June 14, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight: Congressional views of the Kosovo experience thus far, the Bush presidential frenzy, and a different drummer. On Kosovo, we're joined by two Senators, Republican John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Democrat Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and House members, J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the Republican Conference Chairman and a member of the Armed Services Committee. We're hoped to be joined before we're finished here by Democrat Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut, a ranking member of the International Relations Committee. First, the Russia problem. Senator Warner, what should NATO do about those 200 Russian troops in the Pristina airport?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, first, I think General Clark and General Jackson and the troops under them have done as best they can, given this most unexpected development. I think they're working around it for the time being and quite properly, not in any way trying to provoke a confrontation and allow the diplomats, indeed, the Secretary of State and Defense and others to work with their counterparts in Moscow to resolve it. I think it will be resolved in short order. It's important that Russia be a part of KFOR. It's important that the world perceive that Russia is still at the major roundtable of decision-making. But what I find very troubling is that in terms of overall weaponry on strategic forces, that is, the nuclear systems, Russia remains a superpower, with potential threat, not only to the United States, but to Europe and elsewhere. And to see this type of command and control being put into question throughout the world as to how it happened, who is responsible, that's unsettling. And I hope that President Yeltsin and other persons of responsibility can soon dispel any doubt that Russia has a very firm hand on all elements of its military, wherever they are and that we will not see a duplication of this regrettable incident.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Wellstone, is that unsettling to you as well?
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: It's interesting, your choice of that word. I was thinking that myself. Yes, it's most unsettling. It shows again that what happens in Russia in the future is going to crucially affect the quality of our lives and the quality of our children's lives and grandchildren's lives. It's not clear what happened. It's not clear whether you have just got kind of a separate military or separate forces within the military, John, that just kind of do this on their own. But I do think that this will be settled. It's being worked at all sorts of different levels. It will be settled by the diplomats, it will be settled by President Yeltsin, it will be settled -- defense people, military people. And I think that will be extremely important. And what has to come out of this-- and I think the Russians, there will be some sphere, they will be operating in, they will be a part of a coordinated command structure, maybe not reporting directly to NATO, maybe through Finland. These things can be worked out. But I do think Russia has played an important role in our being able to get this settlement and I think can play an important role in what are going to be many, many challenges ahead. That's what's real clear, as we hear your reports tonight.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: But, colleague, I say to you, there's just got to be a unified commanding control of the military structure.
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: Absolutely. I agree with that, John. I'm just saying that clearly, there's some - going to be some flexibility and this can be worked out.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Watts, do you agree that Russia has kind of earned a right to at least be part of KFOR in a major way?
REP. J. C. WATTS: Well, I think that's-- we can debate that. I think that's important for them to do so, and it is interesting what happened over the weekend. We all kind of scratched our head and asked the question, why did they jump the gun? How did this happen? I think that Secretary Cohen and Secretary Albright both are meeting with their counterparts -- hopefully to bring - within the next couple of days -- to bring some stability to this thing. I understand the President is visiting with Mr. Yeltsin. So, we all were scratching our heads over the weekend, wondering what in the world was going on.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Well, Congressman Watts, let's step back a moment. Let me ask you a more general question. President Clinton said Friday night, in fact on this program, that the United States and NATO did the right thing the right way on Kosovo. Do you agree?
REP. J. C. WATTS: Well, you know, Jim, before this thing came about, there's a lot of questions that I was asking that I felt were very important. We talked about strategy, and you've heard all the different questions over the last two months as to what we were asking. I think those were important questions. I didn't think that it was important that we throw mud on the wall and hope some of it sticks. I think now that the bombing has started, and we're trying to put in peacekeepers, I think, you know, we're trying to determine victory, and of course, anytime we stop the bombing under the circumstances in which we did, I think you have to say, that's victory. But at the same time, the flip side of that coin is we've had 800,000 refugees that have been displaced. We've had innocent civilians who have lost their lives. Boy, that really dampens whatever victory was claimed in this thing.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Wellstone, do you see victory rather dampened too for the same reasons Congressman Watts does?
