April 1, 1999
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For that opinion, we turn to four editorial page writers: Beth Barber of the "Cleveland Plain Dealer"; Robert Friedman of the "St. Petersburg Times"; Rob Elder of the "San Jose Mercury News"; and Don Wycliff of the "Chicago Tribune." Robert Friedman in St. Petersburg, I want to go back to Jim's interview with Secretary Cohen and General Shelton. Your editorials have opposed the air strikes and been quite critical, calling the administration or criticizing the administration and NATO for not being, "farsighted enough about the consequences of their actions." Did you hear anything today that might change what you'll write tomorrow?
ROBERT FRIEDMAN: No. I feel as though the -- what we've seen is a continuation of the past week of an escalated attack on the Albanians in Kosovo. I'd like to think that they were putting as much effort into back-channel diplomatic solution to this as they are to what appears an incremental escalation of the bombing without any end strategy in sight.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you remain critical of the administration for not foreseeing that there would be these terrible expulsions?
ROBERT FRIEDMAN: Well, I don't think I or the members of our staff claim to be foreign policy experts, but these are just the kinds of counterproductive results, the tragedy that we were afraid we would see. Now, certainly Mr. Milosevic bears the primary responsibility for this tragedy, but I think you used the term short-sighted that we had said, and I think nothing has happened to change that view.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Don Wycliff, anything change in your view? Your paper's been supportive of the administration?
DON WYCLIFF: Actually, our paper has been reluctantly supportive of bombing. We supported the peace effort at Rambouillet. We are not prepared to sign on at this point to any kind of ground invasion. We feel the bombing ought to be intensified to try to bring Milosevic to his senses.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And nothing that you've heard in anything that we just went through in the program today, the refugee stories, the interviews, has made you change anything you might write tomorrow?
DON WYCLIFF: Not at this point, no.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Beth Barber, your paper's also been quite critical of the bombing. Did you hear anything from the Secretary or from General Shelton that would change your mind?
BETH BARBER: None at all. None at all. There was nothing reassuring about any of this.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what is your view now of what's happening?
BETH BARBER: Well, our view now is that we have had a policy that has brought about exactly what it was supposed to prevent. And the solution, we're told, is more of the same. So if we do more of this policy, do we get more of the same results? The ends and the means have gotten so fuzzy on this, we're losing sight of the justification.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rob Elder, losing sight of the justification? Your paper also, it seemed to me reluctantly supported the bombing.
ROB ELDER: We did, and the one thing I've seen today that changes what I've written for tomorrow is that the President, in his speech this morning, was a pretty good pep rally leader. He was long on emotion and patriotism, but he utterly failed to give us a clear statement of what the purpose is now. He told us the other day that the purpose was three things that clearly we have not accomplished here, and the burden we think now lies on him to spell out what are we trying to do with this war? Where are we trying to get, and what is a reasonable way to get there?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So what's changed?
ROB ELDER: Well, what's changed is we have the stated purpose being to get Milosevic to agree to the Rambouillet framework, which was to establish a self-governing Kosovo within Yugoslavia. What's changed is a third of the people in Yugoslavia are trudging out of there as refugees, there are papers showing that they owned any land have been destroyed. Their identity papers are taken. Even if they wanted to go back, and many have made it clear that they're afraid to go back, it would be sheer chaos to try to put that country back together.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think, then, and what will you argue should happen next?
ROB ELDER: Well, we will argue that it is the President's job, he has the information far more than we do, to clarify which of a number of goals he is really trying to achieve here. Is he trying to partition Kosovo between the Serbs and the Albanian people? Is he trying to let them get out safely? Is he trying to destroy Milosevic's army, and, if so, for what purpose? What we think should happen next is some leadership from the President of the United States in terms of defining what it is this war is all about.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Robert Friedman, what are you editorializing should happen next? You mentioned a diplomatic solution.
ROBERT FRIEDMAN: Well, I think it's tragic that we're more than a week into the bombing and we're now still waiting for the President to justify both his policy and the goals of it. We think he did much too little much too late prior to the bombing to win the support of both the public and Congress with these actions. We'd like to see some changes made in the Rambouillet agreement that we tried to force on both parties that might lead to an honorable diplomatic solution. Failing that, and it may be that Mr. Milosevic makes that impossible, I tend to agree with Senator McCain that, once you're in it, you have to win it. The worst alternative is the one I'm afraid I see, which is we muddle into this almost mindless escalation incrementally over time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Don Wycliff, once you're in it, you have to win it? And does that mean ground troops?
