Lesson time for Congress, too

April 05, 1999|By Tony Snow

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton has taken a justifiable drubbing for the Yugo-slaughter, but he isn't the only one who deserves a trip to the woodshed.

Most congressional Republicans are guilty of appalling cynicism and silence. They figure President Clinton has hugged the tar baby in the Balkans and they want to watch him writhe.

But the fun's over. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic didn't wave the white flag when our bombers arrived; he waved the bloody shirt and ordered his troops to conduct their version of Sherman's march into Kosovo.

Now, it's our move -- and the Constitution puts the onus on Congress. When honorables return from their Easter vacations, they must decide whether President Milosevic's provocations mean war.

Recent Congresses have taken war powers seriously. Democrats tied Ronald Reagan's hands with the so-called Boland Amendments and repeatedly denied requests to arm Nicaragua's Contras. They made the wrong decision, but at least they debated and voted.

War resolution

Similarly, Congress barely approved George Bush's request to get behind Operation Desert Storm. In both cases, presidents pleaded their own cases. Since Mr. Clinton hasn't figured out how to justify the latest hostilities, Congress must make him do so by debating a war resolution. Here are the key considerations: What is our precise military objective in Kosovo? Do we want to drive Serbian forces out of the province and repatriate the Albanians? Kiss off Kosovo, and protect Albanian refugees in Macedonia and elsewhere? Grab part of Kosovo and leave the rest to Milosevic forces?

Do we want either side to win this war? Or will we cling to the odd notion that we want Kosovo Albanians to enjoy autonomy, but not independence?

How many troops would we need?

Do we have that many people immediately available, or would we have to snatch folks from other hot spots, such as the Korean peninsula?

How long would it take to deploy an invading force?

Do we have enough equipment and supplies to sustain an overseas operation?

How many reserves would we need?

Do we have the budget to stay the course?

How long would it take to establish a chain of command?

Who would be in charge? The maximum leader at this moment is a Spanish socialist, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. He calls the shots after consulting with his constituent heads of state.

Although there are many things on this earth one can run by committee, a war is not one of them. Someone must control the action -- and in this case, that someone ought to be an American.

What would be an acceptable number of casualties on our side? Would we back off if 1,000 of our troops died? Ten thousand?

How would we define victory? How would we get our troops out? How would we prevent the spread of militant Islam into Europe? If we decided not to take on Mr. Milosevic, would we whip up even greater anti-American fervor among Islamic militants around the world?

How would we prevent nationalist groups in the area from waging their own wars of liberation and demanding our support?

How would we keep Russia from becoming an enemy again?

How long would we stay after achieving peace? Would we establish new military bases in such places as Macedonia? Would the endgame be to establish a permanent presence in the area -- make it a sort of Eurasian version of South Korea?

In combat, as in everything else, President Clinton has led a charmed life. He has dispatched troops to dozens of theaters of battle, with little to show for it. Haiti is as big a mess as before we got involved. Ditto Rwanda. Somalia. Iraq.


We bombed Sudan and Afghanistan to push Monica off the top of the front page. These incursions cost billions of dollars but didn't hurt the president's standing at home.

But Mr. Milosevic is different. He's tougher than, say, a Republican. He doesn't care about bogus stories planted in the press. He doesn't give a fig for poll data. He doesn't swoon over Bill Clinton's political genius. When someone pops him, he fights back and takes prisoners.

Mr. Clinton has put us in a huge mess, but that doesn't mean Republicans can just sit back and watch the spectacle. They have a job to do. They must determine whether this is or isn't war -- and whether we should or shouldn't stay.

No matter what the final outcome, it's cowardly and unpatriotic for partisans to hold their tongues just so President Clinton will take a hit in the polls.

Tony Snow writes a syndicated column.

Pub Date: 4/05/99

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