March 23, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton will try on Tuesday to clear up any mixed messages that Yugoslav President might be getting from Washington over U.S. resolve to use force if necessary to end the crisis in Kosovo.
Clinton will consult in the morning with the bipartisan leadership of Congress. He hopes to win a statement that will send a signal to Belgrade that both the House and Senate will support the White House and NATO should airstrikes be launched against Serb forces.
A divided Senate on Monday debated the propriety of airstrikes, with several Republicans expressing reservations about committing U.S. military forces to carry out the dangerous attacks.
"I'm afraid we may be starting something we can't get out of," Sen. Don Nickles (R-Oklahoma) said during debate on whether to block funding for military action in Kosovo unless it was authorized by Congress.
"If we start a massive bombing campaign, we're going to war," Nickles said.
Several senators called for a congressional vote on authorization before any U.S. troops are committed to what they said was essentially a civil war.
"I don't think the president has a right to declare war, and under the constitution he certainly doesn't," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said. "And under the War Powers Act, it takes an emergency. This is not an emergency."
Lawmakers also faulted President Clinton for failing to consult Congress, and questioned whether the United States and NATO should bomb the Yugoslavian Serbs into signing a peace agreement they did not want.
"That's a precedent I don't want to be involved in," said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who added he did not believe NATO's charter allowed for offensive military actions.
But several other senators said the time for congressional debate had passed, as the bombing was imminent and senators needed to offer their support.
"This body at this time has got to look itself in the eye and say these men and women are about to fly ... and I think it's essential that the Congress of the United States be on record as supporting them," Sen. John Warner (R-Virginia), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
"If we do not act ... by the time the snow falls next winter, there will be genocide documented on a large scale in Kosovo," Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) said.
He said he would support military action in Kosovo and the consequences of inaction would be continued genocide, the destabilization of the Balkans and the fracturing of NATO.
Biden argued with those who said a clear exit strategy was needed before troops were sent into action, saying that calculating the last step in a military operation before even taking the first step would lead to "policy paralysis."
Clinton also will be able to press his case with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov when he arrives in Washington on Tuesday. Russia has strongly opposed NATO airstrikes.
"We want political measures to be applied, rather than force," said Primakov. "We think the world community should bring the warring parties to the negotiating table."
Primakov's agenda includes both Kosovo and Russia's urgent need for loan credits to buy food and farming equipment.
Clinton administration officials insisted the Primakov visit won't affect the timing of NATO airstrikes. President Clinton has written to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, laying out justifications for the military campaign.
White House officials said NATO forces are ready to pound Serb positions in and around Kosovo. The immediate objective is to reduce the Serbs' ability to attack the Kosovars.
But there is a broader objective -- to destroy important Serbian military targets in the hopes that it would eventually convince Milosevic to accept a peace agreement.
The Pentagon is confident its high-tech military is capable of humbling the Yugoslav military, but U.S. commanders are worried that it will come at a high price: the lives of American pilots.
One of the most dangerous Yugoslav missiles that NATO warplanes could face is the SA-6, which Serb forces used four years ago in Bosnia to blast an F-16 right out from under unsuspecting U.S. Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady.
If the missile is aimed by eye and the targeting radar is turned on only at the last minute, Yugoslav troops could threaten NATO planes above 20,000 feet -- the usual altitude U.S. planes fly to drop laser-guided smart bombs.
To lower the risk to NATO forces, the initial strikes would come from satellite-guided, unmanned cruise missiles from U.S. warships and a British submarine -- backed up by even more powerful cruise missiles launched from U.S. B-52 bombers safely over the Adriatic.
Then manned aircraft, including the radar-evading F-117 and U.S. planes equipped with long-range bombs and missiles, would continue to pound the Yugoslav air defenses.
Sources said the United States may unleash the never-before-used-in-combat B-2 stealth bomber, which can hit 16 targets in a single sortie with satellite-guided bombs that are unaffected by bad weather.
A former war planner at the Pentagon said in about four days, the skies would be safe for unstealthy planes to drop smart bombs on a wide array of targets, including Yugoslav troops and special police, in a campaign that could last several weeks.
GOP senators may try to stop funds for Yugoslav strikes
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