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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

February 18, 1996|CHRIS GOODRICH

BALKAN ODYSSEY by David Owen (Harcourt Brace & Co.: $25; 389 pp.). In the introduction to this volume, British statesman Owen writes: "Never before in over 30 years of public life have I had to operate in such a climate of dishonor, propaganda and dissembling." Owen is referring, of course, to the savage, malignant battle among the Serbs, Croats and Muslims over the former Yugoslavia but this characterization, it turns out, also applies to politicians in Europe and the United States, for "Balkan Odyssey" is at bottom an apologia for the ill-fated Vance-Owen Peace Plan, brokered by the author and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in 1993. The conflict, given the Dayton accords, may yet have a tolerable ending, but the bulk of "Balkan Odyssey" is a depressing tale of political maneuvering, obstructionism and needless second-guessing. Owen is not a graceful writer--the book is studded with scores of mind-numbing acronyms--yet makes a good case that U.S. dithering over Balkan policy, especially by the Clinton administration, was shameful. The biggest surprise in the book is the amount of time Owen spent absorbing journalistic opinion, to the extent that he agreed to appear on "Donahue" and other television shows at the urging of Morley Safer and Mike Wallace. Owen jokes at one point, "Perhaps we are entering a new era where no UN sanctions package will be complete without a ban on employing public relations firms," but the author isn't above indulging in a little PR himself.

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