Just one week after President Clinton explained that he authorized a U.S. military attack in order to enforce ethnic amity in the Balkans, the Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday quietly and unanimously voted $20 million in start-up money to equip a Kosovo "self-defense force." It will not be in the business of promoting good feelings between Albanian and Serb.

The administration made no objection to the appropriation pressed by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. While insisting that this was not a continuation of his crusade to arm the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), McConnell told me "some of those folks" in the new U.S.-trained police force will be KLA guerrilla fighters. "You've got to deal with whoever is available," the senator added.

Since the KLA has engaged in terrorism and drug running, according to U.S. government sources, what does this mean for NATO Secretary General Javier Solana's pious entreaty for a return to Kosovo by members of the Serb minority who fled in fear of Albanian revenge?

The president's true mind-set about his Kosovo venture was not revealed by his controlled, tightly structured victory speech from the Oval Office June 10 but in his flamboyant, off-the-cuff pep talk the next day to B-2 bomber crews at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. There, he made clear that he regarded the attack on Yugoslavia as principally a civil rights matter.

The president indicated that he had ordered the devastating aerial attack to exorcise "the oldest demon of human society -- our fear and hatred of people who are different from us." Clinton declared that the United States "made a decision as a free people to respect the inherent dignity of every person, to give everybody a chance." Other administration policy-makers don't talk like that. They claim that events in Yugoslavia so threatened European stability that U.S. national security was at stake.

But Clinton needed something beyond geopolitics to justify the devastation of Yugoslavia. "I hate it," he said of his war. Beyond this need, Clinton's civil rights rationale is traced to remorse about his June 5, 1995, remarks on CNN's "Larry King Live": "[The Balkan] enmities go back 500 years, some would say almost 1,000 years." According to administration sources, the president since has become better informed, so the Yugoslav crisis now fits his conception of man's perfectibility.

The truth is that the enforced partition of Bosnia hardly ended ethnic hatred. Independent Balkan experts dispute State Department claims that Serbs are starting to return in significant numbers to their previous home areas in present Croatian and Muslim sectors. Certainly, nobody claims that Albanians in Kosovo are ready to forgive their Serbian tormentors. The Serbs are gone unless the Russians carve out a sector for them against determined U.S. opposition.

The KLA, the antithesis of the president's ethnic-friendly ideal, is not being "demilitarized" as specified in the peace agreement. NATO turned its back on the guerrilla organization's unsavory past to establish covert air-to-ground coordination to bomb the Serb military. As Serb forces moved out, fully armed, vengeance-seeking KLA troops temporarily took command. What's more, government sources report the United States has begun training a KLA-infested police force.

Thus, Sen. McConnell was not ahead of the curve Thursday when he pushed through the first money to start a self-defense force in "Kosova" (the bill uses the Albanian spelling). The senator contends that if U.S. forces ever are to leave the Balkans, the KLA will have to be utilized.

That's bad news for Kosovar Serbs. It also puts into question the Clintonian rationale for future interventions. He told the air crews at Whiteman that the "victory" over Yugoslavia "probably will not be our last" such venture -- presumably to roll back ethnic hatred. Training instead of disarming the KLA shows America choosing sides in the ethnic wars, not ending them.

(C)1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.