Bill Clinton basks in the glow of U.S. superpower status
THE PEACE BROKER
At times during two separate sets of peace talks brokered by Washington, suspicions spawned by years of enmity and bloodshed pushed the negotiators towards failure. In the Egyptian Taba Hilton resort hotel near Israel’s southern border, Arabs and Israelis haggling over Palestinian selfrule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River erupted in shouting and walkouts. Across the world in New York City, on the 12th-floor offices of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the foreign ministers of Bosnian Muslim, Serbian Yugoslav and Croatian governments squabbled over creating a central authority in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina to oversee a state to be shared by Muslims, Serbs and Croatians. But finally last week, after goading by telephone from Washington to Taba and a flurry of faxed exchanges between American officials in New York and the three Balkan capitals, both groups of negotiators reached agreements.
With the accords finalized in haste, the bargainers in both cases dickered over details even after they had formally concluded their meetings. In Taba, they produced a 460-page pact. In Manhattan, just two vague pages emerged (“I certainly expect confusion,” said U.S. assistant state secretary Richard Holbrooke, who chaired the New York talks. “This is a confusing war.”) Doubts persisted and difficulties remained. But in many opinions, one clear winner is the administration of President Bill Clinton, often faulted in the past for a passive and stumbling approach to foreign affairs.
More importantly to the rest of the world, Washington’s activist involvement in the negotiations helps to rescue the reputation of the United States as a global leader—ready to exercise its power on behalf of stability and human security even in disputes remote from its direct interests.
Bill Clinton basks in the glow of U.S. superpower status
Clinton celebrated the accords as important retreats from violence. “There is no guarantee of success,” he acknowledged in praising the Bosnian pact during a televised statement on Sept. 26. “But today’s agreement moves us closer to the ultimate goal of a genuine peace.” And two days later, at a ceremonial signing of the West Bank agreement in the White House, the President proclaimed: “Finally, the time is approaching when there is safety in Israel’s house, when the Palestinian people will write their own destiny, when the clash of arms will be banished from God’s Holy Land.”
Before that time, progress on the West Bank—and in Bosnia—depend on overcoming ethnic and religious animosities long embedded among the people of the Mediterranean basin. Middle East hostilities took
root millenia before the emergence of the modern Jewish state amid war with Arab Muslims in 1948. In the Balkans, antagonisms predate by centuries the outbreak of war among Muslim Bosnians, Eastern Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats after the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. And now, even details of attempts to bridge the divisions provoke dispute. Middle East negotiators differed publicly at one stage over such points as whether the proportion of the West Bank to be governed by the Palestinians after Israeli troops withdraw from most cities and towns by next March 30 would encompass 30 per cent or 40 per cent of the total area. And Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine liberation Organization (PLO), delayed their formal signing ceremony at the White House to
REPORT FROM WASHINGTON
rewrite other details—while about 200 guests, including foreign heads of state and government ministers, waited for a quarter of an hour in the East Room.
In the New York talks, while reaffirming a Sept 8 agreement that the Serbs would occupy roughly half of Bosnia, the Muslim and Croat officials could not agree how their half should be split between their groups. Conceding the fragility of the Bosnia pact was the state department’s Holbrooke himself. Said Holbrooke, noting that the tripartite government plan is vague and not even legally binding: “As important as this step is, we remain a long way from peace.”
Similar uncertainties confront Ottawa, especially over the future role, if any, of its 1,000-strong UN peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia. (Troops of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry are scheduled to replace the Royal 22nd Regiment in a regular six-monthly rotation when the Van Doos complete their term in about a month.) There is more official optimism over the Middle East
situation. Foreign Affairs Minister André Ouellet, who attended the White House signing ceremony, asserted afterward that the West Bank pact “marks an important milestone in the process of bringing peace and stability to the region.”
