POLITICAL COST OF TROOPS IN BOSNIA?
NOVEMBER 28, 1995
Regular political analyst Paul Gigot, columnist for the "Wall Street Journal," and Washington columnist Elizabeth Drew, discuss the President's decision to send troops to Bosnia and the resulting political fall-out, with Charlayne Hunter-Gault.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you've both been hearing the debate on this program and all around 24 hours after the President's speech. Where does the selling job stand, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think the President made a--made a good argument for a bad case last night. He at least began to get the American people to understand that he has a plan. I thought he was very good on the question of the broader stakes involved, the issues, the moral case. He brought in the Pope. That's a good moral authority to bring in, the American stake in Europe. He was less effective, I thought, on the question of this specific intervention and the need for 20,000 American troops to pull off that intervention. I think that's where the Senate, when we heard that debate, that's where they're going to focus in on and to try to--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How come you need 20,000 troops?
MR. GIGOT: --and to delineate the real job that they are going to have to do. That's where I think the Senate is going to see its responsibility.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Elizabeth Drew, good argument for a bad case?
ELIZABETH DREW: It's a hard case. It's a very hard case, and they knew that going in. Even the White House today is not claiming that the President swept all before him and now everybody is jubilantly applauding his policy, and they also say that they know there are some hard questions to which they haven't yet given good answers, mainly centered around how does this end, what is the end of it, what is the definition of success? Sen. Lieberman said that he hoped all these people would cool down after a year. Well, for 400 years they haven't been very cool. But that's the idea. We're sending people in. They're trying to separate these forces which have decided that they want to stop fighting. I think there's a tendency in Washington to build up the speeches, well this is it, you know, this is the make or break event. The speech was part of a continuum of things and arguments that the President is going to make. But he has his work cut out for him. If there were a vote in the House today or tomorrow, he would be defeated.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Defeated? What do you mean by that?
MS. DREW: Well, anything that was a resolution of support for this action would not have enough votes in the House today or tomorrow or maybe for quite a while.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do you agree with that?
MR. GIGOT: I agree at this instant, but I think he will get those votes.
MS. DREW: Right.
MR. GIGOT: That would be my expectation.
MS. DREW: In the Senate, he's doing better, and I think one of the most interesting people to watch in all this is Bob Dole. You might have noticed last night neither Dole nor Gingrich wanted the right to respond. They didn't want to come after him and attack him, and neither has. Dole clearly seems to be searching for a way to support the President. He said last night, I believe the President as commander-in- chief should be supported. Well, I don't want to upset you, but there's a campaign angle involved in here, believe it or not, which is that Dole's people see this as an opportunity to show him as a mature leader, as someone of stature, as opposed to these carping other people who are saying we shouldn't do it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do you see it that way, Paul, I mean, because Dole and Gingrich were both a little bit tepid in their response?
MR. GIGOT: Well, what they didn't want to do, and I think they made the right call, was to be seen to be making a partisan argument in response to a President who is not acting in his partisan capacity but he's acting in his capacity as commander-in-chief. And that's a very solemn role that Americans believe a President has to play. We don't want to come in and carp at that point. On Elizabeth's point about Bob Dole, he is in a very interesting political dilemma. He's going to be attacked from his flank by Phil Gramm and Pat Buchanan. There's no question about it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Because all of the Republican candidates, am I not right, are very dead set against it, very negative?
MR. GIGOT: Except for Richard Lugar and Bob Dole. But--and there's a danger for Republicans in that. I think Republicans are going to have a debate here about their broader foreign policy in the post Cold War era. You can see some isolationist strains breaking in to that debate and Pat Buchanan. Phil Gramm has been awfully negative. Bob Dole, I think, is keeping his eye on the fact that he'd like to be in that chair in 18 months, and if you're going to sit in that chair and you have to call upon Congress to do something, what is in it for you while you're in Congress to automatically say, no way, the President makes a case, I'm not going to help him? He's trying to, I think, to play a more statesmanlike role and it makes more sense to me, and I think to him and his advisers politically, to do that.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How is that going to affect the selling job that the President has in Congress? I mean, editorials today are saying this is the toughest selling job of his presidency. You heard reaction from the Republicans on the program.
MR. GIGOT: He's already done the most important thing he had to do to sell this. He put the troops on the ground. I mean, he made the commitment. You can see a lot of the people in Congress are saying, I don't like this, but he's made the commitment, we can't back down now. In a way, he's created through his leadership and action, much more than his words, the case for doing this. Now, this means, I think, ultimately that if it fails, he's going to bear the brunt of the responsibility, but he is taking that risk.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is that part of the strategy, you think, of the Republicans at this point, to let him get out there and soften the opposition to it and take the heat for it?