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: Well, I see it in a somewhat different way. I mean, I think the important thing is that the Kosovars are going to be able to go home and rebuild their lives and that moral principles mattered, that Milosevic was not able to do this with impunity. The world didn't turn its gaze away. There was a clarity of purpose. I think that's all terribly important. There will be many questions that historians will look at as to whether the military part should have been prosecuted more vigorously in Kosovo -- but I'm not the military person -- questions about whether diplomacy might have worked at an earlier point in time, questions about our targeting the targets we chose in Serbia. But I do believe that we can feel, I think, good as a nation and NATO can feel good that we did not let Milosevic do this with impunity. I wished fewer people had been slaughtered. I wished we could have somehow prevented more of this from ever happening. But I'm so glad at the end of the century that he was not able to do this and the world just turned its gaze away and didn't respond.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Warner, should we feel good as a nation?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, I have said the following: I make three points. One, let's give credit to the men and women in the arms forces of the United States and our allies. Professionally, they did remarkably well under difficult conditions, and I say difficult because they were trained to use the total force concept, that is, bring all military to power to bear on a situation and to achieve a goal. For political reasons -- and we will eventually learn exactly what the forces were, politics-- I'm not talking about partisan politics, I mean, a 19-nation NATO group withheld - certain authorities within even putting the option of the use of ground forces on the table. Indeed, I was in Albanian and Macedonia just a week or so ago, and with General Clark and General Jackson, and at that very time, the KLA was engaging Yugoslav forces in a military action, which enabled NATO to really use its airpower to the greatest degree of efficiency because it brought out from the dugouts and the hidden places the Yugoslav army armor. And they nailed it. So that was the use of total force, ground involved with the KLA. We will study that. But I say to the President and Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, they held NATO together. And that was essential, that the 19 nations speak as one. Now, we'll have to determine what the future will be, what tactics should be employed if ever again this type of tragedy would be repeated. The major benefit here is we sent a firm signal through 19 nations that they will not permit this on the European continent by a future man, such as Milosevic, and that's the greatest benefit thus far that's been derived.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Gejdenson has arrived. Yes. Welcome, Congressman. The audience should know, we've had severe thunderstorms up here in Washington. And both you and Congressman Watts were flying in and that's why you were late. But, anyhow, where do you come down on this thing? We were talking about what the President said the other night, Congressman, this was the right thing to do and the right way to do it. Do you agree with that?
REP. SAM GEJDENSON, (D) Connecticut: I agree with it, and I agree with most of what Senator Warner said. It seems to me that with the kind of atrocities that were ongoing in Kosovo, we either had to act or come back here and tear down all our memorials, stop holding holocaust memorials in the capital, the remembrances for the Armenians. This was the kind of systematic murder that occurred at the beginning of the German occupation of Belarus where my father came from. They took villages, they shot the men, they shot the women, they raped people, they burned villages down who cooperated or hid Jews. And it seemed to me we made a mockery of all our memorials and all our ceremonies if we just stood by in Europe where there was a united NATO. Now, when I first went with Secretary Cohen to Brussels and the President had told me we had a united NATO, I always thought of us dragging the Europeans along. And at that meeting, I was impressed with how committed all the permanent representatives to NATO were to this policy. And I think any additional tactical advantage that might have been gained would have been vastly overshadowed by it becoming an American action, rather than a joint NATO action. And through this entire process we kept the Europeans onboard. We kept it not just an American action but a European action, so it wasn't America, the policemen of the world, America blamed for every wrong. And I think it was right not to put ground troops in. You have to remember that Mr. Eagleberger at the beginning of Yugoslavia's disintegration felt that America could have no role, because it's such a tough terrain, because there's such a history of resistance here, preparing for a Soviet invasion. So I think the President, Secretary of State, Sandy Berger, Secretary of Defense, deserve great marks keeping 19 countries together in this action, having the perseverance. You know, it wasn't really a long time in the course of history. But for Americans, we want it done in a week, we want it done in two weeks. The bad weather slowed down the ability to bomb without having significant civilian casualties. And I think they were right to wait until they had the weather so they could take this action without killing thousands of innocent civilians in Yugoslavia. I think they did the right thing. I think they ought to be applauded for it. The negotiation of Rambouillet and before that, they made every effort to resolve this in a diplomatic manner. Mr. Milosevic wasn't interested in doing that. I'd rather spend another expensive bomb than spend a lot of kids on the ground in this kind of conflict.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Congressman Watts, the majority of your colleagues do not share the view that Congressman Gejdenson just outlined. Why not?
