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Kosovo and Congress

As congress watches the unfolding conflict in Kosovo, reactions run the gamut from statesmanship to raw politics.

Members worry over the inability of the air strikes to stop the murder, rape, and expulsion of Kosovar Albanians by Serb troops. Many in Congress, though probably not yet a majority, are convinced that NATO will have no choice but to send in ground troops and are puzzled by President Clinton's insistence that he has no intention of dispatching them.

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In the Senate, presidential candidate John McCain (R) of Arizona insists that NATO must at least prepare to use ground troops. He is joined by Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, who calls for replacement of Slobodan Milosevic's regime. Regional stability and Western values are at stake, says Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware. They understand, correctly, that Mr. Milosevic needs to see that NATO is preparing to use ground forces and will do so if it must.

But a core of conservative Republicans sincerely criticizes the president for provoking a disaster in a region where, they believe, the United States has no national interests.

In the House, some GOP leaders want to leave responsibility for the war solely with the president and Vice President Al Gore, believing that if things go badly, they could gain politically. They are using parliamentary tactics to head off a May vote under the War Powers Act to either withdraw the troops or declare war.

Many Republicans simply dislike this president and are loathe to back him in the aftermath of the impeachment trial. Such calculations are shortsighted; the focus now must be on what's right for the country and for its role as the dominant partner in the NATO alliance.

For now, leaders in both parties want to put off any vote on the use of ground troops. They want to give the air campaign more time to work. Nor do they want to give Mr. Milosevic wrong ideas about US resolve.

Instead, debate this week will center around how to pay for the operation. It may well spill over into a discussion of strategy in Kosovo, but domestic politics will play a role as well.

The administration is asking for $6 billion in emergency funding, Republicans want to ramp up defense spending by as much as $16 billion.

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That would be a mistake. Congress should pay for the Kosovo war, but other military-spending hikes should go forward only after a full review of military strategy and needs.

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