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Jewish World Review April 9, 1999 /23 Nissan 5759


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John McCain’s Moment

(JWR) ---- (
DON’T BELIEVE FOR A MINUTE that presidential politics hasn’t played a major secondary role in the Balkans crisis. I don’t care for Arizona’s Sen. John McCain—he’s a weasel who’ll get torn to shreds by the liberal press once they get over his POW status in Vietnam—but he was magnificent both politically and militarily as he appeared on almost every talk show in the past two weeks.

McCain wasn’t in favor of the NATO action, but he reluctantly voted for Clinton’s war in Congress, and then proceeded, without directly criticizing the President, to pulverize the administration’s aimless strategy. Whether it was on Meet the Press, The Today Show or Crossfire, McCain reiterated what’s just common sense: that, with bombing commenced, there had better be a clear goal, even if achieving it means committing ground troops. A few planes dropping bombs from Concorde level wouldn’t deter Milosevic, McCain said, and in war, despite the Lip-Biter’s aversion to blood, Americans had better expect some body bags to return home.

Politically he was brilliant, postponing the official announcement of his candidacy because of the war while his challengers either vaguely supported the President, like George W. Bush, or thundered that we should never have begun the conflagration, like Pat Buchanan. McCain was resolute and clearheaded about the impact the NATO invasion would have on the nation.

Lars-Erik Nelson, in the Daily News last Sunday, seemed like a speechwriter for McCain’s longshot campaign. Extolling the Senator’s advantages in a military crisis, Nelson even took a rare (for him) shot at Clinton: "[McCain] does his homework: when McCain speaks, he is not regurgitating a briefing paper he read the night before or mouthing a poll-tested sound bite written for him by a team of off-stage ventriloquists. He speaks with an almost brutal clarity, tempered by a sense of humor. Arguing for ground troops on CNN’s ‘Crossfire,’ he said, ‘The last time, I think, that air power won was when Zeus used to have an unlimited supply of thunderbolts.’"

After taking a shot at Bush for a "bland statement of support for the troops," Nelson ended his virtual endorsement (at least in the GOP primaries; come next spring, expect him to rally behind Bill Bradley) by saying, "If Bush should falter, McCain has clearly established himself as the top alternative in the GOP. When the guns went off, he was out front, explaining what had to be done to secure U.S. interests. There was nobody else in sight."

Answering questions from Newsweek reporters in their April 12 issue, McCain said: "Our credibility is on the line here—credibility purchased with American blood. Yugoslavia is a country the size of Ohio: the Croatian Army beat these guys. Defeat is just not an option, and Milosevic needs to understand that even if every Kosovar moved out, and every village is burned to the ground, we can get them back in and we will rebuild their homes. There is no alternative to victory here, and the consequences of failure are profound."

I’m a George W. Bush supporter—largely because I think he can win and because he’s proved to be an excellent governor of Texas, reaching out to minorities and supporting immigration while remaining fiscally conservative—and it comes as no surprise that he had a rough week in the press. There were stories about his long-ago engagement to a woman in Texas and about a drunken episode of nude dancing on a bar while in college. But Clinton has lowered the bar so dramatically for presidential candidates that this behavior—especially for a man who’s been faithful to his wife and stopped drinking 12 years ago—is small change.

Al Hunt, The Wall Street Journal’s liberal cross-to-bear (sort of like NYPress’ David Corn, but at least Corn is a stand-up guy with great taste in music), let Bush have it last Thursday. Noting that Bush had nothing specific to say about the Balkans war, Hunt took this as a sign that he’s an empty suit, ignoring his accomplishments in Texas. But what really got my goat was the following paragraph: "And, it is a reminder that Mr. Bush’s greatest strength—his name—also can be an Achilles’ heel. When it comes down to the hot foreign policy issues of the day—the Balkans and China—the Clinton policies, whatever their shortcomings, are superior to the policies of President Bush."

What nonsense. For starters, Gov. Bush is far more conservative than his father and is leading in the polls not just because of his name, but because of the "compassionate conservatism" policies that he espouses.

