In the prologue to this book, I insisted that I had no intention of turning well-intentioned officials into cannon fodder for critics of US involvement in the Bosnian war. No one set out to do any harm. As we watched the conflagration, we were troubled; but we truly did not know how to respond. However imperfectly, we were doing the best we could with the leadership, information, experience, and training we had.
As these pages have described, in Bosnia we were hampered by a flaw in a foreign policy design that has shaped history across time and across conflicts. At the heart of that flaw is the insular thinking of actors who perceive the conflict from different stances—none of which bridge the policy arena and life on the ground. That gulf is due partly to the often conflicting points of view of the players, each of whom comes onto the scene with her or his own agenda, wrestling with a host of questions.
The military demand an answer: “What is the job we’re being sent to do, and what is our exit strategy? What will this do to our standing back home—will we return to our families and communities heroes or villains?” Humanitarian agencies worry: “Can we work quickly, in a streamlined fashion, so that we can leave this disaster as soon as possible and go on to the next? Will our staff be safe?” Reporters must assess: “Will this conflict draw an audience and hold its attention? What will it cost to cover the conflict—in dollars, in my future access to key players, and in my career trajectory?” Meanwhile, politicians want to know: “Can I sell this action on patriotic or moral grounds to the voters? Will it highjack my political agenda or damage my reelection campaign?”
Diplomats pose the questions: “How will this situation affect our image and effectiveness on the global stage? And will our actions here jeopardize congressional funding for the State Department?” The intel ligence community asks: “How does this crisis connect to other threats? Is this part of a global web of evildoers whom Foreign Service officers are not taking seriously enough?” And from more of a distance, ethicists wonder: “What principles are at stake here? What values are worth dying—or killing—for?”
Viktor Frankl, Nazi Holocaust survivor, turned his tragedy into help for tens of millions worldwide.
The ensuing strain among different parts of government and civil society is worse than simple lack of integration. During the Bosnian war, the split was so severe that the chief of the CIA station at the US embassy in Croatia actually spied on his chief of mission, Ambassador Peter Galbraith, sending covert reports back to Washington.
More damning than stereotypical thinking and competing points of view, however, is the act of inaction. That was the analysis of my Viennese mentor, the great theorist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. I went to see him at his small apartment near our embassy and just a few blocks from where Freud had lived.
I was representing an administration that talked about justice as it allowed genocide. How could I live with the deadly stalling? I asked Frankl: “Should I resign in protest?”
Frankl leaned toward me sympathetically. “Madame Ambassador, sometimes the right thing to do is only 55 percent right and is 45 percent wrong. It’s hard enough for an individual to act in those situations. For a giant like the US government, it’s paralyzing.”
I left our conversation still disappointed by the failure of Washington to act, but at least more understanding of the complexities blocking decisive leadership. Only when I had some distance in the ensuing years, as I worked in and wrote about Bosnia, did I realize the need to connect head and heart—to connect the policies determined in logic-driven consultations and the pathos bred in brutalizing situations.
It is for the Bosnian people, and all those affected by war, that for nine years I kept coming back to this manuscript. And it is for all of us who bear the mental, physical, and economic costs of war that I hope I have presented a compelling case. The life-or-death decisions—which wartime actions are 55 percent right?—must not be made from a single vantage point. However challenging it is to move beyond the familiar, we must examine every truism and every stereotype, find new allies and new perspectives, know when to find fault and when to embrace responsibility. Only then will we have the intellectual and emotional wherewithal to bring together the two worlds apart, making them one, more just and secure.