KEEPING THE PEACE
December 22, 1997
After announcing his decision to maintain a military presence in Bosnia until a lasting peace has been achieved, President Clinton paid a Christmas visit to the U.S. troops stationed there. Following a Margaret Warner led discussion on the current state of peace in Bosnia and the extended U.S. mission, Phil Ponce gets an American perspective from the NewsHour regional commentators.
December 22, 1997:
A background report on the current state of peace in Bosnia.
December 18, 1997:
Samuel Berger discusses the decision to keep troops in Bosnia.
September 23, 1997:
National Security Advisor Samuel Berger discusses NATO's future in Bosnia.
September 15, 1997:
Bosnia holds municipal elections for the first time in seven years.
August 26, 1997:
NATO takes a tougher stance with war criminals.
August 11, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth interviews Richard Holbrooke, chief U.S. negotiator of the Dayton Peace Agreement.
July 10, 1997:
NATO's arrest of Bosnian war criminals.
May 13, 1997:
Newsmaker Interview with Bosnian Co-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic.
May 12, 1997:
Departing NATO Supreme Commander General George Joulwan discusses the mission in Bosnia.
December 20, 1996:
Two Bosnian experts discuss the military and civilian efforts of SFOR.
September 16, 1996:
Richard Holbrooke discusses the Bosnian elections.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Bosnia.
PHIL PONCE: Now, taking the Bosnia story out into the country and to our regional commentators: Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe; Lee Cullum of the Dallas Morning News; Patrick McGuigan of the Daily Oklahoman; Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution; and Robert Kittle of the San Diego Union Tribune. Cynthia Tucker, do you agree with the President's decision to extend the deadline indefinitely?
CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Constitution: Yes, I do. I always thought it was very short-sighted military or diplomatic strategy to let the combatants know when you plan to leave. I'm no military expert, but it certainly seemed to me, when you said that, they'd just wait, stockpile their arms; and as soon as we left the country, resume their hostilities. And I thought it was always a bit duplicitous of the President to have said that he was going to withdraw the troops by a certain date anyway. But I think he has made the right decision now, and I think he's been a little more forthright than he was the first time around in saying and we're going to stay and we're going to stay indefinitely. And I think that's the right thing to do.
PHIL PONCE: Bob Kittle, a little more forthright for the President to say that he doesn't know when the deadline might come?
ROBERT KITTLE, San Diego Union Tribune: Well, I think that's the kind of candor that frankly we need to hear more of from the President. The problem with the Bosnia operation is not that the President is pursuing a wrong policy--because I believe he is pursuing a correct policy--but what he needs to do is to make the case to the American people because I'm not sure that the American people back him in this. Thus far it's been a relatively bloodless operation, and, therefore, there hasn't been any problem. But unfortunately, if Americans lose their lives in Bosnia, I'm afraid we might have the same reaction that occurred when American soldiers lost their lives in Somalia, and suddenly you had a great outcry in this country for the United States to pull out. And so I think the President, what he really should do is to be speaking honestly, as he did today, and the trip was an important part of that, to tell the American people why it's important that we are engaged there, that it's essential that America assert strong leadership in Bosnia in order to present--prevent a resumption of war and ethnic cleansing in the heart of Europe.
PHIL PONCE: Pat McGuigan, did the President do the right thing?
PATRICK McGUIGAN, Daily Oklahoman: Well, I think it's always good to send messages of support to our troops, and this President, I think, managed to do that in his trip. It's very interesting to kind of roll the tape back because in November of 1995, we had an editorial where we decried the fact that in slow motion, in essence, Bill Clinton was undertaking this deployment. That's over two years ago--and that once American troops were on the ground in Bosnia, Americans would, of course, support them; in fact, that's what's happened. Bob Dole had some supportive words to say today but in 1995 he said that he thought Clinton had made the wrong decision; that he didn't agree with it; but that now that the troops were in, he would try to support him. I share some of the concerns you heard Mr. Rieff lay out a little bit earlier. Where does this end; how does it end; what's the exit strategy; and it's very interesting, the President's deftness in the first place saying there would be a certain time frame and then managing to get out of that and just kind of--I guess we're all just supposed to forget that he said these troops would be coming home by the middle of next year. What is the ultimate cost of this? It started out that it was estimated by Mr. Perry, a former Defense Secretary, $1.2 billion. Right now, it's about $7.8 billion. And the ticker is running.
PHIL PONCE: Lee Cullum, are you troubled by the open-ended nature of the commitment at this point?
LEE CULLUM, Dallas Morning News: No, I'm not, Phil. I think it's more realistic. I don't think anybody would believe the President if he came up with a deadline now, so it's much more sensible just to be honest about it and say I don't know. There's no question there are going to be a lot of people here in Texas and all across the country who are going to remember what the deadline was, as Pat McGuigan was saying, and they're not going to like this extension at all. To me it makes sense to try to maintain a little more time when there can be calm, when there can be an absence of legal confrontation, and then even if the velvet partition does descend, as David Rieff was saying, we will find over time, over a generation, these three groups will begin to do business with each other. They will begin to have contacts with each other, with economic and fruitful and profitable nature, and perhaps there can be some harmony finally in the end.
PHIL PONCE: Mike Barnicle, today the President said that if the U.S. were to pull out troops now, it would be akin to being ahead in the fourth quarter of a football game and then walking off the field. How do you see it?
MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: Well, you know, it's interesting listening to all the comments about, you know, what we're doing there and how long we've been there. I believe the President last week said that he was probably wrong to have set an initial date, and, yet, here we are in the luxury of this country, you know, at the height of a very sentimental season, nit-picking the President of the United States, who is in charge of our national security, rather than focusing on the fact that up till now that this has been a terribly successful mission. Now, unfortunately, we live in a country where probably half of the Americans watching this show tonight, maybe half of the Americans in this country, couldn't locate Bosnia on a map. And we're in a country where, as Christmas approaches, to my sense, Christmas is the real Mother's Day. It's a day when millions of mothers sit around tables wishing that their son or daughter, who was here once and was taken in battle, in wars past, is not here now. What the President did today and his entire family, along with Sen. Dole, is a truly wonderful thing. It's a warming experience to know when you are overseas that someone cares and that someone listens. That's what he did. And I think and I nit-pickingly sometimes ask too much not only of this President but of all past Presidents as well.
PHIL PONCE: Lee Cullum, looking at the bigger issue, is this the kind of role that the United States should be playing now? Some people would call it attempting to be policemen to the world, for example?
LEE CULLUM: Oh, I don't see us as the policemen of the world, Phil, but I do think we have a responsibility for maintaining order in the world. You know, Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic, said that if the West does not stabilize the East, the East will de-stabilize the West. I think he's absolutely right. We do have a responsibility to NATO and NATO has a responsibility to peace and order in Europe. So we're doing--we're where we need to be.
PHIL PONCE: Pat McGuigan, are you comfortable that the United States is where it needs to be in Bosnia?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: I'm very concerned. I agree with the sentiments that Mike expressed, but I have to say that the use of the American military, this whole deployment raises questions that have nothing to do with whether or not individuals support the people in the military, relate to people in the military, know people in the military. With these long deployments that are undertaken that are basically nation building and peacekeeping, rather than military deployments, divorce rates are up; training for military missions is down; and I return again to the cost factor, which ultimately winds up affecting the lives of human beings. We have vehicles that we are using in this deployment that have over one million miles on them. And those military cuts have continued under this President. So I continue to have concerns about the practical impact of establishing this precedent over time. This looks like another Korea to me. This looks like an armed truce, as Mr. Rieff said.
PHIL PONCE: Bob Kittle, does it look like an armed truce to you, another Korea?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, I don't think it's another Korea, Phil. I think the reality is that we tried, for example, in 1914, when a war started in Sarajevo, to stay out, and we learned the lesson the hard way that we wouldn't stay out. We tried to stay out of a European war that started in 1939. And, again, we learned the hard way. I think it's much better for the United States to be involved in a very active way, engaged very deeply in trying to keep the peace in Bosnia today, than to have to go back later when the shooting starts again and be involved in a shooting war. So this is a much better situation than Korea, where, frankly, we waited unfortunately until the war started before we showed our result. We're wiser to show a result now to be involved in a peacekeeping mode, despite all of the risks that I understand Pat is talking about--the open-endedness of it, et cetera. It's better to be involved now than to be involved later when it's too late, to just be in a peacekeeping mode.
PHIL PONCE: Cynthia Tucker, to what extent do you think public opposition might really increase if American troops started dying in Bosnia, if they were shot, if they were dragged through the streets?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Oh, I think that would be a terrible problem, and I think Bob Kittle was right to say earlier that the President has not yet done a good enough job of explaining to the American public the importance of this mission, but I think that that would be a problem anywhere. Americans don't like to see lives lost of American young men and women abroad, and I don't blame them. But as Mike Barnicle pointed out earlier, this has been a tremendously successful mission. And I think we ought to be very proud of what the U.S. military with help from other troops has accomplished there. Two years ago, there was a blood bath going on in Bosnia, not just young men and women, but children, elderly people were being gunned down in the streets when they tried to go to the market. Today it may be just an armed truce, but that's something, and I think it's something we ought to celebrate and support.
PHIL PONCE: Mike Barnicle, how quickly do you think public opinion might turn if Americans started dying in Bosnia?
MIKE BARNICLE: Oh, quite quickly, unfortunately. But, you know, getting back to the issue of the troops there and how long they've been there and how long they might be there, this is what they do. This is not the Miami Dolphins over there. They knew when they signed up in the United States Army that this might be their deployment. This is what they do. This is what we expect of them, and our job here, I think, is to encourage their effectiveness, and I think they've been very effective thus far.
PHIL PONCE: Lee Cullum, on the political front, what symbolic impact might it have for the President to have had Bob Dole standing right behind him when he was talking to those troops?
LEE CULLUM: I think it was very important, Phil, and I think that it was a great thing that the Doles did, accompanying the Clintons as they did. I think it shows unity. I think it shows that the country means business; it means bipartisan business; and I hope that the Congress will react in this way. I want to say one more thing about the troops. I see no reason whatsoever for their mandates to be increased. They really should serve by only standing and waiting. There's nothing wrong with an armed truce, and there's no need for increased activity or accelerated risk.
PHIL PONCE: Pat McGuigan, real quickly, were you at all assuaged by the sight of Mr. Dole standing behind the President?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: Well, this is what men like Bob Dole do. They support their Presidents; they support troops already deployed in the field. Dole opposed the original deployment and once the men were in place and the President of the United States needed his help, he served as a patriot and did exactly that. I continue to raise questions because I'm not in the position Mr. Dole is in. I continue to be concerned about what this implies for the future.
PHIL PONCE: Ladies and gentlemen, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you all very much.