restricted access 14. A President’s Commitment

From: Peacemakers

The University Press of Kentucky colophon
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14 A President’s Commitment In January 1996, the people of Sarajevo were just beginning to clear away the rubble and the barricades from the war. I flew there quickly to give confidence to the Muslim leaders that the United States would follow through on its commitment to arm and train their military. In Washington, the Train and Equip (T&E) Program team was just beginning to become functional. Sarajevo was dreary in winter. The temperature hovered around freezing , with alternating periods of snow, fog, and drizzle. I was back in the Communist-era Holiday Inn. Snipers were no longer a menace, so guests now could enter through the front door. Basic services were slowly being restored in Sarajevo, but chimneys from makeshift wood stoves still poked through some apartment windows. Candles provided light in many homes. Most buildings in the center of the city were damaged by shelling, rifle bullets, and fire. Street signs and street lights were riddled by bullet holes. Handmade signs from the war still warned of the threat of sniper fire at vulnerable points in the city. In the Bascarsilja, the old Ottoman area of the city near the main mosque, a few small, dark shops, most without heat, offered local crafts and antiques from the region. Some sold engraved brass shell casings as sad mementos of the recent fighting. Near the open food market in the center of town, the pavement was scarred by the shrapnel from the impact of a mortar shell that had killed more than thirty people and triggered the NATO airstrikes when the negotiating team was in Paris the previous August. Someone had marked the spot of the carnage by filling in the shrapnel scars of the blast pattern in the pavement with a permanent material colored blood red. The Sarajevo National Library, the Vijecnica, was a burned-out shell. Built originally as a city hall a hundred years earlier during AustroHungarian rule in Bosnia, the library had contained rare books and manuscripts going back to the Ottoman times. Most of the collection was 144 Bosnia: Military Stability destroyed when Serbian artillery shelling demolished and set ablaze the interior of the library on August 25 and 26, 1992. After the attack, Bosnian theater director Gradimir Gojer called the shelling of the library “a triumph of barbarism.”1 But a careful restoration of this distinctive building, a combination of Austrian architecture and Moorish flourishes, was completed and the building rededicated in May 2014.2 A walk around Sarajevo reinforced my view that the US decision to help the Bosnian victims of the war defend themselves in the future was correct. Commitment and Controversy The task of building a Bosnian military force capable of defending the population against attacks by Serbian armed forces was as daunting as it was controversial. The project was a US presidential commitment, but in January 1996 the T&E effort was mostly on paper. It also faced serious opposition in the United States and abroad. Even with a presidential mandate and the support of the national security staff and the secretaries of state and defense, many figures within the US government remained wary of the program. The intelligence community consistently projected the worst outcome for the effort, and top US military officials believed it threatened their image of neutrality in Bosnia. US and NATO actions were hardly neutral. The United States had done nothing to prevent the Croatian offensive that drove Serbs out of western Bosnia. US and NATO aircraft had engaged Serb targets in Bosnia, while using the threat of more attacks in negotiating with Belgrade. The entire Dayton process was designed to stop a genocide against the Muslims perpetrated by Serbs. But attacking the pretense of neutrality would consume valuable time and energy and would only generate more hostility from the opponents of the T&E Program, so I wasted no time challenging it. Outside the United States, only countries with majority Muslim populations approved of giving the Muslims in Bosnia the means to defend themselves. Other governments, particularly in Europe, saw equipping and training the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Armija Republike Bosne i Hercegovine, ABiH) as a bad idea at best and a potential disaster at worst. Many Americans and Europeans believed that because the Bosniaks were Muslims and received support from Iran and Muslim countries, they were Muslim extremists. In reality, the Bosnians in 1995 were postCommunist secular Muslims who saw themselves as Europeans and want- A President’s Commitment 145 ed to join the European mainstream. They...


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