The way partisan lines in Congress are playing out over the war in Kosovo is interesting. Indeed, a majority of each party’s senators are taking positions opposite to those their party normally takes. The Minnesota delegation presents a case in point of the ideological cross-dressing going on in Washington. Whereas Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone has voiced support for the action in Kosovo, Minnesota’s other senator, Republican Rod Grams, has, while supporting the troops taking part in the action, voiced his opposition to the president’s policy. While a variety of motivations no doubt play into these decisions, President Bill Clinton can be found at the center of the maelstrom.
Ideally, in military engagements, senators vote their conscience without regard to party affiliation. However, the political reality remains that people join parties because they share common beliefs, so the fact that parties vote together is not surprising. But one must question what exactly motivates some congressmen to take the positions they have assumed.
If the Republicans are to be judged by their votes, one would believe a majority of the GOP’s Senate delegation has lapsed into a neo-isolationist stance, with presidential candidate Pat Buchanan representing the extreme of this misguided view. Other Republicans might be opposed to the mission because of a mistrust of President Clinton, who perhaps rightly deserves to be treated cautiously. But it would seem that some Republicans have taken to opposition because of a hatred, not caution, of President Clinton. They might not express it openly, but some members of the GOP have adopted a voting style that could be stated: I am against anything President Clinton is for.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party, which saw a majority of its members oppose the Gulf War, is supporting this military action. That seems odd, especially if one believes that our military should support vital U.S. interests. Stopping Saddam Hussein from invading his neighbors and destabilizing the Middle East definitely served our interests more than our actions in Kosovo. The Gulf War was largely a success.
But now we have senators like Paul Wellstone, protester and Gulf War foe, out championing the war in Kosovo. Based on his rhetoric during the Gulf War, it seemed Wellstone believed that no use of force was justified, save defending Washington from direct attack. If Wellstone now believes that our defense department has the ability to do good, then maybe he has had a metanoia. A statement that his Gulf War opposition was misguided should be forthcoming.
Regardless of whether party positions have shifted, the fact remains that Congress is going to make a statement on Kosovo soon. Instead of authorizing or not authorizing ground troops, the Senate should make a resolution stating what the United States and its NATO allies should be seeking in Kosovo. Then, having a document authorizing him to seek certain ends, President Clinton should act upon it to bring an appropriate resolution to the conflict. Deciding on what types of forces to deploy is the job of the president and his military staff, not Congress — or editorial writers, for that matter.