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'We Cannot Do Everything . . . but We Must Do What We Can'

April 02, 1999| From Associated Press

Excerpts from President Clinton's remarks Thursday to the Norfolk (Va.) Naval Base as transcribed by the Federal Document Clearing House:

Let me say to all of you, I came here today primarily to thank two groups of people: our men and women in uniform and their families for the service and sacrifice that makes America strong.

I don't think that anyone could say it better than this lady over here with this beautiful baby in the red hat with the "I miss you, Daddy" sign.

The mission I have asked our armed forces to carry out with our NATO allies is a dangerous one, as I have repeatedly said. Danger is something the brave men and women of our country's armed forces understand because you live with it everyday, even in routine training exercises.

Warning About 3 Soldiers

Now we all know that yesterday three Army infantrymen were seized as they were carrying out a peaceful mission in Macedonia protecting that country from the violence in neighboring Kosovo. There was absolutely no basis for them to be taken. There is no basis for them to be held. There is certainly no basis for them to be tried.

All Americans are concerned about their welfare. President [Slobodan] Milosevic should make no mistake: The United States takes care of its own.

And President Milosevic should make no mistake: We will hold him and his government responsible for their safety and for their well being.

But I ask you also to resolve that we will continue to carry out our mission with determination and resolve. Over the past few weeks, I have been talking with the American people about why we're involved with our NATO allies in Kosovo and the risks of our mission and why they're justified.

It's especially important that I speak to you and through you to all men and women in uniform about these matters. The roots of this conflict lie in the policies of Mr. Milosevic, the dictator of Serbia.

For more than 10 years now, he has been using ethnic and religious hatred as a path to personal power and a justification for the ethnic cleansing and murder of innocent civilians. That is what he did first in Bosnia and Croatia, where the United States with our allies did so much to end the war. And that is what he is doing in Kosovo today.

For months, we tried and tried and tried every conceivable peaceful alternative. We did everything we could through diplomacy to solve this problem.

. . . While pretending to negotiate for peace, [Milosevic] massed 40,000 troops and hundreds of tanks in and around Kosovo, planning a new campaign of destruction and defiance. He started carrying out that campaign the moment the peace talks ended.

Now the troops and police of the Serbian dictator are rampaging through tiny Kosovo, separating men from their families, executing many of them in cold blood; burning homes, sometimes, we now hear, with people inside; forcing survivors to leave everything behind; confiscating their identity papers; destroying their records so their history and their property is erased forever.

Yesterday Mr. Milosevic actually said this problem can only be solved by negotiations. But yesterday, as he said that, his forces continued to hunt down the very Kosovar leaders with whom he was supposed to be negotiating.

Altogether now, more than half a million Kosovars have been pushed from their homes. . . . NATO's military action has at least given them some hope that they have not been completely abandoned in their suffering.

Had we not acted, the Serbian offensive would have been carried out with impunity. We are determined that it will carry a very high price indeed.

We also act to prevent a wider war. If you saw my address to the country the other night and the maps that I showed, you know that Kosovo is a very small place, but it sits right at the dividing line of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the dividing line between Islam and Christianity, close to our Turkish and Greek allies to the south, our new allies Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to the north, surrounded by small and struggling democracies that easily could be overwhelmed by the flood of refugees Mr. Milosevic is creating.

If we were to do nothing, eventually our allies and then the United States would be drawn into a larger conflict at far greater risks to our people and far greater cost.

Objective of the Mission

Now, we can't respond to every tragedy in every corner of the world. But just because we can't do everything for everyone doesn't mean that, for the sake of consistency, we should do nothing for no one.

Our objective is to restore the Kosovars to their homes with security and self-government. Our bombing campaign is designed to exact an unacceptably high price for Mr. Milosevic's present policy.

Remember that the unity, the freedom, the prosperity, the peace of Europe is important to the future of the children in this room today. That is, in the end, what this is about.

This is something we are doing to try to avoid in the 21st century the kind of widespread war, large American casualties and heartbreak that we saw too much of in the century we are about to leave. So this is not just about a small piece of the Balkans.

We cannot do everything in the world, but we must do what we can.

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