Credit Where It's Due

In the end, President Clinton's strategy paid off: Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic capitulated without NATO having to send in ground forces. What's a little disturbing is the unwillingness of the president's critics in Congress and the media to credit him with success.

True, air power alone wasn't quite enough to do the job. A late-in-the-game Kosovo Liberation Army offensive flushed Yugoslav troops into the open where they took heavy casualties from NATO bombers. And Mr. Clinton made known that he was near deciding to send in infantry and armor.

NATO erred in taking the ground troops option off the table from the start, but that may well have been the only way the alliance could stay united. If that's true, hindsight appears to justify NATO's decision - this time. Clinton and fellow NATO leaders deserve credit for staying the course.

The Republican reaction has been disappointing at best. Many on Capitol Hill and among the GOP presidential candidates pooh-pooh talk of victory and grouse that the president caused the very humanitarian disaster he said NATO was trying to prevent. Having labeled this "Clinton's war," critics now find themselves in a box, given its successful conclusion.

NATO's aircraft were unable to halt the eviction, murder, and rape of Albanian Kosovars, but they did not cause that barbarism. President Milosevic began his "ethnic cleansing" campaign a full year before the NATO bombing started. What changed were his village-at-a-time tactics, which morphed into a mass campaign NATO didn't foresee.

If anything, the argument can be made that NATO should have employed military force sooner, especially given Milosevic's record in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia. Such questions will undoubtedly be debated for years.

Much of the GOP criticism of this war was based, not on strategic and military considerations, but on Republicans' profound dislike of this president. That is not a proper basis for determining public policy, especially in the national-security realm. It's well past time for the GOP to get over it and concentrate on enacting a positive program to take to the voters next year. That means working with Clinton, like it or not.

In Kosovo, the tough part now begins: building the peace, preparing for the return of more than 1 million refugees, organizing a civil administration. The alliance should also work toward Milosevic's removal from office and his delivery to The Hague to stand trial before the International War Crimes Tribunal.

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