Morality requires U.S. action in Kosovo

Editorial Note: NATO actions in Kosovo have deeply divided the editorial board. As a result, we will present opinions from both sides today and tomorrow.

A growing voice in Congress says that the United States needs to accomplish its mission in Kosovo by using “whatever it takes.” Expressed most prominently by Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., this caucus is of the opinion that no matter what got us into Kosovo, the job must be finished. Congress is contemplating making a statement on Kosovo, which McCain and others believe should clearly spell out the mission and authorize President Clinton to take appropriate measures to bring about a resolution to the conflict. Such a statement would be a clarifying moment in the war in Kosovo and should be delivered soon. The goal of American policy should be to return the Albanian Kosovars to their homes without further fear of Serbian aggression.
The United States has a moral responsibility to see that genocide does not take place under our watch. With the end of the Cold War, the United States remains the only superpower. This position empowers us to do good, but it also carries a responsibility to act when we have the capacity to do so. Our actions in Kosovo, at the heart of it, result from a genuine moral conviction that we can and should help these people.
Some, including the reactionary isolationist presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, believe we do not belong in Kosovo because our presence does not serve American interests. This attitude exemplifies simplistic, linear thinking. The truth is that by standing against genocide on the eve of the 21st century, we send a message to the world that such behavior will not be tolerated. This is not about saving face, as some have argued; it is about sending a crystal clear message that genocide is unacceptable.
Another insulated viewpoint argues the United States does not belong in Kosovo because we did not act in Rwanda, Tibet, East Timor or many other locations. Perhaps we did belong in those conflicts, but the situation in Kosovo is different for a couple of reasons. First, Kosovo is located in the backyard of NATO. After having already fought two world wars in Europe this century, surely we have learned the best way to prevent a larger war is to solve relatively smaller problems before they blow up.
Second, failure to act in the past does not mean that we should ignore our present moral responsibilities. There are many regions in which NATO could be helpful, but we cannot be everywhere. We must choose to act when we have a reasonable chance of success.
This is an opportunity for Clinton to show the kind of leadership Americans should expect from their president. A true leader does not govern using polls and focus groups. Instead, he takes a courageous position and then convinces his nation to believe in his stance. If ground troops are necessary, they should be introduced to solve this problem. Our policy decisions should not result from fear, but rather a need to do what must be done.