HomeAbout Think TankAbout Ben WattenbergPrevious ShowsWhere to WatchSpecials


Watch Videos and Listen to Podcasts at ThinkTankTV.com

  « Back to Bosnia B What's In It For Us? main page
TranscriptsGuestsRelated ProgramsFeedback

Transcript for:

Bosnia B What's In It For Us?

Think Tank Transcripts: Bosnia: What's In it For Us?

ANNOUNCER: 'Think Tank' has been made possible by Amgen, arecipient of the Presidential National Medal of Technology. Amgen,bringing better, healthier lives to people worldwide throughbiotechnology.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, theRandolph Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. The German chancellorBismarck once said, 'If there is another war in Europe, it will comeout of some damn silly thing in the Balkans.'

He was right. In 1914, a Serbian nationalist killed AustrianArchduke Franz Ferdinand, sparking World War I. And now in 1995, waris ravaging Bosnia, and the United States and its allies are tryingto keep the peace. Why? It's a complicated story and hard for many ofus to understand.

Joining us today are four experts to give us some background andsome answers: General William Odom, director of national securitystudies at the Hudson Institute and former director of the NationalSecurity Agency; Michael Mandelbaum, director of American foreignpolicy at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies andthe director of the project on East-West relations at the Council onForeign Relations; Simon Serfaty, director of European studies at theCenter for Strategic and International Studies and author of 'TakingEurope Seriously'; and Joshua Muravchik, resident scholar at theAmerican Enterprise Institute, author of 'Exporting Democracy:Fulfilling America's Destiny.'

The topic before this house: Bosnia -- what's in it for us? Thisweek on 'Think Tank.'

In 1389 -- yes, that's 1389 -- Muslim Turks conquered the OrthodoxChristian Serbs and the Roman Catholic Croats. That sowed the seedsfor 600 years of ethnic strife. At the end of World War I, a newmulti-ethnic country, Yugoslavia, was formed from the remnants of theAustro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Following World War II, thecommunist rule of Marshal Tito held the country together through theCold War.

In 1992, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia.Bosnia-Herzegovina at the center of Yugoslavia also declared itsindependence despite the objections of Bosnian Serbs, who wanted toremain united with Serbia. Civil war broke out between the BosnianSerbs and the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government. Tens of thousandswere killed, raped and displaced in what became known as ethniccleansing. Serbs now control more than 50 percent of the territory ofBosnia.

In 1992, the United Nations peacekeeping forces intervened forhumanitarian reasons and set up several so-called safe areas forrefugees, including the capital of Sarajevo. The U.N. forces aremostly composed of British and French troops, while American shipsand airplanes enforce an arms embargo.

In May, Serbs shelled Sarajevo once again. In response, Americanplanes bombed a Serbian ammunition dump. The Serbs then seized U.N.peacekeepers as hostages. During this crisis, President Clinton firstappeared ready to expand America's military role in Bosnia.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: (From videotape.) I believe we should beprepared to assist NATO if it decides to meet a request from theUnited Nations troops for help in a withdrawal or a reconfigurationand a strengthening of its forces.

MR. WATTENBERG: That phrase, 'reconfiguration and strengthening,'caused a domestic political firestorm, causing President Clinton tobacktrack.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: (From videotape.) If a U.N. unit needs anemergency extraction, we would assist after consulting with Congress.This would be a limited, temporary operation.

MR. WATTENBERG: Gentlemen, I think everybody is agreed it's amess. What would happen, Michael Mandelbaum, if America decided justnot to play?

MR. MANDELBAUM: I think our role is minimal; not much wouldhappen. But if the British and French decide to pull out, which ispossible, at best the fighting would go on pretty much as it is now.At worst, hundreds, maybe thousands of U.N. peacekeepers would betaken hostage, and hundreds, maybe thousands of Bosnian Muslimcivilians in the so-called safe areas could be murdered.

MR. WATTENBERG: Simon Serfaty?

MR. SERFATY: Well, our role is more than minimal, it seems to me.If the European forces and other U.N. forces are to be brought out,then the U.S. part, especially in the withdrawal, will be needed,will be painful, costly in terms of human lives, and will have to beattended to. This nation cannot stand back while the Europeans keepon fighting there.

MR. WATTENBERG: Bill Odom, General Odom.

