The push and pull of ground troop policy
April 6, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Clinton administration stuck to its guns Tuesday on the issue of sending ground troops into Kosovo -- saying they will go only as peacekeepers.
But the pictures coming out of the Balkans -- of refugees stuffed into trains, run out of Kosovo and stranded on cold, wet hillsides -- may be turning the tide of public opinion toward NATO use of ground troops.
Recent polls show a majority of Americans now favor the use of ground forces, and the same sentiment is growing in western Europe.
But pollsters say the increased support for ground troops may reflect only increasing sympathy for the ethnic Albanian refugees.
"It's possible that some people are thinking that the ground troops will face almost no casualties, as happened in the Persian Gulf," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.
"The tripwire for the administration may be as they see support for ground troops growing, that may be only ground troops with no casualties," Holland explained.
The White House is encouraged by the increasing support for the NATO operation. But officials insist that military judgment -- not polls -- will drive the decision on the use of ground troops.
"We believe that a sustained air campaign can accomplish the objectives that we have laid out," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Tuesday when pressed on whether ground troops should be considered.
"As we have repeated over and over again, the president has no plans or intentions for ground forces in a nonpermissive environment," she added during an appearance at the independent Brookings Institution.
President Clinton is fully aware of the Vietnam syndrome, as is Belgrade.
In Geneva, during an international humanitarian conference on the Kosovar crisis, Yugoslav Ambassador Branko Brankovic lashed out at the world and issued a stern warning should NATO send in ground troops.
"In case any single soldier wants to put a foot on a single inch of my country, Vietnam is going to be zero compared to what all those who dare will face," said Brankovic.
But others, both in Europe and America, say only ground troops will end the crisis in Kosovo.
"I know it is difficult for many Western governments," said Genc Polo of the Democratic Party of Albania.
"But in order not to have, on the eve of the millennium, a genocide being completed -- because it will be a specter that will haunt Europe and the West again, as it has happened this century -- it's urgent to send ground troops there."
U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen is flying overnight to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, to discuss military strategy and consult with allies on the situation in Yugoslavia, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon announced.
Cohen is being accompanied by several members of Congress, including Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) -- both of whom have publicly advocated putting ground troops on the table as an option.
While some politicians have been pressuring Clinton to at least consider ground troops, the stronger sentiment in Congress is against sending U.S. soldiers or Marines into a ground conflict.
The White House plans to update congressional leaders on the Kosovo operation next week when the lawmakers return from their Easter break.
The president plans to meet Monday evening at the White House with congressional leaders, according to administration and congressional sources.
The president and his national security team plan to meet Tuesday with the chairmen and ranking Democrats on committees involved in national security and budget matters.
And on the following day, the administration's national security team plans to attend the caucus meetings on Capitol Hill to brief returning members on the U.S. role in NATO strikes.
CNN Senior Political Analyst William Schneider, Correspondents John King and Chris Black, andReuters contributed to this report.
Clinton makes appeal for Kosovar relief donations
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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