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Clinton Says U.S. Presenmce In Bosnia Needed for Peace

By Ann Devroy and Helen Dewar
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

President Clinton Monday night said U.S. participation in the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia means the difference between war and peace there and said Americans, despite the risks, "must choose peace."

Clinton laid out his rationale for using American troops to implement the Bosnian peace agreement, brokered by the United States in recent talks in Ohio, during a prime-time Oval Office address, his 10th as president. Its themes of a limited mission, a strict exit strategy and an operation aimed at securing peace rather than making war were all aimed at reassuring a nation and a Congress wary of risky military operations and concerned that the country might be pulled into a civil war.

The United States cannot police the world or stop warfare everywhere, Clinton said, but "America -- and America alone -- can and should make the difference" when it is called on to "defend our fundamental values as a people and serve our most basic strategic interests."

Clinton acknowledged the mission will not be without danger, and he issued a blunt warning to anyone threatening the peacekeepers: "America protects its own. Anyone -- anyone -- who takes on our troops will suffer the consequences. We will fight fire with fire and then some."

Congressional leaders, particularly in the Senate, Monday appeared likely to raise sharp questions and even to put conditions on the U.S. involvement, but in the end to let Clinton go forward. House members were more dubious.

In a speech on the Senate floor a few hours before Clinton spoke, Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, R-Kan., said Congress has a responsibility to advise Clinton but said, "The president has the authority and the power under the Constitution to do what he feels should be done, regardless of what Congress does."

After Clinton's address, Dole said in a television interview that it was "a good speech" and "a first step in the right direction," but added that the president "still has a ways to go."

"I hope he'll have my support," said Dole, the leading candidate for next year's Republican presidential nomination. "It depends on the case that's made and on how the American people respond."

House National Security Committee Chairman Floyd D. Spence, R-S.C., said he was unswayed by the president's speech. Acknowledging the heavy toll war has taken on the Bosnian people, Spence said in a statement: "We must weigh American security interests as well as American moral interests, and this is where the president has a lot of convincing to do."

Spence questioned Clinton's claim that European stability is at risk and challenged the president's call for America to show leadership. "Leadership without clear direction is dangerous and a recipe for disaster when it involves deployment of tens of thousands of American combat troops," he said.

Clinton, who has heard numerous voices from both parties raise significant questions over the Bosnia operation over the past two weeks, tried to answer some of those questions or at least offer some reassurances. Beyond that he sought to make the case that the United States must pick up the mantle of leadership because no other nation or collection of nations can.

"If we're not there, NATO will not be there," Clinton said in his 22-minute speech, "The peace will collapse. The war will re-ignite. The slaughter of innocents will begin again."

"Let us lead," Clinton implored. "That is our responsibility as Americans."

And as if to answer a common Republican charge -- that Clinton naively wants America to police the injustices and miseries of the world -- the President offered reassurances that it is not the case. "America cannot and must not be the world's policeman," he said. "We cannot stop all war for all time, but we can stop some wars. We cannot save all women and all children, but we can save many. We cannot do everything, but we must do what we can do."

Clinton said the Bosnia mission "can succeed because the mission is clear and limited. Our troops are strong and very well prepared." And yet, Clinton acknowledged, "no deployment of American troops is risk free and this one may well involve casualties."