why, then, is Mr Dole pursuing a course of action guaranteed to produce the scenario that he says he hopes to avoid? Like President Clinton, he must be aware that once US troops are in Bosnia the Muslim-led forces will do everything in their power to ensure that they stay there and take sides against the Serbs. Like Mr Clinton, he must know that the US will bear an overwhelming responsibility to protect the Bosnian Muslims as soon as the UN peace-keepers have gone home. Air power alone will not achieve that.

A cynic might suggest that Mr Dole is playing domestic politics with Bosnia. Condemnations of European feebleness and UN impotence go down well with key sections of the Republican Party. By striking the highest possible moral note, by arguing that vital principles of freedom and security are at stake in the Bosnian war, Mr Dole makes himself seem more statesmanlike than Mr Clinton, who is entangled in the unpleasant realities of Balkan policy-making. And of course, Mr Dole is seeking to defeat Mr Clinton in next year's presidential election. In this context it is useful to recall that Mr Clinton employed the same tactic of calling for a more vigorous approach to the Bosnian conflict when he challenged George Bush for the White House in 1992. Once he was in office, little changed.

Lifting the arms embargo may or may not be a good thing. But with most other Western initiatives getting nowhere, Mr Dole holds the one major card that has not yet been played. He should understand, however, that this card is not an ace that will bring the Bosnian war to a neat conclusion.