Let's count the differences between Bosnia and Iraq

By Geraldine Sealey
January 15, 2004 10:10PM (UTC)
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Understanding how Howard Dean's support for military action in Bosnia in 1995 squares with his opposition to the Iraq war will take some thinking through the subtleties of informed decision-making. Not always compatible with the current political discourse, we get that, but let's at least try.

The background is as follows: The USA Today on Wednesday ran a story headlined "Dean urged Clinton to take unilateral action in Bosnia" and describes in gotcha tones how Dean has criticized the Bush Administration's unilateralism in Iraq even though he supported a go-it-alone strategy in Bosnia. The headline, which sadly is what a lot of people will remember, ran on Drudge along with your standard headlines services like Google and Yahoo. And Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds put the story under the category: "PAST STATEMENTS COME BACK TO HAUNT HOWARD DEAN AGAIN."


It's worth straightening this out, since we can expect it to return as a campaign issue, especially if Dean squares off against Karl Rove in the general election. Dean "reluctantly" supported unilateral action in Bosnia because there was a well-documented genocide taking place there. Dean backed air strikes, not a ground invasion, and said U.S. troops should only take a humanitarian role. As the article points out near the bottom, Dean has always said armed intervention is only warranted by a humanitarian crisis or an attack or imminent attack on the United States. Iraq was not an imminent threat to the United States, and Saddam's greatest humanitarian crimes had already been perpetrated.

So what's the problem here? There's only one if you read the headline but don't actually try to understand the substance of the issue. As Josh Marshall points out, rules of engagement have changed considerably since the humanitarian wars of the 1990s, and perhaps Dean contributes to the confusion by using unilateralism vs. multilateralism short-hand instead of fleshing out his position.

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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