GENERAL ODOM: Unless we participate in extracting our Europeanallies and they agree to that extraction, then I think we put theentire alliance in jeopardy. So I think a great deal is at stake, notonly as concerns the conflict on the ground in Bosnia, but also thefuture of the North Atlantic alliance, which I think is definingitself in a way that nobody is anticipating or really thinking about.

MR. WATTENBERG: Josh Muravchik.

MR. MURAVCHIK: Well, the Serbs on an aggressive mission to buildGreater Serbia, and it's not going to stop with the territories theyhave taken and ethnically cleansed up until now. They've got more ontheir agenda, and if the world turns its back, they're going to pushforward and there will be a lot more fighting.

MR. MANDELBAUM: Let me give you a different view. Although theSerbs have behaved in brutal and, in some ways, criminal fashion, Idon't believe they pose a threat to vital American interests, and Idon't believe that the governments of Britain, France or the UnitedStates have ever been persuaded that vital interests were on theline, because if they had been so persuaded, they would have made agreater effort.

GENERAL ODOM: Let me respond briefly to that by saying that -- letme accept your premise, and I think you could make a very strongargument that what happens in that part of the world won'tnecessarily disturb Europe in a way that hurts our vital interests.But can we go on with this halfway position of being involvedpartially and ineffectively, which creates quarrels between PresidentClinton and European leaders and among European leaders themselves?It seems to me that sets in motion a deterioration within thealliance, which is disturbing.

Now, I can see two coherent strategies. I think the most cleararticulation of it probably was in Senator Dole's statement which hereleased, and I think he agreed to participate in the extraction andthen to wall the area off or abandon it and look at it more or lesslike you've suggested. That makes sense.

I think the other strategy, which I think also a strong argumentcould be made for, is the one that's been articulated by SenatorLugar. And that is to knock together a consensus in NATO and beprepared to lower the level of violence in there and keep it fromspreading.

Now, I think you can have very serious debate, and I'm not sure inmy own mind which one involves the higher risk. There's certainlygreat risk with going in, and I think the great risk you're bettingon that being -- that that can be isolated if we stay out.

MR. WATTENBERG: Josh, your view, I've heard you talk about it, youwould be even more cosmic than Bill Odom. It's not just threat of thealliance deteriorating or the economy in Europe. I mean you seedominos that a lot of other people don't see.

MR. MURAVCHIK: Well, I think we're setting certain precedents inestablishing the rules of the game for the way the post Cold Warworld is going to work.

MR. WATTENBERG: And does this ultimately sort of erode the futureof democratic values in the world? Is that where you come to at theend of the -- at end of your road?

MR. MURAVCHIK: Well, it does that. It erodes the sort of mostimportant value of international law that's enshrined in the U.N.Charter, which is the law against aggression. And at the beginning ofthe program, Ben, you said this was a civil war, but it's never beenjust a civil war. It's always been a war fueled from Serbia againstneighboring states, and so it's a cross-border aggression. And Ithink the world has a very big stake in drawing the line againstthose kind of aggressions, as we did in Desert Storm against Iraq.

MR. SERFATY: The journey, I think, goes a bit too far, both intime and in space. This is not 1914. The defining feature of 1914 wasthe quickness with which a regional war developed into a global warthat killed tens of millions. And that's not happening and that's notabout to happen. And I think the journey goes too far in space aswell, to the extent that the Greater Serbia is not comparable to aGreater Germany or whatever else. They are defining boundaries inthis crisis, and if we over-dramatize it, then indeed some of theconsequences we fear might happen as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It'sa serious crisis, but it should not be overstated.

GENERAL ODOM: Simon, let me offer an alternative view, thehistorical analogy. You're exactly right, it's not a situation like1938. The problem in the Balkans really started at the Congress ofBerlin in 1878. It just took a long time for that fuse to burn to theexplosive point.

So what I'm suggesting is not that we face an imminent blowup inEurope, but we're setting a context which will just lead to continuedexacerbations over the years, and we don't know who the contestantswill be, but that will be a place where they will compete with oneanother and play games. I think there are good arguments to be madethat an effective diplomacy might wall it off, if you can get thatkind of cooperation within Europe.

MR. WATTENBERG: Let me just go on to something else. Let's talkfor a moment about American policy. Michael Mandelbaum, you are --according to my research, you -- (laughter) -- well, you don't knowwhat I'm going to say. What are you laughing about? You are thecoauthor of a book with the current undersecretary of state, StrobeTalbott. You were a student in England, although not at Oxford, withBill Clinton. Your relationship goes back that far. You were offered,according to our research, the job as head of policy planning at theState Department. What's going on there?

