House vote to test war's support today

Measure seeking pullout of forces could draw considerable backing

April 28, 1999|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Five weeks into the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, a substantial and apparently growing band of critics in Congress is calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the conflict.

Though not a majority in either house, members of what might be dubbed the "Out Now" caucus represent an unusual bipartisan coalition of isolationists and anti-war legislators whose opposition to the NATO effort is becoming increasing vocal.

A House measure calling for an immediate pullout of U.S. forces could draw considerable support today when it comes up for a vote.

Among the "Out Now" arguments: The bombing campaign is unconstitutional because it was not approved by Congress.

The anti-war faction also says the bombing has failed to achieve President Clinton's objective of ending the ethnic violence in Kosovo and bringing peace to Yugoslavia.

The anti-war coalition includes conservative Republicans such as Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland, as well as conservative Democrats and a few liberal Democrats who have opposed U.S. military intervention in the region all along.

`Not an emperor

"A number of us are very concerned about the constitutional issues," Bartlett said. "We elect a president, not an emperor. If we let him do this single-handedly, what else will we allow him to do?"

The lack of a quick victory in NATO's campaign against Serbia and growing concern that ground forces may be necessary have swelled the ranks of war critics.

"The importance of the issue is heightened by the fact that a ground war is very close to starting," said Rep. Tom Campbell, a California Republican who is trying to force Congress to take a clear stand on what the U.S. role in Kosovo should be.

"Would any of us be surprised if a ground war started tomorrow?" Campbell asked his colleagues yesterday on the House International Relations Committee. "The president has said he has the authority to do so."

Republican Rep. Charlie Norwood, a Georgia conservative who has also been pushing his colleagues to speak out on the issue, echoed that sense of urgency.

"We have choices right now," Norwood said. "Once we've got a quarter of a million Americans on the ground in Yugoslavia, we'll have no choices. We'll have to win it. And what will we have won? The occupation will last so long my grandson will be serving over there."

Congressional leaders, despite some private doubts, are trying to maintain a united front in support of NATO. For weeks, they have been maneuvering to avoid a vote that would undercut Clinton in the midst of the conflict.

Ground troops

Among several alternative proposals scheduled to be considered by the House today, the measure given the best chance of gaining approval is one that would postpone any formal action by Congress on the use of ground troops in Yugoslavia.

Under that proposal, deployment of ground forces would be prohibited without specific congressional authorization. But the proposal would require Senate approval and Clinton's signature to become law.

The administration maintains that Clinton has the authority to order troops without prior congressional approval.

More significant than the outcome of today's House vote, though, is a growing willingness in Congress to publicly criticize NATO's military intervention in the Balkans, even among some lawmakers who supported the airstrikes.

"The reason I supported the airstrikes was to protect the people in Kosovo, but they're not there any more: they're dead or they're refugees," said Democratic Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who now wants the bombing to stop.

`Great concern'

"I sense great conflict, great chagrin, great concern among my colleagues that this isn't going to do it and we're going to get into a wider war by creeping incrementalism," said Cleland, a veteran who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam.

Lawmakers with ethnic ties to the Balkans have been among the more outspoken critics of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, a Ohio Democrat of Croatian descent, pleaded in vain for a halt to the bombing campaign over Orthodox Easter. He complains that the bombing is now punishing ordinary Serbs, not the Yugoslav army. He's planning to vote today for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio, a Republican presidential candidate with family ties to Croatia, is leading the drive on the House floor to require congressional approval for ground forces.

Bigger than Kosovo

"Military escalation is neither in the national interest nor can it achieve long-term peace in the region," Kasich told the House yesterday. "The problem is bigger than Kosovo. We need an immediate settlement before this becomes a wider conflict."

Rep. Rod R. Blagojevich, the Illinois Democrat who is the only House member of Serbian descent, wants Kosovo to be partitioned as a way to avoid the introduction of ground troops.

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