Politics of War

Article excerpt

President Clinton's policy in Kosovo has created strange bedfellows in all corners of the political universe. Whether right or left, no one is satisfied with the war.

Easter 1999 -- from the refugee-choked roads of Kosovo to the pundit-filled TV studios of Washington, a terrible confusion is born. President Clinton's military policies in the Balkans have drawn a widely varied response across the political spectrum as the already-confusing smorgasbord of post-Cold War ideological arrangements has been jumbled by U.S. actions against Yugoslavia.

The bombing reportedly was meant to halt Serbian "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo. But as the military offensive escalated, the forced exodus of ethnic Albanians from the tortured province escalated. Across the political landscape, politicians and commentators were forced to confront a world in which old ideological nostrums and policy shibboleths have been turned upside down and shaken very hard.

Democrats, Republicans and the respective fringes of the political spectrum all were treading carefully. But Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona found his faltering presidential bid boosted when he became the leading TV proponent of U.S. intervention among the GOP White House contenders. At the same time, some establishment Republicans privately worried that protracted U.S. involvement or abject U.S. failure could boost the prospects of such longtime anti-interventionists as Patrick Buchanan. And Vice President Al Gore finds himself in a familiar position -- entangled like poor Hubert Humphrey in the for tunes of his chief, for good or for ill.

On the right, the post-Cold War split between pro- and anti-interventionists -- a sundering that also appeared nine years ago during the Persian Gulf War -- continued to manifest itself, albeit with a somewhat different configuration. On the left, antiwar groups lined up against the president, only to find themselves temporarily without Capitol Hill support as Democratic lawmakers opted to back the administration. Both sides of the aisle faced the prospect of a costly military intervention effectively canceling hopes for either a Republican tax cut or a Democratic increase in social spending.

Official Washington buzzed and the Kosovo intervention suddenly had replaced the various Clinton scandals as prime fodder for the policy and punditry animals. Some commentators openly stated that both Democrats and Republicans among the foreign-policy establishment had realized that a true disaster could result from a failure of the bombing campaign, leading them to unite behind support for victory, even if it requires involvement of U.S. ground forces.

Many who do not habitate halls of power object to this. Thomas Fleming, president of the conservative Rockford Institute in Illinois and editor of Chronicles, tells Insight that "Clinton needs to get off the macho high horse he created with his incompetent diplomacy. He created a bad situation with hundreds of civilians killed, thousands injured and hundreds of thousands having lost their homes." Fleming, a longtime critic of interventionists in both parties, says the president's comparison of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic with Adolf Hitler is absurd. "The death rate in Kosovo before the bombing was lower than the murder rate in D.C."

A growing number quietly are sharing the basics of Fleming's critique of the Clinton administration's actions leading up to the air war. With reports that both the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency opposed the bombing coming in the wake of a peculiar televised CBS interview in which the president compared himself with Franklin Roosevelt and King David, and linked the war against Serbia with an effort to combat domestic hate crimes, even Clinton supporters are wary of giving him an unchecked hand. ("FDR and King David won their wars" a fellow at a Washington liberal think tank remarks sardonically.)

So when it comes to long-term political consequences of the air war, it is simply too early to tell. …

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