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Jewish World Review/ Feb. 18, 1999/ 2 Adar, 5759

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez 50 years and trillions of dollars up in smoke --- literally?

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) MORE U.S. TROOPS MAY SOON HEAD TO THE BALKANS to monitor yet another fragile peace agreement in that war torn region, this time to Kosovo -- a region of southern Serbia bordered by Albania and Macedonia.

On Saturday, President Clinton announced he will send 4,000 U.S. troops to Kosovo as part of a 28,000 person NATO peace-keeping force, if the Serbs and ethnic Albanians can reach an agreement to end hostilities in the year-long civil war in Kosovo. Serbs must meet a Feb. 20 deadline to settle their dispute with the Kosovo Liberation Army or face likely U.S.-supported NATO air strikes. Either way, the United States is now deeply enmeshed in the Kosovo situation, which troubles many members of Congress and foreign-policy experts.

The recent fighting between Serbian troops and the Kosovo Liberation Army is only one year old, but the hostilities go back centuries. Like much of the region, ethnic and religious differences have divided one group from the other since the Ottoman invasion in the 14th Century.

Kosovo itself was the sight of two famous battles, one in 1389 and the other in 1448, in which Serbian Christians were defeated by the Ottoman Moslems. Today, the Serbs are still Orthodox Christians, while the ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the population of two million people living in Kosovo, are Moslem.

For years under former Yugoslavian dictator Josef Broz Tito, Kosovans were allowed some ethnic autonomy. But in 1989, Kosovans lost their status when Serbian strong-man Slobodan Milosevic began his own campaign to create a Greater Serbia out of the former Yugoslavia, first taking on Slovenians, Croatians, and Bosnians, and now ethnic Albanians. What makes the current situation so volatile is that fighting could spread beyond the borders of Kosovo into neighboring Albania and Macedonia, which might in turn ignite age-old hostilities between Turkey and Greece.

Although Clinton asserted in his Saturday address that it is in the "national interest" to send U.S. troops to Kosovo, he has done a poor job explaining why. Even those members of Congress who support his action are wary. "The Balkans is a place you can go and you can get lost and never be seen again or heard from again," cautioned New York Democrat Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said he supports the troop deployment in order to prevent armed conflict from spreading in the region, but warned: "We have no exit strategy. We have no concept of how we want to settle this situation."

Ever since the Vietnam War, it has become almost an article of faith of American foreign policy that the we must know how to extricate ourselves before we commit troops anywhere. But this so-called exit strategy is "an utterly false issue," according to foreign policy expert Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Muravchik observes that the United States has successfully stationed troops in Europe and Japan for more than 50 years with no serious thought about an exit strategy. If a few more American troops dispersed to the Balkans can prevent violence from spreading, it is well worth the investment in Muravchik's view.

"It doesn't cost much more to station them there than in Kansas," he told me in an interview, noting that the U.S. presence in Western Europe for the last 50 years has essentially ended the pattern of war between European nations that has gone on for centuries. "When we send U.S. troops somewhere it ought to be the other guys who start thinking about their exit strategy," he said.

The prospect of a widening war -- especially one that could ultimately pit NATO allies Turkey and Greece against each other -- makes it imperative that the United States step into the Kosovan conflict now. But the president must do a better job than he has so far of explaining to the American people why this intervention is necessary. He could do that first by asking Congress to vote to support his deployment of U.S. troops, rather than asserting that he can make the decision on his own. And he should avoid making a phony promise that he will bring them home quickly, as he did when he sent U.S. troops to Bosnia three years ago. That promise, since broken, will be used against him now.

The United States has invested more than 50 years and trillions of dollars in keeping the peace in Europe. The president must now convince the American people that this is not the time to abandon our commitment.


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