Clinton seeks congressional consensus on Kosovo
President meets with lawmakers at White House
March 23, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top U.S. lawmakers returned to the White House Tuesday for another meeting with President Clinton as he seeks greater congressional support for U.S. military action in Kosovo and tries to head off a Senate effort to block funds for the mission.
Clinton's efforts to win lawmakers' support at a session last Friday had mixed results. He invited the same bipartisan group of about 30 House and Senate leaders back for further talks.
Although Republicans are questioning the president's authority to attack, Clinton hopes to show Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that lawmakers will back the White House and NATO should airstrikes be launched against Serb forces.
"I expect airstrikes to be launched," Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, told CNN on Tuesday, prior to the White House meeting. "(But) what if they don't work? What is 'plan B?'" asked McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
He accused the Clinton administration of allowing the United States to "lose credibility" in the standoff with Milosevic.
President Clinton "allowed two deadlines to pass where he threatened the use of military force and let those deadlines pass and did nothing. Mr. Milosevic and others throughout the world pay attention to that," he said.
Accusing the Serbs of carrying out "the wanton slaughter of innocent people," the Arizona Republican recommended a "robust, sustained, severe bombing campaign which unfortunately may entail, tragically, the loss of civilian lives and will put American pilots in danger."
McCain, a former Navy pilot, was shot down during the Vietnam War and held prisoner for more than five years.
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.
Some Republicans 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.
Criticism of the President's policy even extends to some Democrats.
"As with the Bosnia mission, there is no clear set of goals, beyond maintaining a currently nonexistent peace," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin. "There is no timetable with withdrawal, no cost assessment, no exit strategy."
But 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," said Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"If we do not act ... by the time the snow falls next winter, there will be genocide documented on a large scale in Kosovo," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Delaware.
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."
Second round of Kosovo talks over
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - Facts
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