As NATO was beginning its fourth week of not-yet-successful persuasion bombing, several progressive members of the House gathered privately to hash out their views of President Clinton’s still-under-construction Kosovo policy. Major Owens, a Democrat from Brooklyn, struck a hawkish stance, arguing that Milosevic is a Hitler who warrants removal. Cynthia McKinney, a Democrat from Georgia, challenged the premises of the NATO intervention and criticized the Administration for having provided no support for the nonviolent opposition in Kosovo or the democratic opposition in Serbia. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat whose Cleveland district includes constituents of Serbian, Croatian and Albanian ancestry, spoke against sending ground troops into Kosovo, arguing that such a step would make an awful situation worse. Kucinich urged enlisting the United Nations and Russia in a search for a diplomatic settlement.
There was no agreement on a Progressive Caucus position, and it’s unlikely there will be. How can the caucus reach consensus when Kucinich has called for a cease-fire and his fellow caucus participant, Jerrold Nadler, a Manhattan Democrat, has demanded the immediate deployment of NATO troops in Kosovo? “People are grappling, trying to figure out what the progressive position should be,” one participant in the meeting says. “The question is, how do we reconcile the fact that people are suffering with our healthy skepticism of intervention? Still, the liberals critical of the intervention are hemming and hawing more than they need to.”
Once the bombs began to fall, Republicans and conservatives initiated a high-volume intra-party squabble. On the presidential campaign trail, Senator John McCain and pundit Pat Buchanan squared off, with the former pushing a let-‘er-rip policy and the latter pressing an isolationist, get-out-of-Kosovo line. William Kristol, the GOP strategist/journalist, called on Republican comrades to back the crusade against Milosevic. Senator James Inhofe, a far-right conservative, and Representative John Kasich, another GOP presidential contender, have been soundbiting loudly against US/NATO military intervention in the Balkans.
On the left, there’s been a parallel debate among liberals and Democrats, although less testy, more tentative and more muted. Of those Democrats who have taken a prominent stand on Kosovo, most are advocates of more aggressive action. “We cannot let NATO lose,” Representative Louise Slaughter proclaimed. Senator Pat Leahy declared he was “disappointed” by how Clinton and NATO have carried out the air campaign and by the lack of US and NATO preparation for “the debacle that has unfolded.” He then endorsed the potential use of ground troops. House Democratic whip David Bonior also argued that Clinton’s bombs-alone policy has not succeeded and proposed sending in ground troops. In a quiet counterpoint, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt voiced support for Clinton and counseled frustrated Democrats to be patient.
Few Democrats have been openly critical of Clinton from a dubious-about-intervention perspective. In an April 9 Op-Ed in the New York Times, Kucinich became the first Congressional Democrat to label the Clinton bombing policy an outright and dangerous mistake. He asserted that the bombing campaign had failed to achieve its stated objectives, and he called for rethinking “the manner in which we manage conflict.” He was reluctant, however, to blast the White House. “There will be plenty of time for Monday-morning quarterbacking when the conflict is over,” he told The Nation. “I don’t want to create a war about the war.”