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Clinton Pleased With Progress, Says Mission Crucial

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 1995 – President Clinton said he is pleased with the progress of the U.S. deployment to Bosnia and is encouraged by the spirit of cooperation from the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians.

Clinton spoke to defense reporters at a Pentagon roundtable. He said the U.S. involvement is morally the right thing to do and it is in American interests to help bring peace to the wartorn area. He also said U.S. involvement is crucial for continued U.S. leadership.

[The Bosnian mission is] critical for our ability to lead the world for the next 10 or 20 years as we sort out the security of the postCold War world will be, Clinton said. I can tell you that our leadership of NATO specifically and in general our ability to lead in the world toward peace and democracy is very much tied to our willingness to assume a leadership role in this Bosnian mission.

Clinton said the success of the mission is important, but the fact the United States was willing to lead means more. If we make this effort and we succeed in our military mission, even if, God forbid, after we re all gone the thing should come apart, at least we will be united in doing what we can do to promote stability in Europe and take a stand for peace in the postCold War era, Clinton said.

Clinton used the Haiti mission as a example. When I sent our troops in to Haiti ..., I said that we could not guarantee the people of Haiti a future. They would have to do it themselves, he said. The same is true for the Bosnians. We cannot guarantee for them a future without war. What we can guarantee for them is a year without war during which they can implement their own agreement.

Clinton said during the year the people of Bosnia can hold elections, begin reconstruction and begin to see the benefits of peace. The year will also serve to set up some security equilibrium within the country.

Clinton stressed NATO forces are not going into the country to fight or end a war, but to help implement a peace. I think it s a mistake for the United States or NATO to be going around anywhere guaranteeing the results of peace agreements which really must be guaranteed in the minds and hearts of the people who are making it.

So this will be a success for our alliance and our leadership just by doing the mission," he continued. Obviously it will be a much greater success if the humanitarian relief, refugee relocation, economic reconstruction all are completely successful and Bosnia has a permanent peace. We have to define together where we must try and where must stand against chaos, and I think we ve done a good job of that.

Clinton said he will not allow rogue groups to halt the mission. He said he will withdraw American service members only if the mission no longer exists. NATO would withdraw if the nations wanted to fight again since the peace mission would then be a failure. [We] anticipate there will be violations of this agreement, but the leaders will not abandon it and the vast bulk of people will not abandon it," he said.

Clinton said he would follow the advice of military commanders in regards to a visit to the country. If I had my way, I would [have spent] ... Christmas Eve and Christmas morning [in Bosnia], he said. That s what I wanted to do. But our commanders made it clear it would be disruptive.

Clinton spoke of the decision to help in Bosnia. You have to do what you think is right, he said. Once I became convinced that we could train for this mission, that we could define the mission in the peace agreement, that we could minimize the risk to our troops, then the decision was not so difficult.

Because I believe in a time like this you have to ask yourself, which decision would you rather defend 10 years from now if it goes wrong? I would much rather explain to my child and grandchildren why the United States tried to stop slaughter, prevent the spread of the war, maintain NATO ..., maintain the leadership of the United States in the world for peace and freedom.

I would much rather explain why we tried to do that, than why because of short term political problems, we permitted the war to resume, it expanded, the NATO alliance was destroyed and the influence of the United States was compromised for 10 years.

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