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The Searing Agony of Bosnia : A second U.S. official resigns in protest

August 06, 1993

For almost every concerned American--from President Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher on down--the Bosnian situation offers little but frustration and agony. But the agony is especially searing among professionals in the Foreign Service, the executive corps of U.S. diplomacy.

That list certainly included Anthony Lake, now Clinton's national security adviser, and State Department officials George D. Kenney and Marshall Freeman Harris. But today, of that distinguished trio only Lake remains. On Wednesday the Clinton Administration's Harris joined Kenney, his predecessor in the Bush Administration as the State Department's desk officer on Bosnia, in resigning over U.S. policy.

These are two remarkable resignations. America's Foreign Service is nothing if not loyal, discreet and low-profile. But among that corps, feelings run deep on the Bosnian issue.

In considerable measure The Times shares that anguish. As the Bosnia tragedy unfolds, it is difficult not to sense a mounting, unforgettable calamity. There is more. If Serb aggression is not contained at some point, there is no assurance that it will not spill over into Kosovo, then triggering who knows what interventions, a chain reaction that could plunge the world into regional conflagration. Where we somewhat part company with Harris is in his denunciation of the partition of Bosnia. While it would be ideal to roll back the situation there to what it was before Serbian forces went on the offensive, realistically the West must be prepared to accept a melancholy partition in order to save lives and contain the conflict. The Clinton policy of threatening air strikes to pressure the Serbs to negotiate seriously is not the same thing as insisting on a return to the status quo ante. But it is an honorable prescription to end the bloodshed and defuse explosive tensions.

That's why The Times has advocated a more limited, self-contained proposal: to save Sarajevo via air strikes against Serb artillery positions around the city, even if that effort requires the emplacement of a small U.S. ground force at the airport there--if possible, along with NATO or U.N. forces.

Rather than a prescription for a wider war, a Sarajevo operation would be a containment measure. For what that region needs now is not a wider war but a smaller one--a rapid diminution of the conflict and the acceptance of a political settlement that recognizes reality. Thursday Serb forces announced a pullback from two sites overlooking Sarajevo. Washington reacted skeptically. If that announcement turns out to be another Serbian deception, Washington should react with a lot more than skepticism.

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