Fateful Decisions: Inside the National Security Council

By Karl F. Inderfurth; Loch K. Johnson | Go to book overview

21
SAMUEL R. BERGER

R.W. Apple, Jr.

Samuel R. Berger became one of the most active national security advisers in the history
of the NSC, almost matching Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski in his assertive-
ness as a policy counselor and media spokesman. A political activist and international
trade lawyer based in Washington, D.C., before he became adviser, "Sandy" Berger
proved skillful at relating to Congress as well as working closely with his longtime friend,
President Bill Clinton.


A DOMESTIC SORT WITH
GLOBAL WORRIES

WASHINGTON—When President Clinton made a televised address to the nation about Kosovo last March 24, he uttered a sentence for which he was belabored that day and every day for the next 10 weeks, until he finally declared victory on June 10: "I do not intend to put our troops in Kosovo to fight a war."

On May 18, with the outcome of the bombing campaign still in serious doubt, the President sharply altered course with the comment, "I don't think we or our allies should take any options off the table, and that has been my position from the beginning," which of course it had not.

It was Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, known as Sandy, who wrote the initial offending sentence. Both he and his boss saw fairly quickly that it was a mistake, because they realized that having plunged into the conflict with President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, there was no acceptable alternative to a NATO victory. If ground troops were needed to get the Serbian tanks out of Kosovo, then ground troops it would have to be.

Mr. Milosevic may well have held out longer than he otherwise would have because he believed that he faced no danger of land combat, and he certainly gained time to savage ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and drive them out. Mr. Berger told a friend as early as April that he should have put in something about leaving all options on the table.

He did not do so, Mr. Berger said a few days after the bombing had stopped, because "the American people would not have supported the war without European participation, and we never could have gotten all 19 allies on board at the outset if they thought we had any plan to use ground forces." In keeping with that view, Mr. Clinton cut his rhetorical cloth to fit the politics of both NATO and the United States.

The explosion of criticism crossed party and ideological lines. In an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, accused the Administration of indulging in "a new technological racism" based on the premise that the life of "one American serviceman was not worth risking in order to save the lives of thousands of Kosovars." The Economist headlined an editorial, "A Bungled War." Michael Kelly, a columnist, suggested that a ham and cheese sandwich could run foreign policy better than Mr. Berger and his colleagues.

Mr. Berger's place at the nexus of Kosovo strategy was no surprise, nor was his concentration on the political aspects of the matter. Widely regarded as the President's closest foreign-policy aide, perhaps the most

From R.W. Apple, Jr., "A Domestic Sort With Global Worries," New York Times (August 25, 1999), A1.

R.W. "Johnny" Apple, Jr., is an experienced correspondent for the New York Times.

-208-

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