REP. J. C. WATTS: Jim, we just said from the start of this thing that we should ask the proper questions, we should get the proper briefings. We were wondering, and I personally was asking the question, you know, how was Kosovo any different than Sudan over the last two years? In this African nation, you've had, over the last two years, two million people killed, civilians. You've had 4 million people misplaced or displaced from their homes. How do you define or how do you determine that you go in and you move on Kosovo, but you don't do anything about Sudan? That's been going on for years. Cambodia, Rwanda, how do you determine whether or not we should go in based on our military might and how it's been depleted and the resources that we had to do the job? We had some concerns about it at the outset. We voiced those concerns. And that's really the an that we took on it and the questions we were asking from day one, that legitimately, still can't say they've been answered.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Watts, how do you feel about the results as we sit here tonight?
REP. J. C. WATTS: Oh, as I said earlier, Jim, I think the results-- they're bittersweet. I think it's always, you know, enjoyable to me, having a daughter and son-in-law that's in the military that we can get American troops on U.S. soil as quickly as possible. And I think you do have to give credit where credit is due. I think NATO accomplished what they set out to accomplish, but at the same time, I think it has been dampened a bit when you consider we've got 800 -- refugees that's been displaced. We've got thousands of civilian lives have been taken. We don't know -- Milosevic has a track record of not following through. There's still some sensitive points and sensitive spots that we've got to navigate through. so, I think those things are realistic, and I think that's reality.
REP. SAM GEJDENSON: Can I add something here?
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
REP. SAM GEJDENSON: One thing, the argument that he raises about other places has two answers. One is, Europe is the only place we have NATO. In Rwanda and other places in Africa and Asia, we don't have a joint operational force that's ready to respond. We're trying to facilitate the building of one in Africa to deal with those problems. And I think the last thing the Africans would want is to have the Europeans and Americans come in and be the policemen of Africa. So that's the first issue. The second issue, you can't use our failure to respond in some instances as an excuse for never responding. And my good friend here aside, many of the Republicans just can't bring themselves to say anything nice about President Clinton. In very tough circumstances with Congress, even as late as four days ago, trying to cut off all funds for peacekeeping, airpower or anything else in Kosovo, they will not give him the credit that he's due.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Senator Warner.
REP. SAM GEJDENSON: With the exception of Senator Warner, I might add.
JIM LEHRER: Well, I was just going to ask Senator Warner that. Is he right, that there are a lot of Republicans that are just not going to give the President any credit?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I think we'd better politics to one side. The record of some of us here in the Senate is very clear. Joe Biden and I led the effort to get that one resolution to authorize use of airpower. Put aside politics, gentlemen, because right now tonight, men and women are at risk on the ground of our nation and many others in trying to secure an almost impossible situation in Kosovo. And returning to the fundamental issue addressed to my good friend J.C. Watts, we cannot look at just Kosovo as an isolated spot in Europe. To the extent that Kosovo was falling before our eyes would have dragged down what little gains we made in Bosnia, at a very heavy expense and investment of dollars. Then the greater circle of nation, Macedonia, Hungary, Bulgaria, all of those nations that surround Albania, Kosovo, that whole area was ready to implode unless NATO moved in and secured the situation. Some day, we will debate the tactics. I feel very strongly about the ground issue. Right now, let's concern ourselves with those brave young men and women on the ground.
REP. J. C. WATTS: Senator, I agree with that. And I take exception to what you're saying that we're playing politics. I think we have a responsibility as elected officials to ask the questions that I pointed out and that we've been asking all along. I think I'd be pretty irresponsible --
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I wasn't suggesting you were. What Sam said - you know -- no Republican. Hey, on the Senate side, we handle this somewhat differently.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, we have to-- one word, Senator Wellstone. We have to go.
SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE: Many challenges ahead. The paramilitary units, the humanitarian assistance, disarming KLA. I mean, there is a lot of challenges ahead. I think that's what we really need to focus on right now.
JIM LEHRER: We have to go, gentlemen. Thank you all four very much.