Congress Lets Clinton Lead on Kosovo, for Now Division about Use of Ground Troops Means That It Continues to Defer To

By Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 16, 1999 | Go to article overview

Congress Lets Clinton Lead on Kosovo, for Now Division about Use of Ground Troops Means That It Continues to Defer To


Ann Scott Tyson, Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Narrowing his eyes in a stiff spring breeze, Rep. Eliot Engel (D) of New York stands outside the US Capitol, virtually bristling for a ground war against the Serbian forces of Slobodan Milosevic.

"He's a murderer," says Representative Engel, flanked by ethnic Albanian leaders. Engel backs the NATO bombing in Yugoslavia, he wants Washington to train and arm the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and he urged President Clinton in a letter yesterday to prepare for the contingency of dispatching US ground troops to the region.

But elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Rep. Robin Hayes (R) of North Carolina shakes his head at the idea of deploying American troops. "Let's don't throw our ground troops in there and risk their lives without a clear objective and exit strategy," he says. Deep divisions in Congress over the use of US ground troops in Yugoslavia reflect a similar ambivalence among the American public. Engel, for example, represents a large enclave of more than 20,000 ethnic Albanians in New York. Representative Hayes's district includes Fort Bragg, home to some 47,000 US Army troops including the 82nd Airborne "quick strike folks," who Hayes says would be tapped for Kosovo. Such mixed views also help explain why Congress is taking the back seat to the president in decisionmaking on the Yugoslavia conflict - much as lawmakers have long deferred to the chief executive over questions of the use of American military force. "Generally speaking, the president takes the lead, and Congress follows reluctantly," says Paul Peterson, a government professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. That pattern has persisted for many decades, including during wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, says Mr. Peterson, author of "The President, Congress, and the Making of Foreign Policy." Congress's reaction After a conflict starts, Congress often tones down its criticism in order not to undermine the commander in chief or US military personnel in the field. Only if the president is "clearly off the mark" will Congress intervene during a military operation, as happened during the Vietnam War, says Peterson. That pattern played out this week as top lawmakers stood publicly united - though privately skeptical - over the three-week-old NATO air campaign. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) of Illinois delayed any formal debate or votes on the campaign, citing the president's assurances that the airstrikes are working. Meanwhile, the Clinton administration intensified its briefings of Congress, intended to bolster support for the strikes and secure the $3 billion to $4 billion in emergency funds the Pentagon estimates it needs to pay for them. Defense Secretary William Cohen, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton briefed the House and Senate yesterday. Still, some lawmakers and experts believe that Congress should break with tradition and play a more active decisionmaking role in US military interventions abroad. …

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