That slogan causes liberal has-beens like Hunt to snicker, but it resonates with GOP voters and with Reagan Democrats, who are tired of Republican presidential candidates who have platforms that are so narrow—especially on social issues—that they turn off a majority of American citizens. Additionally, how can Hunt claim that Clinton’s foreign policy is superior to President Bush’s? It was Bush who doggedly built a coalition for the Gulf War, over a period of several months, not days, thus building respect internationally for the United States as well as himself. And in the wake of Clinton’s Chinese campaign cash scandals, Hunt should be banished from the Journal’s Washington bureau for making such an absurd and politically charged statement. It must make Robert Bartley, Paul Gigot and John Fund cringe to have to read Hunt’s mushy, and nakedly incorrect, essays every Thursday.

Al From Baltimore Reports

Received your e-mail about the unanimity on the Capital Gang about what a bad job Clinton is doing in the Balkans. Watched the Sunday shows, and that was pretty much the consensus. Even people on Clinton’s side like Sen. Chuck Robb, while not criticizing the Prez, concede that having ground troops ruled out is stupid. Robb noted that Clinton has not used the word "never." Well, here we go again, trying the parse, as we used to say in the good old days of impeachment, the words of that man, Bill Clinton.

No one seems to think what we’re doing is right. There’s the neo-isolationists like Sen. Jim Inhofe, who think we should have never gotten involved in the first place, and then there’s everybody else who thinks that, regardless of whether or not we should be there, we need to finish the job quickly so as to minimize the human suffering of those getting screwed by Milosevic, and to maintain our credibility as a superpower.

If we, in an alliance with 18 other countries, can’t finish off these guys pretty quickly, what are we spending $270 billion on each year? I think it would be irresponsible for the generals in the field to underestimate the enemy, but do we really have to listen to the politicians and pundits who oppose troop deployments scare us with how tough the Serbs are going to be? Shades of the Gulf War. Remember the "elite Republican Guard"? And the dug-in, battle-hardened Iraqi troops?

Now we have to hear about how tough the Serbs are, how Tito evaded Hitler in the mountains for years, how they’ve been fighting for 600 years, how they’re united against us, how they’ll be dug in, blah blah blah. George Will has pointed out that the Germans got to Belgrade from Hungary, our new NATO ally, in days.

The consensus that I think is building quickly is that it was irresponsible to start bombing if there was no contingency for ground troops. The Serbs can choose to let us keep bombing them as long as they want and yield nothing. I’m sure Clinton will try to avoid soldiers on the ground at any cost, but at a certain point, he won’t have any other option.

The problem Republicans have had with Clinton is that he’s co-opted many of their issues and they don’t know how to respond. Clinton’s sexual adventures and his lying and smearing to cover it up turned conservative Republicans into the biggest boosters of our current sexual harassment laws. They missed the perfect opportunity to say, "Yeah, these laws really are excessive." Similarly, when Clinton does finally decide to project U.S. power to maintain Europe’s stability, Republicans should support him—it’s been their policy for over 50 years.

Clinton, too, doesn’t know how to handle being on what for him has always been the wrong side of this issue. His passions are clearly against the projection of U.S. power. I don’t think he can conceive of Americans occupying a foreign country while he’s president. That’s something he would be protesting against—or at a minimum, equivocating about.

Maybe it’s time for the U.S. to be less involved in Europe, but we just don’t leave without making sure the Europeans are prepared to fill the vacuum. To the extent that Europe can’t handle this on its own, or provide the necessary leadership, it’s because our country has been doing that for them for half a century. We can’t abdicate our responsibility overnight.

Watching Clinton squirm, lie and otherwise screw up during his impeachment ordeal was kind of fun. This is serious business. The day of the genial feel-good president may be ending presently. Even I will take no pleasure in seeing Clinton’s popularity drop if it’s at the expense of many Yugoslavian lives and our determination to project American power abroad.

JWR contributor "Mugger" is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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©1999, Russ Smith