Clearly fed up with the seeming inability of diplomacy to stop aggression and atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, President Clinton drew a sharp distinction Thursday between the United States and its European allies--between action and hesitation.
"America has made its position clear and is ready to do its part," Clinton said. "But Europe must be willing to act with us."
For almost a week, Secretary of State Warren Christopher has crisscrossed Europe trying to forge a consensus behind allied military action to punish Serb aggression in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In response, he has been treated to a series of lectures about the complexity of the problem and the difficulty of dealing with it.
Not since the days of the Cold War, when former NATO Secretary General Lord Carrington grumbled that the Western alliance was made up of "American cowboys and Eurowimps," has the split in attitudes between Washington and its allies been more apparent.
Viewed from the American side of the Atlantic, the problem is a lack of European resolve. Viewed from Europe, the difficulty is an American tendency to substitute action for thought.
A senior Administration official told reporters traveling with Christopher that the British, French, Spanish, Greek, Turkish and German officials who met the secretary of state this week share America's feeling of horror and outrage at genocide in Bosnia. But they were not ready to do as Clinton did last weekend and decide on a course of action from a list of options that both they and the Americans realize are all dangerous and offer no guarantee of success.
The official said the European leaders "find the moral case for doing something is very strong indeed (but) the practical way to address it is very complicated, indeed."
From a moral standpoint, the case for taking action in Bosnia seems at least as strong as the case for driving Iraq out of Kuwait. As Clinton put it, the Bosnia situation involves not only an attempt to change international borders by force--as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait did--but also "savage acts of inhumanity to people solely because of their ethnicity or their religion."
But the United States has not yet agreed to take the sort of decisive military action that Washington took in the Persian Gulf War. Clinton's military plan involves air strikes on Serb military positions and a relaxation of the U.N. arms embargo to permit shipment of weapons to the outgunned Bosnian Muslims.
But European leaders say air power alone has seldom turned the tide of battle and, they complain, the actions Clinton has suggested could invite retaliation against U.N. peacekeeping troops already in the area, a force that includes French, Spanish, British and Canadian soldiers but no Americans.
In fact, Clinton says the United States will not send ground troops to fight in the Balkans, a step that many European military leaders believe would be required if the international community is serious about ending the aggression of rebel Serbs against their Bosnian compatriots.
Nevertheless, Christopher is upbeat about the prospects for eventually bringing the Europeans into line. Despite the humiliating series of rebuffs the secretary of state received this week, he plans to keep at it.
A senior Administration official said the diplomatic effort is "moving toward convergence." Although the official said the Administration hopes to settle on a course of action before the May 15-16 Bosnian Serb referendum on the Vance-Owen plan proposed Thursday by the Bosnian Serb assembly, he admitted that the pace of diplomacy is often slow.
Indeed, it took months for the United States, first through the George Bush Administration and later through the Clinton Administration, to get the U.N. Security Council to authorize allied warplanes to shoot down aircraft violating the "no-fly" zone over Bosnia.
In a sense, the Bosnian Serb assembly did Washington a favor by its overwhelming rejection of the peace plan mediated by the United Nations' Cyrus R. Vance and the European Community's Lord Owen. As long as there was a chance of success for the Vance-Owen plan, European leaders were reluctant to discuss additional steps to punish Serb aggression.
Now with the plan seemingly thrust aside, Washington and its allies may be able to focus on their next step. Christopher conceded earlier this week that he is willing to accept changes in Clinton's package of proposals in order to win approval on some course of action that will at least appear to be tough.
"This is a problem that the Europeans have a big stake in," the senior official said. "We hope they will accept American leadership."
It is not too much to say that the outcome of the Bosnia crisis will set the tone for the exercise of American leadership for some time to come. If the Clinton Administration is unable to eventually rally European support for steps to stop genocide and atrocities, it is difficult to see how it could retain its place as the natural leader of the West.
Washington clearly has a stake in maintaining that sort of leadership. But it may be in Europe's interest to do so as well. If the United States cannot lead the post-Cold War world, it is difficult to see how any other power could.
Douglas Hogg, a senior official of the British Foreign Office, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Britain is ready to join the United States in searching for compromise.
"We are anxious to maintain a united front, and this has to be multilateral," Hogg said. "We all need to stick together in this matter."