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Jewish World Review March 29, 1999 /12 Nissan 5759

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And the senators pressed on

(JWR) ---- (
KEY MEMBERS OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE sat slack-jawed through a confidential briefing last Thursday from the Clinton administration foreign-policy team.

They were waiting for some sign that the president and his advisers knew why they wanted to bomb Kosovo and possibly send troops there. Presidential mouthpieces previously had described our mission to Dalmatia either as a humanitarian gesture, an effort to avert World War III or a favor to NATO.

But senators figured the White House was holding back some secret information that would silence critics on Capitol Hill.

They were wrong.

After the foreign-policy wise men asserted that the United States has a moral imperative to stop the murderous Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, one senator asked: How many Albanians have Milosevic's troops massacred this year?

The president's emissaries turned ashen. They glanced at each other. They rifled through their papers. One hazarded a guess: "Two thousand?" No, the senator replied, that was the number for all of last year. He wanted figures for the last month -- or even the year to date, since the president had painted such a grisly picture of genocide in his March 24 address to the nation. Said Clinton, "We've seen innocent people taken from their homes, forced to kneel in the dirt and sprayed with bullets; Kosovar men dragged from their families, fathers and sons together lined up and shot in cold blood."

The senator pressed on. How often have such slaughters occurred? Nobody knew. As it turns out, Kosovo has been about as bloody this year as, say, Atlanta. You can measure the deaths not in the hundreds, but dozens. (I'm not trying to deny Milosevic's brutality here; only provide some comparisons.) More people died last week in Borneo than have expired this year in Kosovar bloodshed -- more died in a single Russian bomb blast; in a single outburst of violence in East Timor; in a single day in Rwanda. China has been bloodier this year.

This is a case of rhetoric outracing facts. A U.S. military officer distributed a briefing paper last year that described the nature of Balkan hostilities: "The term 'ethnic cleansing' is frequently misused. While it certainly includes wholesale slaughter, it really entails all activities to remove one ethnic group from a particular area.

"The Serbs were often able to 'cleanse' an area without a lot of killing, simply by providing a show of force and then allowing an escape route for displaced Muslims to depart an area. The Serbs are employing ethnic cleansing in Kosovo today. But the Serbs aren't the only guilty parties. Their Croat and Muslim adversaries have each mimicked the Serb ethnic-cleansing techniques."

The administration fumbled with other obvious questions posed by the senators: Why now? What should Milosevic do to halt the air strikes: halt hostilities, withdraw troops or return to the peace table?

This kind of confusion is giving everyone the jitters -- Congress, military planners and our allies. The president, far from looking like the Prince of Peace, increasingly behaves like Atilla the Hick -- a man who vents his rages by bombing enemies, often without clear purpose. The commander in chief has become the vengeful god of etiquette: Miss Manners with missiles. Moreover, we may have created the very situation we set out to avoid.

Violence has begun to dance across the region, like sparks in a wildfire. Macedonian protesters lobbed fire bombs and debris at our embassy in Skopje, which ought to be a cause of concern, since we're using Macedonia as the staging area for our ground troops.

Russia has began uttering loud threats, which may or may not be backed up by action. Albanian Kosovars have lost the protection of Western diplomats and observers, which means the conflict has made them less safe, at least in the short run. And NATO has begun to fray ever so slightly. Italy wants the hostility to cease and peace talks to resume, pronto.

Administration officials seem certain of their righteousness but can't find the words to express what they wish to convey. They need to find their words if they hope to avoid a grievous loss of legitimacy.

A president must inspire and unite a nation before going to war. This incursion makes us an aggressor for the first time in our history (if you don't count the Spanish-American War), and ground troops already have begun receiving orders to ship out to Kosovo. Democrats and Republicans desperately want a reason to support the commander in chief, but as one key politician said of the administration after the briefing, "They've got to do a lot better than this."


03/25/99: Moronic meddling
03/22/99: Kangas, the Left’s ‘Foster’? More like a diligent nut
03/18/99: Does Forbes have a chance?
03/15/99: Team Clinton aren’t treasonists ...
03/11/99: Blackmun’s burden
03/08/99: The Lewinsky Principle
03/05/99: Buchanan & Ventura’s lure
03/01/99: Open season on women
02/25/99: The birth of political wisdom
02/22/99: Children of optimism
02/18/99: Wake up, Republicans!
02/16/99: Why we feel so good
02/11/99: What exactly does George W. stand for?
02/08/99: Run, GOPers, run?
02/04/99: The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore
02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate