NEVER IN THE HISTORY OF NEGOTIATIONS HAS THE host-mediator had a greater stake in failure. The tripartite peace talks on Bosnia being presided over by the U.S. at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, have received the most fervently expressed hopes for success from the Clinton Administration. "We must persevere," Secretary of State Warren Christopher intoned solemnly at the opening session, "until an agreement is reached and the promise of this hopeful moment is fulfilled."

Sounds pious and unassailable. What could be wrong with an agreement? For the U.S., everything. An agreement means that following President Clinton's commitment, 20,000 or...

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