No-confidence vote for a waffling House

Muddled on Kosovo: Irresponsible action shows why Congress is not trusted with foreign policy.

April 30, 1999

SERBIA'S dictator Slobodan Milosevic could take no comfort from the NATO summit, which displayed unanimous resolve for the bombing campaign to reverse his depopulation of Kosovo. He got it instead from the U.S. House of Representatives' muddled voting Wednesday.

The House defeated, on a 213-213 tie, a resolution passed by the Senate endorsing the purpose of the bombing. It voted 249-180 against paying for a ground operation unless the president obtains congressional approval (as he had already promised). It voted 290-139 against withdrawing troops and almost unanimously against declaring war.

This earned the jibe of a White House spokesman that the House had voted against going forward or backward, and tied on standing still. What the House did not do was repudiate Serbia's genocide, endorse NATO's decisions, support the U.S. personnel in harm's way or offer an alternative policy.

The debate in the House pretended to be about unilateral U.S. action and ignored NATO allies. Republicans and Democrats in equally substantial numbers crossed party lines. This was congressional, not opposition Republican, irresponsibility.

The White House is pursuing an inherited policy. When President George Bush refrained from action in Bosnia, he warned Mr. Milosevic that any future Serbian action against Albanian citizens of Kosovo would bring U.S. military response in Kosovo and Serbia proper. President Clinton kept President Bush's word. The House of Representatives ignored that.

The Senate and House are in the process of doubling the $6 billion that President Clinton seeks in emergency funding for the aerial operations and aid to refugees. That is not a bad idea, in that the final cost will be much higher.

But the political tactic is to add salary increases and pork projects that have nothing to do with operations. This trivializes the catastrophe in Eastern Europe.

The White House does not get high marks in foreign policy, having lacked plans and miscalculated the effects of bombing.

But Congress gets a failing grade. It is not coming to grips with the problem, merely pointing blame in a contradictory manner. Congress seems to be telling President Milosevic rather than President Clinton to stay the course.

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