Precarious Peace
U.S. troops in Bosnia.


Editor’s note: This piece by Peter W. Rodman appeared in the Nov. 27, 1995, issue of National Review. Rodman, a former senior editor of National Review and senior Defense Department official, passed away Saturday after a fight with leukemia.

The President has dropped a red hot potato in the Republicans’ lap — U.S. troops in Bosnia. Shuttle diplomacy in September and October by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke produced a precarious ceasefire and agreement on a few general principles; real negotiations on the concrete terms of a peace settlement began on American soil on November 1, in the unlikely (but usefully secluded) setting of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. If the warring parties really do reach a final deal, NATO is pledged to send troops to police it.

Members of Congress learned about most of this in the newspapers, which only intensified an uproar that was probably inevitable anyway. The American public’s eagerness to send ground personnel to Bosnia is not evident, yet the Administration has committed itself to sending 20,000 to 25,000 U.S. troops as part of a total NATO force of 40,000 to 60,000. In the House, the GOP freshmen demanded that U.S. troops not be sent without congressional approval, and they wanted this requirement included in the defense appropriation bill; when the leadership dropped it in conference, the freshmen’s anger contributed to the stunning defeat of the whole bill. In the Senate, Bob Dole and nine colleagues wrote to the President on September 27 asking blunt questions about the mission, costs, and risks of the operation. Only then did the Administration begin consultations with Congress.

For a time, the Administration had put off the congressional importunings by arguing that there was no peace agreement yet: until the parties agree on a map, with clear “zones of separation” for peacekeepers to patrol, the troop question is moot. (Indeed, the State Department’s public prediction that a breakthrough in the talks will take only a “couple of weeks” to achieve is wildly optimistic.) But the Administration was disingenuous in making this argument, since NATO military commanders were already working feverishly on planning for the deployment, under the auspices of Supreme Allied Commander Gen. George Joulwan (a former aide to Alexander Haig in both Vietnam and the Nixon White House). In this case, interestingly, the U.S. military seemed to be putting aside all vestiges of its recent reluctance to get involved in ambiguous commitments; the “Powell Doctrine” was not being applied here. The Pentagon’s officially expressed hope, in fact, was to be ready to deploy the peacekeepers “within days” of an agreement. “IFOR” (for “implementation force”) was the latest Washington buzzword. The Administration’s excuse for not talking to Congress was wearing pretty thin.

Hearings were finally held in both the Senate and the House in mid October, with the Administration fielding its top brass: Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Secretary of Defense William Perry, and Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili. They were bombarded by hostile questions from legislators of both parties — especially when they insisted that the President really didn’t need Congress’s support and was prepared to send troops anyway. The uproar over this was quelled only when the President agreed, in a letter to Senator Robert Byrd on October 19, to seek an “expression of support” from Congress.