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In Too Deep

Sunday, 267 members of the 29th Light Infantry Division departed for Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina in the unit's largest deployment since World War II. Spc. Tabitha Salinas won't watch her son board the bus for his first day of school; 1st Sgt. Raymond Arpin's daughter Rebecca had to reschedule her wedding; Pvt. Mark Stanton will miss Christmas with his five children. And for what? A six-year-old operation that was slated to last six months.

When American troops first trudged into Bosnia, skeptics were assured that their tenure was temporary. We would "secure the peace," and ship out. But date certains and deadlines passed until policy-makers stopped setting closing dates and conceded that Johnny wouldn't come marching home anytime soon. Today, 9,000 U.S. troops remain in the Balkans with neither mission nor mandate - much less an end in sight. And their numbers are growing.

When he visited Kosovo in July, President Bush assured the troops stationed there that "America's contribution is essential, both militarily and politically" - a notable reversal for the candidate who promised that his administration would not "move from crisis to crisis like a cork in a current," and told a cheering Republican convention that we would no longer be "the world's 911 number."

Today, even Time magazine deems President Bush's internationalist ambitions "Clintonesque."

Earlier this summer, NATO sent 5,000 troops to Macedonia - the overlooked first military action of the Bush administration - and now stands poised to plow deeper in. Last weekend, EU ministers meeting in Genval, Belgium insisted that Macedonia needs a new "security force" when Operation Essential Harvest expires September 26. They're calling it "NATO-plus," an indication that far from drawing back, the 500 U.S. troops in Macedonia are more likely to get reinforcements than return tickets home.

"The American soldiers here at Camp Bondsteel - and at bases and on patrol elsewhere in Kosovo and in Bosnia - symbolize America's commitment to building the better, broader, more peaceful Europe," President Bush told the U.S. servicemen stationed in Kosovo. Consider that statement. Why should securing a "better, broader, more peaceful Europe" be an American commitment? Can "better, broader, more peaceful" be imposed by peacekeepers on patrol in disregard of ancient tensions and tangled histories? And what business does any military operation have in "symbolizing" rather than achieving and exiting?

In Bosnia, our "nation building" efforts still stoke resentment rather than inspiring gratitude. In Kosovo, our intervention so unsuccessfully contained the conflict that it has spilled over into Macedonia where rebels recently showed their appreciation by attacking our embassy. Around the globe, anti-American sentiment is on the rise as subjects of our rescue missions chafe under the constraints of our good will.

Such are the rancid fruits of promiscuous intervention. Our warriors are not trained to be social workers, and our system of government is ill-suited to outside imposition. But far from learning from our failures and packing our bags, America's foreign policy elite maintain that superpower swagger into the world's most remote corners will eventually pay off in "better, broader, more peaceful." Thus we continue to shuttle between hot spots in defiance of experience, national interest, and good sense - suspiciously like a cork in a current.

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