Richard Cohen still seems not to know what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s:
The military interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya did not require boots on the ground [bold mine-DL]. They ended when they were finished — a brilliant exit strategy.
It’s true that there were no American or NATO soldiers fighting in Bosnia or Kosovo on the ground, but it is misleading to say that the interventions didn’t require “boots on the ground.” Ground forces were needed in 1995, but they weren’t ours, and so it’s as if they never existed. NATO ground forces were needed in the wake of the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and either the EU or NATO still has a presence in both countries now.
As usual, Cohen overlooks the massive Croatian-Bosnian offensive in 1995 that made most of the difference in ending the Bosnian War. He evidently forgets that tens of thousands of NATO soldiers moved into Bosnia after the signing of the Dayton Accords. NATO soldiers remained in Bosnia until 2004 when they were replaced by an EU force that is still there today in reduced numbers. He also doesn’t seem to know that the Kosovo war did not come to an end because of bombing alone, and Milosevic capitulated thanks to Russian pressure and the possibility of a ground invasion. There are still thousands of KFOR troops, including several hundred Americans, in Kosovo today. U.S. and European governments are still “stabilizing” Bosnia and Kosovo with a military presence 17 and 13 years respectively after NATO bombing ceased. Bosnia and Kosovo did not become “quagmires,” but they have become dysfunctional, corrupt international wards.
Why does this matter? Because Cohen is once again trotting out the examples of the “good” Balkan interventions to pretend that intervention in Syria would be cheaper, shorter, and easier than it likely would be, and he is overselling the virtues of the Bosnian and Kosovo interventions by pretending that they were successful solely because of Western air power. It is doubtful that Western air power would enable the Syrian opposition to topple the regime. Once the U.S. and other governments have committed to using military force for the purpose of overthrowing Assad, they may not be able to adhere to previous guarantees that they will not use ground forces. Once “credibility” is at stake, Western involvement in Syria will increase over time. It is also doubtful that U.S. or NATO intervening governments could so easily wash their hands of the aftermath of a war in Syria as they have in Libya.