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Which Side Are You On, Boys?

Kosovo: The GOP, with some Democratic aid, has turned its back on the president and U.S. armed forces.

April 30, 1999|BILL PRESS | Bill Press is co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" and a syndicated columnist

Somewhere in his presidential palace in Belgrade, Slobodan Milosevic has a framed photo of House Republican leaders J. Dennis Hastert, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay.

If not, he should have. They're his best friends in Washington. In the current conflict, they're on his side, not on the side of the United States.

Applying President Roosevelt's eternal phrase to the war in Kosovo, April 28 is "a day which will live in infamy"--the first time in history the House has turned its back on a president and on our brave men and women in uniform in the middle of a war. And Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, Majority Leader Dick Armey and Whip Tom DeLay, both of Texas, led the retreat. If American soldiers did such a thing on the field of battle, they'd be shot as deserters.

Consider what the Republicans did. First, by a vote of 249-180 (with the help of 45 Democrats), they rejected the future deployment of ground troops in Kosovo, without congressional authorization. Then, in a 213-213 vote, 26 Democrats joining, they refused to support airstrikes already underway--even though the Senate already endorsed airstrikes on March 23.

In so doing, Republicans undermined the authority of both the president and the Pentagon. Telling them, in effect, you can't ever use ground troops, without getting our permission first. And, meanwhile, you can't use air forces, either. What's left in Kosovo? Sending in the League of Women Voters? This is a hell of a way to conduct a war!

The Republicans' message is clear--to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and to the American people.

To Milosevic, the message is: Don't worry about winning this war, we'll win it for you by cutting the legs out from under our president and our troops. In fact, Slobo, we're telling you right now: we're not serious about this war and we have no intention of winning it because we'll never do what it takes to win. So relax, ol' buddy.

In wartime, there's a word for giving aid and comfort to the enemy and it carried quite a penalty.

To the American people, the message is: Impeachment fever lives. We are still motivated by our hatred for Bill Clinton. That's what drives our decision-making. We are against everything Clinton is for, period. We prefer Milosevic's genocide to Clinton's misbehavior.

In wartime or peacetime, there's a word for putting naked partisan politics over the good of the country. It's called betrayal.

Of course, there are legitimate doubts, in the minds of many Americans, about Operation Allied Force. Doubts about the conduct of the war: Why aren't airstrikes more effective? Why weren't ground troops planned from the beginning? And doubts about whether the United States should be involved in the first place: Are we getting bogged down in another foreign civil war? Should NATO become an offensive, not just a defensive, military alliance? Have we in fact strengthened rather than weakened Milosevic?

But the time for that debate in Congress was before the war, not during. Imagine how demoralizing it must be for a young American pilot, risking his life every day in the skies over Serbia, to know the legislators refuse to support the sacrifice he's making. What ever became of patriotism? Today, patriotism has been replaced by politics.

It's not like Kosovo is some fickle folly. What's taking place in Kosovo is what we once promised ourselves we would "never again" let happen. As Democrat David E. Bonior of Michigan argued: "Some say the suffering Kosovars are not America's responsibility. That the gang rapes, the burned villages, the mass graves are not our problem. We are a superpower at the peak of our prosperity and strength. What is America supposed to do? Look the other way?"

Fortunately, one Republican leader has the courage to stand up to his cowardly colleagues. Maybe because he's an American war hero himself. In contrast to the total abdication of Hastert, Armey and DeLay, Arizona Sen. John McCain has introduced a resolution in the Senate authorizing the president to "use all necessary force."

McCain's logic is simple: We're in a war, we've got to do everything necessary to win it. McCain's right. All the rest are wrong.

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