A Lesson in Shame

As Warren Christopher says the U.S. is at the limit of its involvement in Bosnia, the failure to act in the Balkans is the West's most disgraceful mistake since World War II

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The tragedy of Bosnia could hardly have been summarized more chillingly, or by one who bears more responsibility for it. "I think we are on the threshold of the final solution," said Slobodan Milosevic, the President of Serbia and architect of ethnic cleansing. "The main remaining question is the question of maps."

No, not maps, even though Bosnia's Muslim, Croat and Serb leaders are set to talk once again this week of drawing up separate zones. The main question, and one that will torment the West for years to come, is the question of people, perhaps even the question of genocide. Milosevic's "final solution" is a wrenching dismemberment of Bosnia conceded to him by inept Western policy that will involve the largest dislocation of Europeans since World War II. Two million Serbs, Croats and Muslims are to be shoved around as the multiethnic country is rearranged along ethnic lines. More than 1.5 million Bosnian Muslims are to be jammed into wretched "safe areas" that will resemble, at best, the Gaza Strip or, at worst, the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon. The Muslim enclaves drawn on Milosevic's map will depend for survival on the power of the West and the mercy of the Serbs and Croats -- qualities in desperately short supply. Analysts are fearful of further attempts to drive the Muslims out by strangling their havens. "It would be another horrible chapter of genocide, in some ways worse than what has already happened," warns Bo Huldt, the director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Bosnia has come to this sorry pass because of "an absence of European political courage," says France's Bernard Kouchner, a former Minister for Health and Humanitarian Action. "In the heart of Europe we have let Bosnian Muslims die. We will be reproached eternally for that."

If it is now impossible to rescue Bosnia, there are lessons to be learned that could help prevent a repeat of the blundering and pusillanimity that permitted the dismemberment. "The Bosnians are appalled at the weakness of the democracies," says Albert Wohlstetter, a historian and Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, who has taken up the cause of Bosnia in a series of scathing articles that castigate the West for flaccid leadership and incompetent diplomacy. He argues that virtually every Western initiative in the former Yugoslavia was wrongheaded, making matters steadily worse by rewarding aggression and punishing its victims. The West, he says, had no strategic vision for the Balkans except to avoid a quagmire. "We're sinking deeper into the bog bit by bit without any clear policy and without any focused goals in mind," he says. "This is the quagmire."

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