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Jewish World Review Sept. 23, 1999 /13 Tishrei, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine' -- AUSTRALIAN-LED TROOPS are on the way to East Timor, but the place already has been ravaged by pro-Indonesian militias. In the process, the so-called Clinton Doctrine has proved to be empty talk.

President Clinton enunciated the doctrine in June in the aftermath of NATO's success in driving Serbian forces from Kosovo.

"Whether within or beyond the borders of a country, if the world community has the power to stop it, we have to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing," Clinton told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

"That is what we did, but it took too long in doing in Bosnia. That is what we did or are doing in Kosovo. That is what we failed to do in Rwanda, where so many died so quickly. And what I hope very much we'll be able to do in Africa if it ever happens again."

Well, it has happened again, both in Africa and Asia -- in Sierra Leone, Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola and now East Timor.

The good news is that in some places there has been some international response. The bad news is that hundreds of thousands have died and, even when international intervention has occurred, it's been late. It remains to be seen whether the slaughter can be stopped permanently.

The real Clinton Doctrine seems to be: If the world media make it impossible for the U.S. government to ignore a massacre, this country may take action -- slowly. In East Timor, the Clinton administration hesitated to get involved -- much as it did in Rwanda in 1994, when up to one million people were butchered with the civilized world looking the other way.

Visiting Africa last year, an apologetic Clinton claimed that the United States hadn't been aware of what was unfolding in Rwanda. But independent observers charge that claim is simply false.

Spokesmen for the U.S. Committee for Refugees testified before Congress in May 1998 that "U.S. leadership in support of the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeeping troops as soon as the genocide began effectively condemned hundreds of thousands of Rwandans to certain death and gave the killers confidence that the world community would allow the genocide to proceed uninterrupted.

"Even after the U.S. government reversed itself and belatedly agreed to authorize additional U.N. peacekeeping troops, U.S. officials delayed the troop deployments for months, effectively giving the killers a grace period to complete their campaign of genocide."

Humanitarian groups charge that the United States was trying to avoid a repeat of the politically-damaging 1993 disaster in Somalia, when 13 U.S. soldiers were killed in a vain effort to stop a civil conflict.

This year, the United States did better by Kosovo, intervening with air power to drive the Serbs out -- but only after allowing them to devastate the province, kill some 10,000 people, and drive about 1 million from their homes.

The administration's tardy response to Indonesian massacres in East Timor seems to reflect post-Kosovo reluctance to commit U.S. forces, although Australia and various Southeast Asian countries are bearing almost the entire burden.

Legally, there was more justification for international intervention in Timor than in Kosovo. Kosovo is recognized as part of Yugoslavia. East Timor, largely Roman Catholic, was seized by Muslim Indonesia in 1975 and subjected to oppression that has killed 200,000 people over the last 20 years.

Indonesia agreed to a United Nations-supervised independence vote last month. The population voted overwhelmingly for independence -- and then Indonesian-backed militias went on a rampage, leveling the capital of Dili and slaughtering persons suspected of favoring independence.

While the world dithered, Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, declared, "You know, my daughter has a very messy apartment up at college. Maybe I shouldn't intervene to have that cleaned up." Berger's dismissal reveals just how shallowly held the Clinton doctrine is, even in the White House.

Eventually, Clinton was shamed into pressuring Indonesia to accept the Australian-led force. The United States will furnish only 200 soldiers, strictly in logistics, intelligence and communications roles.

This limited U.S. involvement was so politically easy that even arch-isolationist Pat Buchanan said it was OK, as did Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who have criticized over-commitment of U.S. forces overseas.

Meantime, blood has been flowing all over Africa -- most of it out of the view of the world media. Nigeria-led forces have put a temporary stop to hand-chopping in Sierra Leone.

There is a fragile cease-fire in Congo, but civil war and famine rage on in Angola and Sudan, and 10,000 soldiers can be killed in a weekend of trench warfare between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

It is not up to the United States to be the world's police force, but if Clinton is going to assert a U.S. "doctrine" to stop ethnic massacres, then he ought to see that regional police forces are organized, trained and ready to stop bloodshed early.

If the United States can't do better than it did in East Timor, Clinton should just quit saying "never again."

He doesn't mean it.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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