The Indianapolis Star
July 25, 1992
Alan W. Dowd
The war in what was once Yugoslavia has now raged for more than a year. The ex-communist leadership in Serbia has been ruthless in its attempts to preserve the old union. Slovenia broke away with relative ease, then Croatia fought its way out of communist control. The Serbs are now pounding Bosnia-Hercegovina, where 40,000 have died in the fiercest fighting of the year-old war. Millions have been displaced as refugees, and over 100,000 have been maimed or injured.
In the Balkans, as in Nazi Germany, "purification" takes the form of torture, starvation, and execution. Nazi genocide mills are revisited at a handful of concentration camps across the war-torn region. Faces of gaunt and battered prisoners stare back at us with a chilling similarity to the horrors of Hitler's war against humanity. Half a century ago, a European monster devoured Slavs and Jews; today, his ghost exterminates Muslims. After a year of killing, America has finally realized something must be do to stop the carnage. But exactly what will be done remains unseen.
The interventionists, who value global stability more than American blood, have urged the president to insert U.S. troops into the middle of the mindless, ethnic warfare. The dismemberment of Bosnia and the revelation of Serbia's concentration camps, though horrifying, pose no direct threat to American interests, but to allow the slaughter to continue would deal a crippling blow to America's moral leadership.
The isolationists, who have forgotten the lessons of two world wars, claim this is Europe's problem as they echo the promises of Wilson and neutrality. They demand that sanctions be implemented to end the violence, but such a policy has systematically starved innocent civilians. Some have called for U.S.-sponsored peace talks, but America cannot bring an end to this war by forcing discussion. Over two dozen cease-fires have already failed, each initiated with the intent of opening a dialogue between the warring sides.
None of these "solutions" will bring about an acceptable end to the nightmare in Bosnia. Still, America and the world cannot allow the Serbian murder machine to continue its conquest of a sovereign people. As a member of the community of nations, America is obligated to support the victims of these atrocities, but it is neither feasible nor advisable for America to make war on every brutal government that gains power in this new era. Barring a declaration of war, American troops could do little more in Bosnia than add their blood to that of the 40,000 who have already perished in Serbia's landgrab. From Saddam's extermination of the Kurds to government-sponsored holocausts in Africa to mass murder in Cambodia, countless millions die at the hands of bloodthirsty tyrants and barbaric regimes every year. The only difference between these and the former Yugoslavia is America's level of awareness. Each atrocity must end, but American military intervention is not the solution.
America can help. Along with its NATO allies, America should initiate a large-scale arms delivery to Bosnia. The shipments should include armored vehicles to counter Serbia's Soviet-built T-54 tanks. Sophisticated anti-aircraft batteries should be sent to protect Bosnian cities and children from Serbia's Luftwaffe-style air raids.
Russians, Poles, and the rest of Europe should be encouraged to participate in this effort. Cooperation between the new and old democracies of Europe and North America would bring an end to the war and mercifully end the bloodshed.
The benefits of this policy are many: With an adequate defense and a realistic offensive capability, Bosnians will be able to eject the Serbian occupation forces from their territory. The waves of refugees will subside, and the bloodbath will end at minimal cost to the allies. Furthermore, America will reinforce its commitment to the self- determination of all peoples. And those unseen, emerging threats will be put on notice that America remains engaged in Europe. Military aid to Bosnia might deter resurgent powers from asserting control over foreign territories. Finally, this common-sense policy will reassure Germany and France, both of which desire enhanced involvement in European peace-keeping, that America does not wish to dominate the continent as its did during the Cold War.
The United States adopted such a policy in the most anxious days of the Cold War. Known as the Reagan Doctrine, America's aid to anti-communists policy ultimately destroyed the Soviet war machine, hastening its inevitable collapse. Military aid to freedom fighters in Nicaragua and El Salvador defeated Ortega and the Sandinistas, isolated Castro, and swept the communists from Central America. Reagan's arms deliveries forced Cuba to surrender Angola. And after nine years of bloodshed, the Soviets did likewise in Afghanistan. Afghan rebels defended their homeland with American weaponry and drained Moscow of its young men. Perhaps just as important, Reagan achieved these victories without sending U.S. troops into combat.
The implementation of a new Reagan Doctrine in Bosnia would bring an end to this conflict. While America is not obligated to send its young men off to the Balkans and rid the world of renegade, anachronistic governments, America must aid those who fight and die for freedom. This is an obligation to our own traditions and history, linking the patriots of the American Revolution to the Bosnian freedom fighters of Europe's ongoing democratic revolution.
Bosnia, divided and bruised, has asked not for liberation but for the tools to secure liberation. Its people realize only they can achieve this goal. As America charts a new course for a changed world, it must remember the lessons of the Great War as well as the Cold War. To embrace again the hopes of isolationism will only delay a greater tragedy. To send Americans into a civil war, whether it rages in Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe, will scar a generation and cripple a nation. But to offer moral and material support to people who love liberty is an act worthy of the American tradition. Embracing such a policy in the 1980s, America defeated communists around the globe. We should do no less today in Bosnia.