April 09, 1999
Houston Chronicle
Bush toughens his stance on NATO bombing

R.G. RATCLIFFE, Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN - Gov. George W. Bush, undergoing his harshest national criticism yet for the vagueness of his policy on the Balkan crisis, Thursday sharpened his position to say that NATO’s use of military force should restore Kosovo to its native ethnic Albanian population.

“I would define the mission as to restoring Kosovo so the Kosovoians can move back in and at the same time teach Mr. (Slobodan) Milosevic that NATO and its allies and the United States will not tolerate genocide,” said Bush, a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

The United States and NATO have been trying to halt the campaign of “ethnic cleansing” of Kosovars by Milosevic, the Yugoslavian president, with airstrikes against Yugoslavia and the Serb army.

In his strongest and most extensive comments yet on the 2-week-old bombing campaign, Bush said, “I’m concerned that a thug like Milosevic, if left unchecked, would set a bad example for other ‘ethnic cleansers’ or other people willing to commit ethnic genocide.”

Bush has been widely criticized for being slow to adopt a position on Kosovo and then for making vague statements on the subject.

Newsweek said of Bush: “GOP front-runner equivocates over bombing. Make up your mind, Nacho Man!” And the conservative Wall Street Journal called Bush’s original stance on Kosovo “so vague and tepid as to be almost Clintonian.” Numerous other pundits have chimed in with similar remarks.

Bush shrugged off such criticism Thursday.

“Not at all. I took a very measured approach. I took my time in making what I thought was a very important statement,” Bush said. “I’m going to get criticized. I understand that. But I’m going to speak on my timetable and nobody else’s.”

In the past several days, Bush has moved closer in his stance to GOP presidential rival John McCain, an ex-prisoner of war and the only candidate with combat experience. McCain’s political star has risen since he has offered tough talk on Yugoslavia.

George Christian, who was press secretary to President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War, said he does not believe the public evolution of Bush’s position will hurt his presidential campaign in the long run. But Christian said it gives the news media and Bush’s opponents ammunition for now.

“He’s caught in a stance where he’s expected to say something, but he’s got to be cautious,” Christian said. “He’s taken some flak on it because he’s the leading Republican contender for president. Any flak he gets is from people who want to do him in.”

Bush has been meeting this week with experts trying to bring him up to speed on foreign policy and economic issues.

Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said the governor met two days this week with foreign policy advisers that included former Secretary of State George Shultz, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, Condoleeza Rice of Stanford University and Paul Wolfowitz of Johns Hopkins University. All served in the administrations of Presidents Reagan or George Bush, the governor’s father.

Hughes said the meetings were scheduled before the Kosovo crisis erupted into U.S. military action and were not set up in response to the criticism of Bush.

The criticism did not stop Bush from picking up key endorsements Thursday from U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle and New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg.

Bush, in Austin, criticized President Clinton’s administration for not doing enough to enunciate a goal for the Kosovo military action and indicated the bombing campaign might not be a tough enough response. “Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is,” Bush said.

Although on Wednesday Bush said that a victory was paramount, “even if that means ground troops,” he said Thursday any decision to commit ground troops ought to be made by the military.

On another foreign policy matter, Bush did not hesitate to outline his position on China as Premier Zhu Rongji held a news conference with Clinton in Washington.

Bush said the United States should continue to trade with China while continuing to pressure the nation to adopt more humanitarian measures. “China is an important nation, and so is America. We ought to be dealing with China,” Bush said. “We ought to make it clear to China that we support human rights in America.”

Bush, whose father was U.S. ambassador to China, said improved trade will help create high quality U.S. jobs while also creating an “entrepreneurial class” in China.


June 5, 1999
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Clinton War Policies Draw Barrage of GOP Criticism

Thomas Hargrove, Scripps Howard News Service

Washington - Most of the Republican presidential contenders continued a rolling drumbeat of criticism against President Clinton’s policies in Kosovo even after the NATO air war produced an apparent peace deal this week.

Before the Yugoslavian Parliament’s vote accepting the Western alliance’s demand for the withdrawal of all Serbian troops from Kosovo, Republicans called White House military policies an “insane war” and the “result of a series of blunders.”

There were few signs of back pedaling yesterday.

“I say thank God it’s over,” television commentator Patrick Buchanan said. “We have killed 2,000 innocent civilians in Serbia. There are a million refugees that did not exist 12 weeks ago. Clinton may spin this as a political victory, but this is a disaster for everyone who’s been involved in it.”

Buchanan focused much of his recent campaign speeches on Kosovo, which he termed an “illegal and unconstitutional war” because it was not authorized by Congress. He repeatedly said he is “unalterably opposed” to NATO air attacks.

Former Vice President Dan Quayle also was unrelenting in his opposition. “A more feckless policy is hard to imagine,” he said last month. Quayle said yesterday that the settlement with Belgrade “could have been secured months ago” if Clinton had been more flexible in accepting a peacekeeping force under United Nations command.

“The Clinton administration squandered substantial resources and, far more importantly, our nation’s credibility in the pursuit of matters wholly unrelated to America’s vital national security interests. It was a terrible mistake that has established a troubling precedent,” Quayle said.

The two frontrunners in the crowded GOP field, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former Transportation and Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole, had generally supported the use of American warplanes in Yugoslavia. But they found cause for concern with the apparent conditions of the impending peace.

“I would strongly urge that if there are U.S. troops involved, they be under U.S. command or NATO command,” Bush said Thursday. “I think it’s also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn. If there needs to be a residual force, it is important that over time U.S. troops are withdrawn and our European allies carry the majority of the load.”

“It is inconceivable to me that the Clinton-Gore administration could even ponder a command structure that is not under NATO control or that they could accept a settlement that does not guarantee the deportees a safe return to their homes,” Dole said. “The Clinton-Gore administration has been very vague about the terms of this proposal, and I’m worried that we are on the verge of a sellout.”

Magazine publisher Steve Forbes had earlier suggested the U.S. arm and train refugees in Kosovo. After the apparent peace deal, Forbes criticized Clinton’s decision to use Americans in a new peacekeeping mission “with no real explanation to the American people and no exit strategy. Nothing could be more misguided.”

Clinton’s policies received support from Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. McCain criticized fellow Republicans for using the war in Serbia for partisan political gain.

“We shouldn’t be in any hurry to end the air campaign,” McCain said Thursday. “Milosevic might appear to comply with the agreement only up to the point that NATO ceases bombing, and then invent some pretext to demand changes in the agreement, judging that NATO would lack the political will to resume bombing.”

Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander also supported the air war and yesterday echoed the notion that “there should be no cessation in NATO’s bombing until the pullout is verified and both elements can be assured.”