Like most conservatives, even those hawkish on the current NATO military action, I look at the war unfolding in Kosovo with grim foreboding. Our commander in chief is a liar and a cheat and it shows; and will have consequences. Already President Clinton has had to avoid speaking of Serbian rapes in his official statements because of the charges that have been leveled against him personally.
More seriously, for nearly seven years Clinton has systematically gutted our military establishment and drawn down its forces. At the same time, he has surrendered decisions about the deployment of those forces to multilateral agencies like the United Nations and NATO. This has pushed us into conflicts whose relevance to Americas national interests has not always been clear, and to military objectives that are often not matched with the political will to carry them out. This, in turn, has resulted in the spectacle of American forces lobbing bombs at hostile targets like Serbia and Iraq, inflicting just enough damage to entrench their aggressive leaders further into power, while blackening our national image in the eyes of ever-larger populations across the globe.
Time and again, Clinton has attempted to assert military superiority on the political cheap, with the result that he has squandered our stockpiles and taunted our adversaries, without significantly affecting reality on the ground. After a series of mock wars against Saddam Hussein, Clinton has left the Iraqi dictator more firmly in power in his own country, still able to get on with his nuclear and chemical weapons program, but now without the annoying distraction of U.N. inspectors to hamper his progress. Saddam has even begun to advise Slobodan Milosevic in his spare time.
The NATO airstrikes in Kosovo have had a similar self-defeating impact on Milosevic and his agenda, causing the Serbian nation to rally around his leadership and accelerating the expulsion of ethnic Albanians. At the same time, the flood of refugees has already begun destabilizing the next Balkan dominoes in his path.
The bungling of the assault on Milosevic is not merely a case of political incompetence, but political malfeasance. Much as Clinton launched missiles into the Sudan without consulting his Joint Chiefs of Staff, so he authorized an air war in Kosovo that his military and intelligence advisors warned him could not accomplish the objectives he used to justify them. Now it is clear to everyone that only the introduction of ground troops can accomplish these objectives, but at much greater human cost than had they been introduced at the outset.
As Americans contemplate this prospect, however, who knows what Clinton will do next? Will there be an invasion? Clinton has said he has no intention of introducing ground troops, but what does that mean, coming from the prince of deception? Perhaps it means (as he has subsequently explained) that he would indeed introduce ground troops, but only into a "permissive environment" -- a term only Clinton could parse. Meanwhile, helicopters and support crews will soon be introduced, which is a first step down the slippery slope of ground war, in the pattern of Vietnam. And so American youth are being sent into battle, and the security and reputation of America itself are being placed on the line, under circumstances that are woefully unclear by a leader no one can trust.
But this isn't the only bad news. The dramatic images coming out of Kosovo, in fact, have diverted attention somewhat from other disturbing reports that, under different circumstances, might have blown Clinton's presidency out of the political water -- and whose import for the future of this nations security is alarming. In the midst of the bombing, the chief of Chinas intelligence services was revealed to have been one of the illegal funders of the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign. A few days ago, the agency he heads was reported by the New York Times to have stolen the secrets of Americas neutron bomb.
Within the last month, the penetration of the nuclear lab at Los Alamos by Chinese agents was also revealed, along with the Clinton administrations cavalier attitude toward that revelation. The extent to which a network of communist agents (including John Huang, an official given top security clearance at Clintons personal request) has penetrated the adminstration is unknown. Given the history of Clintons ability to stymie investigations into his affairs, moreover, it may never be known. These disturbing items come on top of the disclosures of a raft of suspicious transfers of satellite and missile technologies to China by top Clinton-Gore campaign funders. All told, these developments mean that Chinas dictatorship has been armed for the first time with the ability to devastate the American mainland.
The outlook might be less grim if the Clinton presidency had not systematically squandered what Sen. John McCain has called Americas "most valuable asset" -- its credibility as a military power. It is the specter of Americas deterrent force that keeps aggressors at bay. If a potential aggressor -- Serbia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria, Russia, China -- takes America at its word, and believes that any aggression will be met with devastating force, the chances are good that the aggression will not take place in the first place. Americas military credibility is, in fact, an essential component of any global peace. If, however, an aggressor believes that Americas word is fluid, that its resolve is flabby and that its military response will be confined (as in Serbia and Iraq) to expensive pin-pricks, then the world has suddenly become a far more dangerous place for all of us.
Because America is the worlds only superpower, because it has stood up for decency against despotism and for international order against national aggression, America remains the top target for all of the worlds outlaw powers. As missile technologies spread to these nations, Americas own position becomes increasingly more vulnerable. Because the Clinton administration refused for six years to authorize resources for an anti-missile defense system on the grounds that it would violate arms control agreements made with the former Soviet bloc, this vulnerability will persist for some time.
The seven years of the Clinton presidency have seen the greatest erosion of American military credibility since the years of the Carter administration that ended with the invasion of Afghanistan and the taking of American hostages in Iran. It is for this reason that some conservatives like McCain, Chuck Hagel and Bill Kristol have called for the support of the inept war that the Clinton administration is waging in the Balkans. If youre in it, and youre America, as McCain likes to say, you have to win it. Or as Kristol and Robert Kagan put it in a recent Weekly Standard editorial, "Once the United States and NATO are engaged, there is absolutely no acceptable alternative to success."
But in order to "win it," Clinton is going to have to put 200,000 troops on the ground, and be prepared for a war (and subsequent occupation) that will inflict untold casualties on American forces and last many years. Are we, as a nation, prepared to take these risks, and accept these casualties, with the present occupant of the White House as our commander in chief? That is the unwelcome question the American people are going to have to answer in the weeks to come.