When Bosnian Serb soldiers murdered thousands in July 1995, Clinton initiated a massive NATO military response. "He didn't blink," National Security Coordinator Richard Clarke said. "We knew that day that we had a commander-in-chief who was rational and comfortable with the use of force."
Narrator: The violence in Bosnia reached a climax in the summer of 1995. A new set of European leaders implored Clinton to act. "The position of leader of the free world," complained French President Jacques Chirac "is vacant."
Privately, Clinton had begun to rethink his policy. Haunted by his failure to stop a genocide in Rwanda the previous year, he could no longer stand idly by.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: Finally the President set up a trip wire where if the Bosnian Serbs attacked it would trigger a massive NATO military response.
Narrator: On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb soldiers overran the city of Srebrenica and murdered more than 8,000 defenseless men and boys.
Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary-General: That was a real shock for everyone. And for that to happen in Europe, many decades after World War II, was something that nobody could sit back and swallow.
Narrator: For Clinton, the wire had been tripped. On August 30th, fighter planes from NATO bases across Europe, acting on the president’s go-ahead, launched a massive attack against Serbs in Bosnia called "Operation Deliberate Force."
Richard Clarke, National Security Coordinator: He didn’t blink. And there wasn’t tension on him, there wasn’t pressure on him, he wasn’t sweating and worrying about did I do the right thing? And we knew then, we knew that day, that we had a commander-in-chief who was rational and comfortable with the use of force.
Narrator: For the next two weeks, NATO pilots flew 3,500 sorties, as millions around the world watched the air war unfold on television.
Reporter (archival audio): The NATO action began early this morning, the harsh light coloring the night sky. Some people watched the bombardment from their houses, but after more than 10,000 deaths here in the last few years most Sarajevans had given up hope of any chance of outside intervention. Last night it came on a scale, which could yet change the course of this war.
Narrator: On September 14, Serbian guns ringing Sarajevo fell silent. Two months later, Clinton convened the warring parties in Dayton, Ohio to negotiate an end to hostilities.
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?