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March 29, 2011

Fact Checking Obama's Claim About It Taking One Year To Provide Air Cover In the Bosnian War

Obama made this claim in order to rebut critics who say he dithered indecisively:

To summarize, then: in just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a No Fly Zone with our allies and partners. To lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together, when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians.

That is misleading to the point of being a lie. He is trying to claim that he acted more promptly, assembled a military coalition more swiftly.

In fact, he did not. He refers to "air power" -- the establishment of a shoot-down no-fly zone created by UN Resolution 816 on March 31, 1993. A previous UN Resolution, which banned military flights in Bosnia, as set forth in Resolution 718, passed on October 9, 1992. But this resolution, while purporting to establish a ban, did not authorize the undertaking of any actual action to enforce that ban -- what it seemed to do was authorize "monitoring" and the recording of violations. By the time the second, shoot-down authorizing resolution was passed, the Bosnian War had been going on for a while.

Is Obama telling the truth, then?

No. Because while air power is usually the first sort of power to be injected into a theater, with ground troops coming later (if at all), in Bosnia, air power was the last to enter.

By the time Resolution 816 authorized NATO shoot-downs of aircraft violating the ban on flights, there had been boots-on-the-ground peacekeepers in the region for over a year.

Obama's attempt to draw a contrast with the previous alleged tardiness of world response in Bosnia is dishonest. A coalition of countries was assembled to provide the thorniest sort of protection possible, boots-on-the-ground separation of hostile forces:

The UNPROFOR was composed of nearly 39,000 personnel, 320 of whom were killed on duty. It was composed of troops from Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany , Ghana, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"Air power" did indeed come later, but ground power had already been organized to attempt to protect civilians and keep opposed forces separated, the same type of civilian-sparing humanitarian mission Obama hopes to achieve with the airstrikes. Air power was added later in Bosnia partly as an expansion of the old ground-based humanitarian effort to the skies but also partly in an effort to end the war by destroying the combatants' ability to make war.

It is simply not true, as Obama implied, that it took a year for the international community to respond in Bosnia. They had responded far more quickly than that. It took them a year only to decide to add air power -- a decision that was probably slowed by the fact that there tens of thousands of foreign peacekeepers already on the ground who would be natural magnets for retaliation when shoot-downs and airstrikes began. In other words, we already had almost 40,000 would-be hostages in the region.

Notice the dainty preciseness of his deception -- he speaks only about the introduction of "air power," and it's technically true that shoot-downs did not begin until a year later. He conveniently fails to mention, however, that the much more dangerous commitment of tens of thousands of peacekeepers (acting under extraordinarily restrictive ROE's) were already in place by then, and had been for over a year.

By the way, the AP's "Fact Check" missed this one.

Corrected: I originally wrote it was more than a year before the first UN ban on flights and the second, authorizing shoot-downs. In fact, I got very simple math screwed up; it was in fact less than half a year. I have rewritten that passage to elide the error.

In fact, Obama seems to be getting the "more than a year" thing from the date of the resolution authorizing boots-on-the-ground peacekeepers:

UNPROFOR was created by UN Security Council Resolution 743 on 21 February 1992.

Feb 1992 to March/April 1993 = "more than a year."

But of course he can't mention that date-- that would scotch his whole deception. If he's being precise about matters, he'd have to say "It was more than a full year before air power was authorized in Bosnia, after a full year of boots-on-the-ground peacekeepers were in place, who'd been organized rather swiftly after the outbreak of war."

Sort of undercuts his whole "I acted super-fast" comparison.

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posted by Ace at 02:26 PM

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