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Congressional Reaction

June 4, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Joining me are two senators, John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut; and two House members, Republican Jim Leach of Iowa and Democrat Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. Thank you all for being with us.

Sen. McCain, is this a good peace plan?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think it’s — that we can be very guardedly optimistic about it. If some of the outstanding questions are resolved, I think it’s a reason for us to have hope and optimism. Obviously, we’re dealing with a man who has broken other commitments and promises and has been branded a war criminal, but I am hopeful if we can have some of the aspects of it resolved, such as the Russian role, then the supremacy of NATO, hopefully not a partition of country and other issues can be resolved, but let’s be guardedly optimistic about it.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Senator Lieberman, guardedly optimistic?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Yes. John’s point was just right. We have reason to be optimistic or positive about the agreement and, I guess, guarded about whether Milosevic will implement it, but every sign now seems to be that he will, and if he does, then we will — the United States and NATO — have achieved a very significant victory, because we will have shown that we’re able to come together against aggression and genocide, and that is not only important for the peace and freedom of Europe, but in some sense is the next battle and for the values that we held up in the Cold War, but it keeps the United States and NATO’s credibility very strong and I think will help to diminish any thoughts of aggression or similar ethnic slaughter that may come to the mind of a dictator anywhere else in the world. So we’re on the verge of what is a significant victory and a great one to end the 20th century on.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Congressman Leach, on the verge of a significant victory?

REP. JIM LEACH: Well, I think, first, the peace plan is vastly preferable to prosecution of the war, but the perspective is very difficult to apply, particularly at this point in time. It doesn’t look as if the Serbs have won anything. In fact, they’ve clearly been big losers, but it isn’t clear that the West has won a lot, other than the right to intervene in the situation where US National interest isn’t clear, where peace is still problematic. In the long way we’ve sparked two cold wars and we’ve put our national interest subject to some degree to Russian diplomacy. The taxpayer has also been quite a loser, both from the war, potentially for the peace and potentially for funding Russia, which we now owe a great deal to.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Congressman Kucinich, where do you come down on this? Do you think, like Congressman Leach, that it’s not clear we won a lot?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, I think everyone in this country has to be grateful for moving towards peace. There are some, like myself, who believe that we should never have been bombing civilian populations in the first place and that, in fact, the real losers in all of this are the civilians on both sides, the Kosovar Albanians, whose exodus out of the province was accelerated by the bombings and the Serbian civilians who lost thousands of innocent civilians in the bombings. It is good now that the war is moving towards an end, but it is very important that in our post-hoc analysis which we’re moving towards, that we start to decide whether or not in the future we can reach a condition in this country where nonviolent resolution of conflict is preferable to taking up the club.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So Congressman Kucinich, you don’t agree with Senator Lieberman and the president with whom we just heard, that what has happened here will show the world that what Milosevic tried to do just won’t be allowed to stand?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I certainly have a great deal of respect for the president and for Senator Lieberman and all your other guests. I want to say that it’s quite possible that we could have reached this same kind of an agreement– perhaps not with NATO monitoring in Kosovo– without the extensive bombing. It is very clear that Rambouillet was a nonnegotiable demand submitted to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and it precipitated the war, rather than seeking to end the war. I think there is a possibility now that we’re going to learn a lot from the conflict. And, hopefully, we’ll learn that involving the United Nations at the beginning is an important thing. And it should not be missed here that the UN is part of this solution. They are part of this solution with respect to administration of Kosovo and part of the solution with civilians and other security forces who will be part of the presence in the province.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Elizabeth –


SEN. JOHN McCAIN: We learned a very bitter lesson in Srebrenica and Bosnia when we allowed the United Nations to carry out a role for which it is entirely unsuited. If the United Nations had been in charge of this operation, I do not believe that we could have the optimism that we have today. The United Nations is not the suitable vehicle. NATO is. And I agree with Joe Lieberman in that we have made United Nations and the United States relevant in the post-Cold War era. And the blow to our credibility and our ability to bring about an ending to such atrocities and destabilization that Mr. Milosevic posed, I think, is an important lesson for the future. And that’s why I would argue forcefully that the United Nations should not be in charge of this peacekeeping operation because of their failures in Bosnia. We are not very far away.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Senator McCain, I want to go through also some of the specific points you raised. And I want each of you to comment on some of these and talk about what you’ll be looking for to be able to judge whether this is going the way it should be. You raised the Russian role and also your concerns about NATO. What’s your concern about the Russian role?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, first of all I don’t want it to be a de facto partition of Kosovo. In other words, it depends on how they’re stationed, where they are. And they should also be under a NATO command, not very much different from the lines of the arrangement in Bosnia.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you also raised — on the partition — you’re really talking about a partition in the sense that Russian troops would be over one part and –

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Exactly.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: — and the other troops elsewhere. Okay. Senator Lieberman, what will you be looking for specifically that will tell you whether this is going the way it should?