DON WYCLIFF: I hope it doesn't mean American ground troops. I kind of doubt it'll mean NATO ground troops. I think if that were to be done, it should have been threatened along with the bombing right at the start. Actually, I think a year ago, maybe more than a year ago, we should have begun arming the KLA so that there would be a ground force which could carry the war to Milosevic's army while this bombing, if it were to happen, provided air cover. But that has not happened. I do not want to see American ground troops in there, from my perspective mainly because I don't think this administration can do it well.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Beth barber, ground troops?
BETH BARBER: No ground troops. There has got to be an alternative other than that, at least not American ground troops. If the Europeans want to do it, it's their backyard. But there must would be some alternative. Someone mentioned earlier that they might be able -- some way to revisit the Rambouillet agreement. Surely, surely somebody is pursuing that through back channels or some which way. It's shame, though, that, as Secretary Cohen said and General Shelton said, that there was no division in the administration on this policy. Maybe there should have been.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Beth Barber, you heard what General Shelton and Secretary Cohen said about what the US response would be to what Secretary Cohen called a kangaroo court of the three soldiers who have been taken. They said if they go ahead, if the Serbs go ahead with the trial, there would be substantial consequences. Did what you hear satisfy you?
BETH BARBER: I don't know that it has to satisfy me, but it certainly should have to satisfy Mr. Milosevic and the people who are going to do this.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But I mean in your writing, an editorial, do you think that was enough, what you heard?
BETH BARBER: I didn't hear anything specific. I heard another vague threat. I don't know if that means they're going to try to find out where they are and rescue them or bomb them or what. I think it's disturbing that the Yugoslav ambassador has not yet refreshed his memory about what the Geneva Convention requires. Surely somebody back in Belgrade has already done that. This is one time when we have to hope that the -- no matter how vague the threat, that it suffices. Americans now see a very human, very American face to the risk to this. And as one of the generals said earlier, "We don't like it."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Don Wycliff, what did you think of what the secretary and the general said about the response to the three soldiers being taken?
DON WYCLIFF: I don't think there was much to react to. I mean they said what you would expect them to say. We expect them to be treated under the Geneva Conventions as it prescribes. They made the response you would expect. And one of our recommendations tomorrow is going to be that our forces in Bosnia and Macedonia be reinforced so that we have some protection against the taking of people in this way. But they didn't say anything that surprised me at all.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Rob Elder, what are you hearing in your letters to the editor? Are people paying attention to this? Are you hearing from people?
ROB ELDER: Yes, we are. We have a number of people from the Balkans in our readership. One -- well, actually several have cautioned us, have cautioned our other readers not to make easy generalizations about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in the Balkans. They've pointed out that today's aggressor may have been yesterday's victim. In addition to those letters, we have gotten a number that say, "You can't win this as an air war." And we've gotten others that say, "You can't win this, period, that it's just not the sort of thing we ought to be in, in the first place." We've gotten virtually nothing supporting the President's getting in.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Robert Friedman, are you getting the some kinds of letters?
ROBERT FRIEDMAN: Almost exactly the same. I don't know that we've had any wholehearted support for what our government has gotten into. We have not had a huge volume, but I would say that that's not reflective of the interest in the issue. I think a lot of people have a hard time deciding what their views are on an issue this complex and this far away and are scrambling to make a decision. And, again, I would place a lot of that on the President's failure to have enunciated it well.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Beth Barber, you think that, with the three soldiers' faces in the television, there will be more interest?
BETH BARBER: I think there'll be a lot more interest. That's something that people can identify with. It's something that actually brings it home.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What are you hearing in your letters?
BETH BARBER: Our letters have been mostly opposed to what's going on. Cleveland does have a sizable Serb population. And -- but I don't think that's the main reason that we're getting the letters we are. Most people do seem to have grounds, but in this area of the world, today's good guys are tomorrow's bad guys or yesterday's good guys. And it's not with a simple matter and it's not a matter that's going to be solved by bombing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Don Wycliff, what about your letters?
DON WYCLIFF: We have gotten surprisingly few letters on this issue. There have been -- and of those we have gotten, there's been a lot of tongue glucking, regret expressed over the plight of the refugees, very little - very little -- no support really for any kind of ground invasion or any more aggressive military force.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all four very much for being with us.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The University of Tennessee Volunteers are the new national champions. They beat Florida State 23/16 in the Fiesta Bowl last night. Tennessee's "Peerless Price" earned his name, catching two long catches, one a 79-yard touchdown. And Tennessee quarterback "T Martin" took his team where even his great predecessor Peyton Manning hadn't gone - to the number one spot - but not without some controversy since, as usual, the championship did not represent the final game of a playoff series in which other top teams competed. For more on all this we turn to John Feinstein, an author and commentator for National Public Radio.