Canadians, engaged in Mideast peacekeeping for 41 years, are also active in the four-year-old international Middle East peace process. Canada chairs a process committee on refugees. It provides about $11 million in
annual aid to Palestinians uprooted by war and now establishing self-rule in territories that had been occupied by Israel since 1967—first, under the 1994 breakthrough peace pact, in Gaza, a strip of land bordering the Mediterranean, and soon in sections of the West Bank under the newly signed agreement. Next in the peace process, said Ouellet, ‘We are hoping that in the not too distant future, Syria and Lebanon will join this platform of peace,” alongside other Arab neighbors who have made peace with Israel—Egypt in 1978, the PLO in 1993 and Jordan last year. Significantly, Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Hussein joined in the White House signing ceremony.
But in Bosnia, where American planners propose establishing an army of tens of thousands of ground troops under NATO command to police a peace settlement, Ouellet said that “no decision has been made” about Canadian participation in a NATO force. In fact, he raised questions about the wisdom of restricting the operation to NATO. “Obviously, Canada is eager to continue to assist those who want to make peace,” he said. “But we will have to know first of the mandate, who will be leading these efforts, and then we will decide.” On whether Canada would agree in principle to join a NATO force in Bosnia, Ouellet said: ‘We’re not ruling out any possibility. What we would like, though, is to have as wide a contingent as possible—not only NATO troops. We feel that Russian troops should be there to provide good equilibrium in the region. [Russia is a traditional ally of the Serbs], and we feel that those countries from the Islamic world who have contributed to peace could also be invited to participate.” U.S. officials say that Washington * also wants to include the Russians, who have been serving with the UN, in a new peace force. But that is complicated by U.S. policy against placing American forces under alien UN command. NATO command is effectively American. NATO authorities are attempting to work out a formula whereby the Russians, and perhaps troops from other non-NATO countries, could serve in some form of auxiliary function. In 1993, Clinton promised to send up to 25,000 American troops to the former Yugoslavia if all warring factions there signed a peace treaty. But the complexities of organizing a multinational force that complies with U.S. command policy compound the difficulties of plucking a peace to police out of the tangled ethnic and political rivalries in the Balkans. The willingness of the factions even to discuss prospects of a peace settlement is clearly a result of the American-inspired NATO air raids against Serbian positions during the first two weeks of September. Failure to organize an effective force to protect and enforce a ceasefire might well discourage
progress at the peace-talks table, which late last week shifted from New York to Sarajevo.
Clinton already faces doubts and criticism over the promise to dispatch many American troops, or any at all, to a killing field where the possibility of entanglement could well keep them in danger long beyond the maximum one-year time frame that administration officials insist would be the limit. Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run against Democrat Clinton in the presidential election a year from November, has called for Senate hearings on the Clinton peace force plan. Dole has not opposed the force, but raises questions about the cost, command structure and duration of the operation.
By raising doubts in a week when White House officials were rating the Bosnia and West Bank agreements as political coups by the Clinton administration, Dole highlighted the potential downside of U.S. involvements in localized foreign wars where American interests are not at stake. That preceded the West Bank signing ceremony, where Clinton was able to bask in the glow of a success. Officials insisted that far from organizing the event for his own political benefit, the Israeli and Arab leaders requested the ceremony to add weight to their commitments with the imprimatur of the United States.
That the endorsement of the U.S. superpower still counts overseas is a welcome sign to some Americans—and many people abroad— that the United States still counts as a world leader in the promotion of human values.
But other trends suggest that Americans are losing interest in the world. Since the Cold War closed as the 1990s arrived, the absence of the Soviet Union as a foe seemed to leave Washington uncertain of its world role and shrinking into isolation. About the only significant foreign policy espoused by Clinton in the run to his 1992 election was to promote international commerce as the cure for global ills. The memory of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and its failure to resolve internecine strife in Somalia two years ago reinforced a popular attitude that the United States should stay home.
As some analysts observe, power is pointless if the powerful cannot decide how to use it. Alexander Campbell, British historian and former director of American studies at Birmingham University, makes that point in the annual Washington journal Cosmos. “Lacking purpose, power does not exist,” he contends. “Essentially, local events must be given global significance before they can demand an American response.” At the same time, Campbell concludes, “It is too much to expect Americans to abandon overnight the sense of responsibility for the world’s future.” For the Bosnians, the Palestinians and other damaged people, the hope must be that Americans will retain that sense of responsibility and that last week’s successes, however incomplete, are a sign that they have found a purpose for their power in humane causes. □
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