THE SENATE DEBATES
SENDING TROOPS TO BOSNIA
DECEMBER 1, 1995
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Three top administration officials faced tough questioning from the Foreign Relations Committee. Chairman Jesse Helms has been a staunch opponent of the President's plan to send troops in to Bosnia, and he made it clear from the outset that he hasn't wavered.
SEN. JESSE HELMS, Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee: I cannot and do not and will not support sending American soldiers to fight and die for the sake of an agreement which may offer no more than the promise of a brief pause while all sides prepare for the next round of Balkan wars. Now, I simply cannot understand the logic of sending American soldiers to Bosnia. I take quite seriously the leadership role of the United States and the importance of fulfilling the commitments of our elected President. As the Majority Leader said yesterday, we have only one President at a time, and I agree with that. And I certainly agree that the President has the constitutional right to send the troops there. There's no question about that. He also has the constitutional right to make other mistakes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Republicans on the Committee worried about whether the mission could actually be accomplished in a year's time, and they asked the witnesses how the operation would be limited to just peacekeeping.
SEN. ROD GRAMS, (R) Minnesota: Do you see any scenario that would keep our troops there any longer or any scenario that would expand their roles and objectives than what you have outlined to this committee this morning? In other words, there's a lot of concern that this would be a slippery slope is what I think I'm trying to get across.
WILLIAM PERRY, Secretary of Defense: We share, from the beginning have shared that concern. I wanted to tell you that we worked very, very closely with Sec. Christopher, Sec. Holbrooke in Dayton as the peace agreement was being formulated to be sure that these concerns were taken into account. I think as a consequence, there probably has never been a diplomatic document put together in this peace agreement that has had more input and more consideration from the military and primary in our mind was avoiding the mission creep.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Other members questioned whether the First Armored Division would be deterred by Bosnia's bad roads and dangerous bridges. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reassured the Committee that advanced troops in Bosnia now are trained to deal with the problem.
GEN. JOHN SHALIKASHVILI, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Bosnia creates a particular problem, but we have data on the bridges. We are sending the necessary advanced parties to ensure that we understand fully which bridges might have to be reinforced, where you might have to create fording sites to get around it, so I don't want to minimize again any problems, but this does not come as a, as a surprise, nor will that force be unprepared to deal with it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The prospect of American casualties continued to dominate. Maine's Olympia Snowe asked what happens if the peace mission fails.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE, (R) Maine: If we do lose soldiers in this effort, what have they died for if they have not been able to achieve peace as the final outcome?
WARREN CHRISTOPHER, Secretary of State: Senator, I think they will have died in order to give an opportunity for peace. They will have died in order to prevent the resumption of a war and atrocities. There's no guarantee as to how the situation will come out, but it's a very noble cause to have served your country and served NATO in an effort to keep the peace, in an effort to avoid a larger war, in an effort to prevent many casualties in the future.
GEN. JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: It will be very hard to face the death of a soldier, but I will note that they will have died--whether in an accident or due to some hostile action--that they will have died in pursuit of peace, and that this government, this body here, and the President have all thought about this long and very hard, and that this has not been some frivolous decision. I think I can live with that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she can live with the risks too, despite the flak she's getting from her constituents back home.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) California: I'm pleased to give 100 percent support, and I do it despite the fact my calls all run by the thousands to the contrary, but it's the right thing for us to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This afternoon, General Shalikashvili and Secretary Perry went before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. Republican Chairman Ted Stevens began by saying last night's decision by President Clinton not to veto the Defense Appropriations Bill guarantees that money will be available to begin the Bosnian military operation.
SEN. TED STEVENS, (R) Alaska: I command the President's action in signing our bill, and I really think this is the right thing. The President stated that the cost to Bosnia will be funded within the amounts we've prepared--report in our bill. I'm not aware of any agreement on that, but it is consistent with what we've attempted to do in our discussions with you, Mr. Secretary.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: However, Stevens was concerned the United States is paying much more than its share.
SEN. TED STEVENS: I can't understand why, in view of the fact that we've been carrying more than half the burden already, we're now asked to carry at least a third of the burden of the ground force. How did we get the one--
SEN. WILLIAM PERRY: Sen. Stevens, I clarify that the one third was not is not a formula. It's what worked out from our belief that we needed to have a full division in for the American forces. We wanted to have a self-sustaining, fully capable operation, and that turned out to be 20,000 troops.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mississippi's Thad Cochran asked when the reserve units needed for the Bosnian operation would be notified.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: Has that occurred?
GEN. JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: We are notifying today the units and the members of the House and Senate who are involved and, of course, the staffs of our committees, so it is today that this process is ongoing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Senators promised congressional hearings on Bosnia would be ongoing as long as troops are on the ground.