MR. GIGOT: Well, I mean, they've presented--he's presented them with a fait accompli. He's presented them with this fact. They have to respond to it. On the one hand, he wants them to endorse, he wants--the President, I think, would like Republicans to give him a little political cover. I think some of them are reluctant to do that. In the end, they probably will have to make some kind of a vote, though. Otherwise, they'll be called for ducking the issue.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about the Democratic side, Elizabeth, are they--how solidly behind the President are they?
MS. DREW: With varying degrees of enthusiasm, they are. I still think in the end, Congress is not going to vote to block him. Somehow they will not do that. But we're talking--there is a problem here. Clinton is not the first President to do this. We've been seeing this. Presidents making commitments and getting us sort of into something and then turning around and say, oh, well, we're committed, of course, you have to back it. I'm not saying I'm against this one, because I'm not. I think it's an awful thing to have to do, but I don't think we really have a choice but to try to stop that war and make our own contribution. But I do see going on here a pattern of Presidents getting us in and then leaving the public and the politicians no choice.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But what about the public, because you heard the debate with Elizabeth's people out in Denver, and some of the Senators also said that you cannot get the President even if he can, it's fait accompli in terms of taking the troops, committing the troops, it's foolhardy to send them in there without the support of the American people. Now where is that selling job compared with what he's got to do with Congress?
MS. DREW: Well, it's all part of the same thing. Last night he was talking to the people in Denver, the people all over the country, and trying to move the Congress. And I actually think he moved it a little bit. He's got a couple of weeks now to do that. He'll be taking this trip, see the troops in Germany. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bosnian leaders turn up here and make a rather moving case for us to go ahead and do this. So that's why I say it is a continuum. Now there's something else. Leading up to the Gulf War, as you remember, there was something else for politicians to vote for. They could say, oh, we want sanctions to go on longer.
MR. GIGOT: Right.
MS. DREW: Or let's have a nice blockade. Now it's do this or don't do this, and if you don't do this, you've torn up a peace agreement that maybe could settle this place down for a while.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about the--we heard the Congressmen saying--the Senators saying that they want an opportunity now to shape the mission? I mean, does that just sort of give us something to do, or how serious is that?
MR. GIGOT: I think it's very serious because if you can't say no without dire consequences, what they can do, and I think a lot of them want to do, is eliminate some of the ambiguities that are very real in this treaty. For example, are we neutral going in there, or are we going to be on the side of the Bosnians? Are we going to arm the Bosnian Muslims, and if we do, well, first of all, we're not going to try to do it first, but if de-arming all the participants doesn't work, then we may have to arm the Bosnians, and if that's the case, you know, what--is it going to take just a year? I mean, there are a lot of questions that have to be answered here before the Senators are going to be comfortable signing off.
MS. DREW: I also have a feeling that there a lot of questions to which there aren't answers.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Like?
MS. DREW: Like how it's going to turn out and like how long it's going to take and like how everybody over there is going to behave. I think Clinton deserves a fair amount of credit for being willing to take this risk because it's a huge one, and it's all on him. If this goes sour and if he goes in there without enormous support, and he probably will have to go in that way, he--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You mean, without enormous support in the Congress, or in the American people?
MS. DREW: It's all the same thing. It will be all the same thing. They'll be affecting each other.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You mean, you don't see him being able to sell it?
MS. DREW: No. I'm saying I think he will get it. He will not be blocked, but he won't necessarily have enthusiastic support, and it will not come off as easily as seemed in the Gulf War. So it's all on him, and he knows that.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, how big of a risk is he taking? I mean, how much of a gamble is this?
MS. DREW: I think he's taking a big risk, because this country has very little tolerance for casualties. You know, we say we're a great power; we have a voluntary military. And yet, they're not supposed to sustain any casualties. We ran out of Somalia with sixteen or eighteen people killed. So politically, he will not have a lot of rope.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What do you think, Paul?
MR. GIGOT: Certainly, he doesn't have a great deal of--a safety net there politically. Even within his own party, a lot of storehouse of goodwill of this begins to go South. But he does have the American credibility on the line, and there are going to be a lot of people, even the Republicans, once we are committed, who are not going to want this to fail, because of the consequences for our credibility. I'm not so sure it's as big a risk as all of that, because he's got a defined period, a year, and the reason he picked a year, I don't know why, I mean, could it be November 1996--it makes you--
MS. DREW: But we're still there then.
MR. GIGOT: Well, but he could have--take them out in September or August and say, this is a success, so it's a gamble, but I'm not so sure it's running the table.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Okay. Well, I have to run the table now, end this. Thank you both for joining us.