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Clinton Makes Case for Kosovo Intervention

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 24, 1999 – "The Kosovars said yes to peace; Serbia put 40,000 troops and 300 tanks in and around Kosovo," and that's why the United States must be part of the solution there, President Clinton said March 23.

Clinton told the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Biennial Convention that the United States and its NATO allies are united and prepared to use force. "If [Serb] President [Slobodan] Milosevic is not willing to make peace, we are willing to limit his ability to make war on the Kosovars," he said.

Clinton explained that the United States has strategic, practical and humanitarian reasons for combating Serb aggression in Kosovo.

Strategically, the United States needs a stable, democratic and undivided Europe, he said. Economically, Europe is a major U.S. trade market. "If we have learned anything after the Cold War and our memories of World War II, it is that if our country is going to be prosperous and secure, we need a Europe that is safe, secure, free, united, a good partner," Clinton said.

He said the practical reason for solving the problem now is that ignoring it means someone will have to do it later, but at a cost of more lives and more money. "What if someone had listened to Winston Churchill and stood up to Adolf Hitler earlier?" he asked. "How many people's lives might have been saved?"

Clinton said the world should learn the lesson of NATO intervention in Bosnia. "We learned that if you don't stand up to brutality and the killing of innocent people, you invite the people who do it to do more of it," he said. "We learned that firmness can save lives and stop armies."

All military actions carry risks, and this one would be no different, Clinton said. The Serbs have considerable air defense capability. "There are risks to our pilots and there are risks to people on the ground who, themselves, are innocent bystanders," he said. "But the dangers of acting must be weighed against the dangers of inaction. If we don't do anything after all the to-and-fro that's been said here, it will be interpreted by Mr. Milosevic as a license to continue to kill."

More than 250,000 Kosovars -- 30,000 in the last eight days alone -- have been driven from their homes because of fighting in the southern Serbian province, Clinton said.

He said the United States must be concerned about war in Kosovo because it could easily spread. "Look at the map -- this is a conflict with no natural boundaries," he said. "If the conflict continues, it could force thousands of refugees to Albania to the south or Macedonia. Fighting could engulf those nations. It could draw in even Greece and Turkey."

Intervening now could mean peace, Clinton said. "I think [intervening] is morally right and in the vital interest of the United States," he said. He asked the audience to support his decision and to "say a prayer for the young men and women in uniform who are going to be there to do what I as their commander-in-chief order them to do."

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