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Dean urged Clinton to take unilateral action in Bosnia
Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean, a strong critic of what he calls President Bush's unilateral approach to foreign policy, urged President Clinton to act unilaterally and enter the war in Bosnia in 1995. (Related item: Text of letter)

"I have reluctantly concluded that the efforts of the United States and NATO in Bosnia are a complete failure," he wrote, citing reports of genocide during the Bosnian civil war. "If we ignore these behaviors ... our moral fiber as a people becomes weakened. ... We must take unilateral action."

The July 19, 1995, letter, obtained by USA TODAY, was written on Dean's official stationery as Vermont governor. The language appears to contradict Dean's core complaint that President Bush has followed a unilateral foreign policy, instead of a multilateral approach that relies on consultation and joint action with allies. He has repeatedly attacked Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

"I think getting rid of Saddam Hussein is a wonderful thing," he saidlast month. "But the question is, is it a good idea to send 135,000 troops unilaterally to do it?"

In the 1995 letter, Dean argued for unilateral action in Bosnia on moral grounds. "As the Catholic Church and others lost credibility during the Holocaust for not speaking out, so will the United States lose credibility," he wrote.

The civil war in the former Yugoslavia gave rise to war crimes and mass murders not seen in the West since World War II. U.N. peacekeeping had failed, but the Clinton administration was undecided on whether to take military action.

Dean told Clinton that America had to intervene alone because the United Nations and NATO were unable to act effectively. He called for Clinton to bomb the Bosnian Serbs and supply arms to the Bosnian Muslims. He opposed using American ground troops.

Clinton eventually won approval from NATO but not the United Nations for a limited bombing campaign that led to peace talks and a NATO peacekeeping force at the end of 1995. About 3,000 U.S. troops are in Bosnia today.

Dean's support for the war in Bosnia is one of several examples he uses to differentiate himself from Democrats who oppose virtually all international intervention. His advisers say his stance has remained consistent over the years: A humanitarian crisis of the scale that occurred in Bosnia should trigger an armed intervention. So, too, would an attack or imminent attack on the United States.

The word "imminent" is key to differentiating Dean's policy from the president's decision to invade Iraq, said Jeremy Ben-Ami, policy director for Dean's campaign.

Bush "sold the war on the basis of an imminent threat to U.S. security, and that has now been shown to be false," Ben-Ami said. Since the threat from Iraq was not imminent, the administration could not properly justify the war, he said.

However, when Bush laid out the case for the war in his 2003 State of the Union address, he said the United States should not wait for an imminent threat.

"Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent," Bush said. "Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein ... is not an option."

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