MR. MANDELBAUM: Well, let me comment indirectly on that by goingback to a point that Bill Odom made. Where are we now? The policy ofthe allied powers, if we can call them that, is incoherent. And asBill said, we either ought to get in or get out. That is, either weought to say this is our fight, this is an important issue, and then,as Bill has suggested, let's send in a complement of ground troops tosort this out, or we ought to wash our hands of it and just get outand let the parties fight.

That is correct. Those are the two coherent options. But there isa problem, and that is that the prelude to either of those sensiblepolicies is to withdraw the U.N. peacekeepers. And if those U.N.peacekeepers are withdrawn, there is the danger, first, that theSerbs will take lots of them hostage because they will fear that thewithdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers is a prelude to a bombing campaignagainst them, or -- and/or in the same context, the Serbs will fearthat the war is going to escalate against them and so they'llslaughter a lot of Bosnian civilians in the safe areas.

And I believe that the governments of Britain and France inparticular, although I trust they understand that the real sensibleoptions are as Bill has described them, recoil from carrying outeither one of those options for fear that getting from here to therewould eventuate in a blood bath.

MR. WATTENBERG: Let me continue with that question about theClinton administration. Perhaps there are some people who wouldelucidate on that. I have a quote here from Raymond Seitz, who is therecently retired U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, and he saidthat Clinton's behavior, and I quote, 'conveys to the Europeans thatthis administration is utterly unreliable and adolescent.'

Simon, is that what the Europeans are saying?

MR. SERFATY: They may be saying this, and we are saying the sameabout them. This is everybody's fiasco, not just that of Clinton, notjust that of any one state. Everybody has been handling this issuepoorly for the past three years, including the Europeans, who werestill teenagers who frankly attempted to deal with an adolescent gamein 1992 1993. So I would not focus on --

MR. WATTENBERG: Josh Muravchik, in 1992, you wrote some foreignpolicy speeches for then Governor Clinton. How do you think they'redoing?

MR. MURAVCHIK: Well, they're doing terribly. But Clinton hadexactly the right idea, and it's the option that Michael Mandelbaumleft off, which was the so-called lift-and-strike option, which wasto arm the Bosnians to defend themselves, and strike, meaning givingthem support with NATO air power. And this option was put on thetable by the Clinton administration in its first months, in May of1993, and Secretary Christopher went over to Europe and said here'sour policy. And then he didn't say, you know, would you guys pleaseget on board with us? He said, well, what do you think of this?

And they turned him down, but there was a real failure at thatmoment. It was a great mistake by the Europeans, but a real failureof leadership on our part to say this is our policy, we think it'simportant, and it's important for you to join with us.

MR. WATTENBERG: Bill, let me ask you a question. You were afour-star general, which is about --


MR. WATTENBERG: A three-star general, which is almost --

GENERAL ODOM: Thank you for the --

MR. WATTENBERG: That's all right -- which is almost as many starsas they give out. I was an airman 2nd class, so I have always wanted-- I've had this sort of fantasy that I could always grill athree-star general. What on earth could we really do militarily?

GENERAL ODOM: Well, you know, one can only speculate about this,but let me offer some speculation with that caveat. I could be wrongabout this, but I've looked at maps of the ground and I've talked tothe commander of the Bosnian army and some other former Yugoslavofficers about the situation. My initial notion was that a missionfor a ground involvement ought to have three points. First, thecommander of that mission should be told, operate in a way thatprevents the spread of this beyond the Yugoslav boundaries. Numbertwo, that it lowers the level of violence, but you are not requiredto try to pacify the country in the sense we did in Vietnam or thatwe're trying to do in Haiti. Merely take up the big weapons and donot try to track bands down and go off to the hills, fight. But youstop them, and you -- by doing that, you deny any party an ability toachieve its goals. And you don't go in on anybody's side, you go inagainst anybody that shoots.

Then to do that, I think I would -- the last point would be, beable to hold this posture for a long, long time until people areready to negotiate. I think to do --

MR. WATTENBERG: Does that mean American troops on the ground?

GENERAL ODOM: To me it meant about two Europeans for one American,and the first time when I looked at this, I thought it might take 3[hundred thousand], 400,000. I've since been convinced that it couldbe done for probably 150 [thousand] to 200,000.