EN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Okay. I do want to take a moment to respond to something my friend Dennis Kucinich said, which is that nonviolence would not have worked here. Milosevic in the last ten years has invaded Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and now Kosovo, and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The lesson we learned here was that to stop someone like that you’ve got to use force. And, thank God, he finally he bent to it and capitulated and accepted our terms. What I’ll be looking for, of course, first is for the Serbian troops to move out — and then when this small number provided for in the agreement come back, that their role be extremely limited to the sites in Kosovo that are important to the Serbs. And then to me, the next most important part is not just to allow the Kosovars to come home and return to their homes and live in peace, but to make sure that they regain the right to govern themselves as an autonomous province of Yugoslavia, which is the status they had before Milosevic began his reign of terror against them a decade ago. So there’s a lot to watch. But the good news is that there will be 50,000 soldiers there, and I continue couldn’t agree with John McCain more. They have to be under NATO control.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Congressman Kucinich, if you see some of the things the senators just laid out, will you be more optimistic about what’s been achieved?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I think, again, any chance that we have for peace is important here. My concern at the beginning was that we were getting ourselves into a much wider war, possibly involving Russia. And it’s really important to note that all of the efforts that have been made so far have not been directed necessarily towards peace. The fact that Milosevic has finally yielded, I think is really due to the possibility of a ground invasion, which would have, no doubt, had enormous implications for the entire free world, especially in this country. So I’m optimistic, yes, that perhaps we can reach peace. But I’m not optimistic that we’re learning the right lessons from this encounter. And I’m hopeful that as we go into an analysis after the fact, that we consider that perhaps this could have been handled in a different way; that the extensive bombings were not necessary, and that in fact we have been able to gain an agreement now that the sum and substance of it could have been gained even before Rambouillet.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I’m going to go around to all of you on what lessons we take from this, but Congressman Leach, first, what are you going to be looking for as a sign this is going the way it should?

REP. JIM LEACH: Well, the first major sign, of course, is whether the troops of Serbia return. The second issue is going to be whether you can have a stable situation on the ground that will allow the refugees to return. And then the third dilemma becomes what is the issue of autonomy? Will the Kosovars insist on independence? Will the Serbs insist on maintenance of sovereignty? And based upon the war that’s gone on, that looks like it’s a fairly irreconcilable situation, and that is going to be something that we’re going to be in the middle of because we will have 7,000 American troops there with 43,000 other NATO forces. This is not going to be a very pacific situation. Hopefully all of this will come to be resolved over time, but it’s hard to be immensely optimistic that things will go terribly smoothly.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Congressman Leach, what do you think has been learned from this? What lessons do you take?

REP. JIM LEACH: Well, there are many lessons. I would only stress one and that is diplomacy matters. And it appears that Rambouillet laid down the gauntlet in some ways to Milosevic, and then it appears that Milosevic miscalculated and that we miscalculated, so we stumbled into a war. And frankly we appear to have stumbled into a negotiating process becoming disproportionately — in fact, startlingly — reliant on Russia. And so we can be pleased that Russia in the end, after much moving back and forth philosophically in Moscow, came to play a constructive role. But to put the American national interest in that sort of circumstance is not a very happy situation.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Senator McCain, what lessons do you take from this? You were critical of the way the administration waged this campaign.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: If you determine that American values and interests are at stake, then prepare the American people, prepare your adversary. And, by the way, I do agree with Dennis that the threat of a ground invasion was a factor here. And I also agree with Jim Leach that the Rambouillet agreement was fatally flawed. But if our interests and values are at risk, then prepare the American people, make sure that you lead your allies and not be led by them, and then be prepared to do whatever is necessary to win the war, not pin prick strikes, not the kind of disavowal of options but be prepared to do whatever is necessary or do not embark on the endeavor.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Senator Lieberman, what lessons do you take away from this?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, the major lesson, I think, is that diplomacy, when matched with force, can uphold our values and our interests. In that sense, we did learn the lesson of the two world wars and the Cold War of this century. The other thing that happened here is that NATO after five decades of being a defensive alliance went on the offense. It was frustrating at times because it is hard to get 19 nations — democracies — to agree quickly to carry out particular military strategies, but one of the lessons is that we did it. Now, I think maybe the next time — if, God forbid, there is a next time — we’ll do it more effectively. And then the final lesson, which is really more of a question, is the extent to which these extraordinary high-tech standoff precision-guided weapon systems of ours have worked and whether, in fact, we’re capable of achieving our objectives, as we did in this case, on the ground, from the air. And what lessons that teaches us about our future military strength. I think one of the lessons it will teach us is that we ought to keep investing in high technology weapons systems but not stop investing in the capability to wage war on the ground when that’s necessary.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Congressman Kucinich, very briefly your response to that?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I’m hopeful in the months and years ahead, we’ll be able to review a number of doctrines and that is the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, the doctrine of collective guilt, the doctrine of retributive justice, an eye for an eye, the doctrine of collateral damage. There are many things that need to be looked at here, and all have to deal with whether we in the next millennium have the ability to evolve so that humanity will be able to solve its problems in the future without having to say that we show people killing is wrong by killing other people.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Gentlemen, thank you very much for being with us.