- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

The summer of 1995 was a watershed for U.S. foreign policy. After years of muddling through in Bosnia, slogging along behind the Europeans and an impotent United Nations, the Clinton administration suddenly decided to plunge in and lead the way to a peace settlement. By that time, four years of conflict in Croatia and Bosnia had killed most of the 250,000 people who would die there, and most of the 1.8 million refugees had already been kicked out of their homes while Europe and the United States mainly stood by and watched.

Today, almost five years after the U.S.-steered Dayton talks that froze the conflict in the fall of 1995, NATO-led peacekeepers, including about 6,000 Americans, are still in Bosnia. Barring a miracle of reconciliation between Bosnia's Croats, Muslims and Serbs, they'll stay there for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the latest Balkan cycle of violence, war and foreign intervention has put the same cast of peacemakers in Kosovo, with even dimmer prospects of exiting anytime soon.

Perceptions of the success of U.S. policy at Dayton especially the idea of using air power to buttress diplomacy were critical in shaping the Clinton administration's interventionist policy in Kosovo, as well as its decisions to bomb Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan.

So what happened in Washington almost five summers ago? This is the theme of Ivo Daalder's "Getting To Dayton: The Making of America's Bosnia Policy," a thorough, painstakingly documented study of the inner workings of the Clinton administration at that time.

Mr. Daalder, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and a prolific writer on U.S. foreign policy, particularly toward the Balkans, had an insider's view of at least part of the process as coordinator for Bosnia policy on the administration's National Security Council in 1995 and 1996. Nevertheless, the book is not a personal recollection. In addition to numerous personal interviews with, usually anonymous, government officials, Mr. Daalder's sources span press reports, speeches made by principal players and books, especially Richard Holbrooke's "To End A War" and Bob Woodward's "The Choice."

The result is a highly detailed analysis of each step of the policy path that wound through the White House, the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom, Congress, the United Nations, the Contact Group and European capitals before finally ending at Dayton. Wonks will probably love this book, especially those specifically interested in Bosnia or what made the Clinton administration which never campaigned on the slogan "It's the Balkans, stupid" tick while dealing with what then-Secretary of State William Christopher dubbed "the problem from hell."

Readers not wishing to become intimate with a seemingly endless bordering on mind-numbing number of policy briefings, minute course changes, maneuvering and convoluted Beltway negotiations will want to avoid the book. The short answer for why the administration moved so swiftly from cost containment to engagement, according to Mr. Daalder, is Anthony Lake, President Clinton's then-national security adviser.

Mr. Lake emerges as the unsung hero, the one able to free himself from the tyranny of daily crises that had been driving U.S. decision-makers to look out at a future goal and then focus on a way to get there. If Mr. Holbrooke was the builder of the Dayton peace accord, Mr. Lake was its architect.

" … Lake's strategy laid the basis for the diplomatic effort that Richard Holbrooke would pursue to a successful conclusion in Dayton," writes Mr. Daalder, who would plainly like to see Mr. Lake get more credit for his toils.

Fed up with the lack of progress in Bosnia and desiring to have the matter settled before it could hurt Mr. Clinton in the 1996 presidential election, Mr. Lake took matters into his own hands. "Lake abandoned his role as the honest broker and opted to become the policy entrepreneur. Mr. Lake not only developed his own policy, but also structured the decision-making process in such a way as to enhance the likelihood of his position on Bosnia becoming U.S. policy.

"Exploiting Mr. Clinton's evident desire to get out of the box that two-and-a-half years of muddling through had created, Lake decided that the time was ripe to propose a change in direction and to do so before others in the administration had a chance to explain why this would not work."

Throughout the book, Mr. Daalder plays down the significance the looming 1996 election held for Mr. Clinton's team, seen by the administration's critics as the main reason it finally moved decisively on Bosnia. He makes some good points, including the argument that if the administration had been able to concoct a solution earlier than 1995, it would not have let itself, and NATO, be humiliated for years at the hands of the Bosnian Serbs.

But despite Mr. Daalder's efforts, the issue lingers throughout the book. Many observers of Mr. Clinton's foreign policy, especially conservatives, will be unlikely to change their minds that nothing focuses the president's mind like the ballot box and those wanting peace in Bosnia in 1995 were lucky that 1996 was an election year in the United States.

Ron Laurenzo is a reporter for Defense Week.

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