MR. WATTENBERG: So that would still mean 50 -- at least 50,000American troops on the ground.


MR. MANDELBAUM: Ben, let me make two comments. First, let merespond to your question about the Clinton administration, what'swrong with its policy. Well, at a minimum, the problem is that it hasspoken about this issue as if the stakes were as high as Bill Odomand Josh Muravchik think they are, but it has acted as if the stakesare as low as I say they are. And that has led to an incoherentAmerican policy.

This week we've had quotes from the assistant secretary of statefor Europe, Mr. Holbrook, who has said this is the most explosivepart of the world, the Balkans, thereby invoking World War I, andthis is the West's worst failure since the 1930s, thereby invokingWorld War II.

Well, if both of those are true, then we at a minimum ought to bedoing what Bill Odom and Josh Muravchik suggest, but the president ofthe United States said, but we're not going to send any groundtroops. That is incoherent.

Now, let me make one other point. There are two debates here. Oneis the debate between people like me and people like Bill and Joshover what the stakes are. Among those who think the stakes are high,there is a debate about what would be required to vindicate Americaninterests between people like Bill, who say we really have to puttroops on the ground, and people, I believe, like Josh, althoughhe'll correct me if I'm wrong, who think that we can just get it donewith bombing.

My own view, for what it's worth, and since I'm not on that sideof the argument, it may not be worth all that much, but my own viewis that Bill is right. If we are serious about pacifying the Balkans,if we're serious about a political outcome that we can live with,then we really do have to be serious about committing ground troops.

MR. MURAVCHIK: The question here is that there has been a veryclear case of aggression and that the fabric of world peace dependson upholding certain rules against aggression, as we did in thePersian Gulf. This is a war by Serbia against its neighbors, andthere is a clear right and wrong in this war. You can go on and thenargue -- there is lots of room to argue about what is the beststrategy, what's the best approach for the United States, but there'sa clear right and wrong here, and not just the pain that the Serbshave inflicted against the Bosnians in the war they have wagedagainst Bosnian civilians, but also the very flagrant violation ofthis most basic rule of international law.

GENERAL ODOM: Let me accept your argument and then look at yourprescription. Your prescription is to lift the embargo and thenstrike. I don't know what you achieve with airstrikes other thanmaking the people who are bombed very mad and causing them to turn toother people for supplies and widening the conflict. Now, I could --

MR. WATTENBERG: If the Bosnian Serbs are being supplied by Serbia,which has a major military force with airfields and airplanes andcommunications hubs and all that kind of stuff, and you, as we usedto say, went to the source, or threatened to go to the source,couldn't that change the whole balance there?

GENERAL ODOM: Sure. You widen the war into Serbia, and that'sexactly the point I was making. Now, the argument that I heardMichael make, I think, is that our interests are not at stake there.And I think that implies, and correct me if I'm wrong, Michael, thatit will not spread in a way that involves the other European powersin, if not direct hostilities, then tensions and diplomaticcompetition that really do destabilize Europe. Then it seems to methat would -- that would affect our interests.

So spreading the war on the ground there to Serbia, and as herightly pointed out, it may well of its own accord expand toMacedonia, and the Serbians and the Croatians have not had the lastword with one another, I think you have to hope, if you're going totake this withdrawal attitude, this lift attitude, then I thinkyou're going to have to hope that it will burn itself out. And totake actions that increase the prospects if other European powers,say, Russia, decides to supply the Serbian side while we're bombingis not a pattern for containment. It's a pattern for much broaderexpansion.

MR. WATTENBERG: Josh, you quickly and then over to Mike.

MR. MURAVCHIK: The hope is to try to achieve some kind of balanceof power there by giving the Bosnians a chance to defend themselves.They've been attacked and they've been disarmed by the internationalcommunity with this completely unconscionable embargo. If they canfight back and stop the Serbs the way the Slovenians and theCroatians had some success in stopping the Serbs, you might get asettlement.

MR. MANDELBAUM: Let me disagree with Josh's analysis of theconflict. He says it's a clear-cut case of aggression. I believe onehas to make a distinction between the causes of war and the way a waris being fought. There is no doubt that the Serbs are waging this warin a criminal fashion. I think there is no doubt about that.

