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

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/books/excerpt-clinton-tapes.html?_r=2&pagewanted=print

Excerpt

The Clinton Tapes

(Page 1 of 7)

By TAYLOR BRANCH

Published: September 24, 2009.

Chapter 1 Twin Recorders

Session One : Thursday, October 14, 1993

 

President Clinton found me waiting alone in his upstairs office called the Treaty Room, testing my tiny twin recorders on one corner of a massive but graceful Victorian desk. It contained a drawer for each cabinet department under Ulysses Grant, he observed, when Washington could be run from a single piece of furniture. The president invited me to begin our work in another room, and I gave him sample historical transcripts to look over while I repacked my briefcase.

He scanned to lively passages. An anguished Lyndon Johnson was telling Georgia senator Richard Russell in 1964 that the idea of sending combat soldiers to Vietnam "makes the chills run up my back." A flirtatious LBJ was pleading with publisher Katharine Graham for kinder coverage in her Washington Post. Clinton asked about Johnson's telephone taping system. How did it work? How did he keep it secret? For a moment, he seemed to dare the unthinkable. White House recordings have been taboo since their raw authenticity drove Richard Nixon from office in 1974. Most tapes of the Cold War presidents still lay unknown or neglected. By the time scholars and future readers realize their incomparable value for history, these unfiltered ears to a people's government will be long since extinct. To compensate for that loss, Clinton had resolved to tape a periodic diary with my help.

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 [a complete lie]. 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.

Excerpted from "THE CLINTON TAPES: Wrestling History with the President," by Taylor Branch, published by Simon & Schuster, September 2009.

 

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