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Minority report.

Few if any things are more pitiable and ridiculous than the spectacle of liberal Democrats on the verge of military intervention. Everyone knows that the outcome is predetermined. The liberal Democrat will once again decide, after much flailing, that the use of force is justified in this one case. There are usually some conscience-salving codicils. (Humanitarian aid, yes; lethal aid, no. Hearts and minds programs in Vietnam. Israel's security "concerns." The encouragement of a vital center in El Salvador. The sending of some stupid "signal" or "message.") It was by these means, and usually to the accompaniment of some Churchillian-style bombast, that democracies were gulled into a bloodbath on behalf of plucky little Belgium, plucky little Kuwait, plucky little South Vietnam, plucky little Cuban exiles and (let's not forget) plucky little Serbia in 1914. In the end, the liberals always do what the empire wants.

There is, however, an alternative history of intervention: the international campaigns by E.D. Morel and Roger Casement to abolish slave labor in the Belgian Congo, the Gladstonian outrage about Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria, the stand of the British trade unions in favor of Lincoln's war on the Confederacy, the attempt by Henry Morgenthau and others to alert world opinion to the slaughter of the Armenians and--most imperishable of all--the global movement against "nonintervention" in the life-or-death struggle of Republican Spain. It also fell to civilian and democratic forces to raise a storm, in the face of great-power indifference, against the crushing of Budapest in 1956 and against the continuation of apartheid after 1985.

It seems perfectly obvious to me that solidarity with Bosnia is an obligation, and also that it falls in the second of the above two categories. Until early May of this year, it was clear that the NATO powers, the United Nations, the official leaderships of the Muslim world, the Vatican and the "privatized" leadership of the post-Communist sphere had all agreed to let the Bosnians go under. Protest and obsequy were to be, tacitly and tactically, the same thing. If not for the efforts of a few scattered human rights and radical groups, and for the labors of some brave reporters who redeemed a profession gone rotten after its service as propaganda megaphone in the Gulf War, Bosnia might already have been voided of its inhabitants.

It's always fascinating to hear the customary friends of intervention when they are pleading impotence and stressing how "complicated" everything is. A few nights ago, I was crushed against the shirtfront of Les Aspin and thought I might as well profit by the disagreeable experience. The Administration had spent a whole month lamenting the lack of a "definable objective" in Bosnia, one that could be understood by that mysterious entity, "the American people." Well, Bosnia is the only republic in the former Yugoslav dominion that has no serious weaponry and that has proclaimed its adherence to democracy, pluralism and a multi-ethnic state. Why not say, I offered, that the "objective" is to prevent that republic and those principles from being annihilated by promiscuous, unlawful force? Would such an objective be so hard for Americans to understand? Aspin had his answer on automatic. We might offend the Russians. We might upset the Europeans. We might not have a majority in the opinion polls.

I looked at him in polite amazement. But I was asking, I said, what he was going to do to stop the Croats. On the day that we were talking, unsentimental British soldiers had been on TV for a week, expressing fury and disgust at the conduct of the Croat militia in central Bosnia, who had been herding Muslim villagers into cellars and setting them alight. The Croat forces who do this, and who are also annexing western Herzegovina to a "Greater Croatia," present no great geopolitical problem. If Chancellor Kohl and President Clinton, who recognize the semifascist regime in Zagreb and who insulate it from international sanctions, were to raise a finger, then the Tudjman government would have no choice but to pay very close and immediate attention. But--and follow me closely here--Kohl and Clinton have not raised that crucial pinkie. So that the double cleansing of Bosnia goes on.

You can thus see, by means of a simple thought experiment, that the refusal to help the Bosnians is not just because of Boris Yeltsin's woes, or because Serbia is a tough cookie. A stand against the Croat Ustashe does not bring Yeltsin down, nor does it provoke "a wider war" in Albania and Macedonia. Ergo--a point not even canvassed in the contemptible Nation editorial of April 26--the indifference to Bosnia must have to do with the fact that the victims are part Muslim, part secular, part cosmopolitan but above all powerless. Which is precisely why anyone with the least self-respect as an internationalist must be on their side.

I had another disgusting meeting, in the same week, with the British Defense Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, who had come to Washington to strike an attitude at the unveiling of the Holocaust Museum. During a discussion over tea and cucumber sandwiches at the British Embassy, he never once alluded to the recognized government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, preferring evasive formulas about "warring factions" and moral equivalence. In answer to a question, he said he thought that lifting the arms embargo would be the worst of all possible "options." And why was that? Because "it would mean we lost control." A revealing slip. Most of the time, the NATO heavies deny that they have control, meekly asking Serbian and Croatian permission for every bandage shipment. This makes the case, in both logic and morality, for ceasing the actual surreptitious intervention that is represented by the arms embargo, and for freeing (and helping) the people of Bosnia to fight for their own survival and liberation.
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Title Annotation:Bosnia
Author:Hitchens, Christopher
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Column
Date:May 24, 1993
Words:970
Previous Article:On attempting to comment on the first one hundred days.
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