I do not see this, however, as purely a war of aggression. What wehave, I think, is the international community saying it is wrong forBosnian Muslims to live in a multinational state dominated by Serbs,known as Yugoslavia, but it is right and necessary for Bosnian Serbsto live in a multinational state dominated by Muslims, known asBosnia. That is, even though the United Nations recognized Bosnia asan independent country, I don't think that makes the Bosnian Serbdesire to secede and be part of a Greater Serbia automaticallycriminal or illegal, although the way they have pursued that goal isclearly criminal and illegal.

MR. WATTENBERG: Josh -- Simon, go ahead.

MR. SERFATY: The stakes are not high enough to justify the sort ofintervention that would be required if we were to go into the warfull-time. There is no word for this. I agree with Mike. But I thinkthat it is quite clear that the stakes are getting higher as the wargoes on.

MR. WATTENBERG: Are they getting higher because the old allianceis acting like a bunch of amateurs? I mean, is that playing into thesubstance of it?

MR. SERFATY: It's because it's a cause for discord amongstEuropean states, between the United States and the European states.It gives a stage for Russia to be heard in an increasingly vocalfashion. It does have a tendency to creep out in a way that isenormously damaging.

MR. WATTENBERG: We are just about out of time. Let me test yourpowers of summarization here. Let me just ask this question, andagain a very brief answer summarizing your position. And we'll goaround from Mike to Josh. What should we do and why should we do it?

MR. MANDELBAUM: We should sit tight, pursue the current strategy,even though the prospects are not good, because doing something morecoherent risks a large-scale loss of life, and the stakes for us arerelatively low.


MR. SERFATY: The game is up. Let's pull out the U.N. forces andlet's assist these forces in getting out of the area. Let's lift theembargo, and indeed let's stand ready to provide some support fromthe air as and when needed.

MR. WATTENBERG: General Odom.

GENERAL ODOM: If there was a political consensus or a presidentcould build one, then I would be for a NATO intervention. But inlight of the political realities, I think doing what Simon hassuggested, helping UNPROFOR get out --


GENERAL ODOM: The U.N. peacekeeping force, British, French andother countries which are there. And then I think we have to lift theembargo and hope that it doesn't spread.

MR. WATTENBERG: Josh Muravchik, what should we do and why shouldwe do it?

MR. MURAVCHIK: We should lift the arms embargo on the Bosnians sothey can start to defend themselves. We had wonderful success in the1980s arming the Afghans, the Nicaraguans, the Angolans, Cambodiansin the so-called Reagan doctrine, helping people to fight forthemselves. That's what the Bosnians want to do. We ought to givethem the arms to do it, and we ought to give them some help with airsupport.

MR. WATTENBERG: All right, we ought to do a show on the Reagandoctrine.

Thank you all. Thank you, Michael Mandelbaum, Joshua Muravchik,Simon Serfaty, and William Odom. And thank you. Please address anyquestions or comments to: New River Media, 1150 17th Street, NW,Suite 1050, Washington, DC, 20036. We can be reached via E-mail atthinktv@aol.com.

I'm delighted that we were able to settle this matter sothoroughly. For 'Think Tank,' I'm Ben Wattenberg.

ANNOUNCER: This has been a production of BJW, Incorporated, inassociation with New River Media, which are solely responsible forits content.

'Think Tank' has been made possible by Amgen, a recipient of thepresidential National Medal of Technology. Amgen, unlocking thesecrets of life through cellular and molecular biology. Additionalfunding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, the RandolphFoundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

And thank you. Please send your questions and comments to: NewRiver Media, 1150 17th Street, NW, Suite 1050, Washington, DC, 20036.We can be reached via E-mail at thinktv@aol.com. And do check out ournew home page on the World Wide Web at www.thinktank.com.

For 'Think Tank,' I'm Ben Wattenberg.


This has been a production of BJW, Incorporated, in associationwith New River Media, which are solely responsible for its content.

'Think Tank' has been made possible by Amgen, bringing better,healthier lives to people worldwide through biotechnology.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, theRandolph Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.


Return toThinkTank Online Home Page

Think Tank ® is a Registered Trademark of BJW, Inc. All Content © Copyright 1995 New River Media, Inc.

Back to top

Think Tank is made possible by generous support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, the Dodge Jones Foundation, and Pfizer, Inc.

©Copyright Think Tank. All rights reserved.
BJW, Inc.  New River Media 

Web development by Bean Creative.