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Jewish World Review March 30, 1999 /13 Nissan 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg
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But can he convince himself?

(JWR) ---- (
KOSOVO PRESENTED THE U.S. SENATE with some hard choices: war or peace, life or death. Would this country stand by still again while war spread and the innocent were massacred, or risk American lives for uncertain results? For once the dogs of war are loosed, there is no telling whom they may rend.

One by one, the senators were called on to make their decision. Some followed their party, others their conscience. Some weighed strategy, others morality. But all went on record, and can be held accountable for their decision as this drama is played out.

Not a single senator abstained. Not one took refuge in the sort of equivocal statement that allows politicians to dodge a critical issue. Not one twisted and turned, waffled and weaved. Agree or disagree, each took a stand. For that, all can be respected.

Not one senator took refuge in the kind of foggy rhetoric that blurs responsibility. For example: "I agree with the people in the minority on the resolution -- that we should give sanctions more time and maybe even explore a full-scale embargo ... before we go to war (but) I guess I would have voted with the majority if it was a close vote.`

You figure that one out. It's the circuitous "position'' Bill Clinton took when, still governor of a small Southern state, he was asked in January of '91 whether he was for or against using force in the Persian Gulf. Asked point blank to say which side he would have supported, to quote the AP, "Clinton declined to say how he would have voted.'' He made it clear only that he was for, against, and neutral, maybe.

Given orders like that now, American pilots would still be sitting on the tarmac. Or maybe flying in endless circles. To quote a headline from January of '91: "Clinton Waffles on War Decision.'' Only later, after victory was secured, did he rally to the winning side. Call it retroactive leadership. Let it never be said that Bill Clinton would abandon his countrymen in their hour of triumph.

Let us now praise the U.S. Senate. It did not play games with war or peace. It voted -- 58 to 41 -- to support the president, the Atlantic alliance, American commitments and a cast of mind and soul that has been loosely referred to as Western civilization. Those in the minority took their stand with the country's old isolationist instincts, with America's traditional wariness of entangling alliances, with their doubts about this president and this dangerous, open-ended course. They, too, had their reasons.

But when the roll was called up yonder, none flinched, none evaded. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Clarity is not easily come by in this dissembling decade, aka the Age of Clinton.

Addressing the nation Wednesday night, Bill Clinton was still editing history. Offering a hopeful precedent, he spoke of how the fighting in Bosnia had finally been stopped by a show of force. There was no need to go into detail: The carnage in that poor, vivisected country was allowed to go on for four years, for bloody month after month, massacre after massacre, because a rudderless West wouldn't do anything but dilly-dally. And Bill Clinton was the equivocator-in-chief.

This week, when he spoke about Kosovo, the president's words were convincing, and would have been even more so from another speaker. Because it's hard to separate the speech from the speaker. The two tend to merge into one, indivisible whole -- like integrity, like character, like a sense of honor.

Another disconcerting note: Even while speaking nobly of this military campaign as a "moral imperative,'' Bill Clinton was tying one arm behind his back. "I do not intend,'' he pledged, "to use American troops in Kosovo to fight a war.'' Even if he doesn't, why tell the enemy? Why not keep 'em guessing, perhaps even a little fearful? Why not give 'em a bloody good reason to make peace before the Yanks arrive in full force?

And why the inevitable Clinton clause, "I do not intend,'' instead of the simple vow, "I will not''? Is this president still putting political viability ahead of all else by making a commitment that really isn't? Can he still be waffling after all these years? Maybe it's force of habit.

But now the decision has been made. American forces are in action together with those of our allies. When it comes to supporting this new policy in the Balkans with unswerving determination, here's hoping that the president convinced the American people -- and Bill Clinton.


03/26/99: Short bursts
03/24/99: Once more into the quagmire
03/17/99: Big time in Little Rock
03/15/99: Our own Roger Taney
03/09/99: A different ‘Waterfront’
03/05/99: Law and disorder
2/26/99: King Richard's revenge
2/25/99: Open season on the fetus, and a good word for the pagans
2/23/99: It never ends: Here comes the judge
2/19/99: After the storm: Going through the debris
2/17/99: Where's the closure?
2/12/99: Hussein the Hashemite: The wiliest player on the board
2/09/99: The social security game
2/04/99: Our own Inspector Clouseau
2/01/99: Night scene, night thoughts
1/28/99: The decay of the art of lying
1/26/99: Impeachment: Short subjects
1/22/99: Bounce, glitz and tedium: The State of the Disunion
1/20/99: Destructive engagement: How to encourage tyranny
1/18/99: Martin Luther King: The radical as conservative?
1/11/99: Why America is apathetic about Bill's date with destiny
1/06/99:The year of Moronica
1/04/99: Clinton’s janitorial crew of two
12/29/98:The Senate will be on trial, too
12/29/98:A look down the avenue
12/22/98: The surreal impeachment
12/17/98: Another moment of truth approaches
12/15/98: The President's defenders: witnesses for the prosecution
12/10/98:The latest miracle cure: CensurePlus
12/03/98: Sentences at an airport Sentences at an airport
12/03/98: Games lawyers play
12/01/98: Ms. Magoo strikes again, or: Janet Reno and the law
11/26/98: The most American holiday
11/23/98: Same game, another round
11/18/98: Guide to the perplexed
11/09/98: A vote for apathy
11/03/98: Global village goes Clintonesque
11/02/98: Farewell to all that
10/30/98: New budget, same swollen government
10/26/98: Of life on the old plantation -- and death in the Middle East
10/22/98: Starr Wars (CONT'D)
10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate