WASHINGTON -- As NATO unleashed a second wave of bombs over Yugoslavia yesterday, members of Congress from Maryland reiterated their on-the-record support for the strikes.
But beneath the outward nods of approval that are common when U.S. troops are in combat, even some Democrats expressed doubt about whether President Clinton's stated objectives could be achieved through bombing alone.
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat, voiced concern that the airstrikes might not prevent Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from continuing his violent campaign against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
"It's going to be very difficult to achieve," Cardin said. "We may be able to weaken their capability to inflict damage on the Kosovars. But in the long term, they will remain [in Kosovo] if there is no peace process."
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat and ardent Clinton ally, echoed those reservations. "I have a feeling it's going to be a bit difficult," he said.
Cummings added that, given Milosevic's steadfast refusal to allow NATO troops into Serbia to enforce a peace agreement and his recent escalation of the campaign against the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, the White House had no choice but to take part in the NATO bombing.
"I've read about the Holocaust. I look at Rwanda," Cummings said. "We cannot sit idly while people are being slaughtered."
Later, Cummings amended his comments after attending a closed-door military briefing, saying he was more confident in the mission.
Two House Republicans -- Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Baltimore County and Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland -- compared the campaign against Milosevic to earlier bombing against Iraq, which failed to dislodge Saddam Hussein from power. They argued that the airstrikes might strengthen Milosevic's resolve to defy the rest of the world.
Ehrlich complained that neither NATO nor Clinton has effectively addressed the question of what will happen if Milosevic refuses to budge in response to the bombing.
"Not having a second-stage policy goal bothers me," Ehrlich said. "I would have preferred that we not engage our folks in harm's way without a clear military objective."
Bartlett said he thought the airstrikes might achieve another of Clinton's goals -- to demonstrate NATO's commitment to combat ruthless aggression. But, he added, a symbolic show of force would do nothing to halt Serbian aggression or fundamentally alter the balance of power in the Balkans.
"I don't know what basis -- without a declaration of war -- we have bombing a sovereign state and interfering in a civil war," Bartlett said. "These are hostilities that go way back. If we put troops on the ground, and they are there for 14 years and then we pull back, you think anything will have materially changed?"
Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican, sounded a more optimistic note. Even if, after several days, Milosevic has remained resolute, Gilchrest said, NATO will have made an important statement to the world that "ethnic cleansing," even in the context of a civil war, will not be tolerated.
"After four or five days, let's say the bombing stops and Milosevic has done nothing," Gilchrest said. "We've made progress. We've made a commitment to not widening war, to ending genocide, to degrading his capability to wage war."
But some in Congress worried that putting a time limit on the mission sends the wrong signal to Milosevic and may lead him to believe that he can endure the bombing campaign, especially if he thinks it will be relatively short.
"If it takes 15 days, 30 days, 45 days of systematic destruction of his war-making capabilities, we need to stay the course," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat. Hoyer added that he would support the use of U.S. ground troops, if needed to halt the killing. "I would not preclude the use of troops, but I'd be reluctant to see that happen," Hoyer said.
In separate House and Senate votes, the entire Maryland congressional delegation has expressed its support for the U.S. forces involved in the mission. In a more contentious House vote March 11 over whether to permit U.S. troops to take part in a NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, Ehrlich and Bartlett voted "no."
Some Maryland lawmakers expressed concern that NATO was bombing Yugoslavia over the objection of Russia and without the approval of the United Nations Security Council.
"If war breaks out in a larger way and Russia feels isolated or threatened, we've got a larger problem here," Ehrlich said. "It's not the Cold War, but it's something close to it."
Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat who is a strong Clinton supporter, discounted those concerns.
"Neither the U.N. nor Russia dictates our foreign policy," he said. "Our strongest obligation is to NATO."
Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County did not respond to requests for comment.
Neither of Maryland's senators offered comments yesterday. Aides to the two Democrats referred to statements they released earlier.
"NATO is dependent on American involvement in this effort," Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said Wednesday. "Failure to take action could lead to an even greater crisis, the consequences of which are not known."
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said Tuesday that she supported airstrikes for two reasons: Further acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing by the Serbs must be stopped, she said, and a war that could spread and eventually threaten U.S. interests in Europe must be controlled.
Pub Date: 3/26/99