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INFO   :::  Region > Bosnia - PAGE 1 > The Clinton Tapes

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/books/excerpt-clinton-tapes.html?pagewanted=5&_r=1

The Clinton Tapes

(Page 5 of 7)

Published: September 24, 2009.

 

On Bosnia, the president said his government first had been divided over proposals for direct intervention to stop the infamous spasms of violence, the ethnic cleansing, that had plagued the former Yugoslavia since the end of the Cold War.** He said General Powell and others had recommended against various military options, arguing that air attacks were tempting and safe but could not compel a truce, and that ground troops would be exposed among hostile foreigners in difficult terrain. Within weeks, the new administration had explored ideas to relax the international embargo on arms shipments to the region, reasoning that the embargo penalized the weakest, most victimized nation of Bosnia- Herzegovina. Unlike its neighbors in Serbia and Croatia, the heavily Muslim population of Bosnia was isolated without access to arms smuggled across the borders. The Bosnian government wanted the embargo lifted so its people could defend themselves, thereby opening a chance for military balance among the antagonists that could lead to a political settlement.

Clinton said U.S. allies in Europe blocked proposals to adjust or remove the embargo. They justified their opposition on plausible humanitarian grounds, arguing that more arms would only fuel the bloodshed, but privately, said the president, key allies objected that an independent Bosnia would be "unnatural" as the only Muslim nation in Europe. He said they favored the embargo precisely because it locked in Bosnia's disadvantage. Worse, he added, they parried numerous alternatives as a danger to the some eight thousand European peacekeepers deployed in Bosnia to safeguard emergency shipments of food and medical supplies. They challenged U.S. standing to propose shifts in policy with no American soldiers at risk. While upholding their peacekeepers as a badge of commitment, they turned these troops effectively into a shield for the steady dismemberment of Bosnia by Serb forces. When I expressed shock at such cynicism, reminiscent of the blind-eye diplomacy regarding the plight of Europe's Jews during World War II, President Clinton only shrugged. He said President Fran├žois Mitterrand of France had been especially blunt in saying that Bosnia did not belong, and that British officials also spoke of a painful but realistic restoration of Christian Europe. Against Britain and France, he said, German chancellor Helmut Kohl among others had supported moves to reconsider the United Nations arms embargo, failing in part because Germany did not hold a seat on the U.N. Security Council. Clinton sounded as though he were obliged to start over. He groped amid these chastening constraints for new leadership options to stop Bosnia's mass sectarian violence.

In a less chilling tone, the president analyzed his administration's early penchant for leaking stories to the press. He attributed nearly all the troublesome episodes to his own White House staff, as opposed to cabinet officers or bureaucrats, and he distinguished the leakers by motive and character. Whereas officials in most governments planted stories in order to influence policy, or to jockey for position against rivals, Clinton diagnosed his leaks as the product of youthful exuberance. He said they seemed to be ego-driven, from staff members eager to see their words in the news or prove they were the first to know something. Such leaks often were frivolous, whimsical, and inaccurate, he said. By playing to the swagger in his young aides, reporters elicited stories of froth that gave fodder to his political opposition. Clinton cited the uproar over one fictional report that he planned a luxury tax to keep rich people from buying supplementary health insurance. And by press fiat, before his first organizational meeting in the White House, a mischievous leak had vaulted gays in the military to the top of the national agenda.*** The president complained that he had never really had a "honeymoon" in the press. Not for the last time, he said it was nettlesome to deal with sensational leaks rather than substantive politics, but he thought things were getting better.

 

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