Do you think that now, after the bombing has stopped and peace is unmistakably at hand, President Clinton's critics will stop pounding him?
In the week since Slobodan Milosevic ran up the white flag, the anti-Clinton din has been deafening. Is everyone glad that the NATO experiment in stopping tyranny is ending in success? Well, not everyone. The collateral damage, as the Pentagon likes to call unintended casualties, has been enormous. Conventional wisdom has been clobbered. It's in worse shape than bombed-out Belgrade.
In punditland, all is consternation. Everyone knows that airpower alone cannot achieve a goal. So how could we win, using only high-altitude bombers? The impression you get from the enclaves of the armchair warriors is that it would have been better to have the war go on than to destroy a cliche so widely held.
Clinton could pick up a paper at any time during the period while the Serbs had their fainting fits, their vanishing spells and their hysterics over packing up and moving out in a week, and read how wrong he had been. Nobody, heaven knows, was saying anything nice about his having hung in and at length being rewarded by light at the end of the tunnel. No, the columnists and carpers were saying how misguided he had been to tip his hand about not sending in ground troops--great harrumphing and a lot of righteous rant about the immorality of waging war on the cheap and sparing politically expensive casualties.
Yes, most of them might grant he had intervened for the right reasons, but how could he take any satisfaction in winning when he didn't have Plan B if the bombing had failed? The people who won't take yes for an answer know for a fact that a successful outcome was not warranted because from the first, the commander in chief was misguided. He had been told by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and national security adviser Sandy Berger that Milosevic would cringe at the thought of the bombs and crumble when they fell. It took 72 days to penetrate that dense skull, while the carpers envisioned a summer of bombing and another winter in the field for the refugees. Instead they can go home.
There was only one thing worse than Clinton's war, as House Republican Whip Tom DeLay liked to call it. That was Clinton's peace. Can you imagine anything worse than an agreement worked out with the Russians? What was Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott thinking? Hear veteran Cold Warrior Dmitri Simes, head of the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom, spitting bullets. Talbott had "delivered a devastated beggar nation to the negotiating table."
Did anyone tell Simes that Viktor Chernomyrdin is one of the few people in the world to whom Milosevic speaks? Did someone point out to him when Talbott and the president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, took up their pens to sign an agreement reached with the intercession of Boris Yeltsin, the third pen at the table was in the hand of Chernomyrdin. In other words, he was indispensable. Would it have been better not to have peace so that we could continue to gloat over our old Kremlin adversaries?
Clinton has had to import any praise he has heard so far. Tony Blair thought it was a good show, and Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder thought so well of the whole thing that he sought to have the accords named after a castle in Germany where he was briefly involved in the proceedings.
Any day now, the hecklers are going to have to face it: Bill Clinton has had a foreign policy triumph. He has saved NATO; he has stopped ethnic cleansing. He did it with no help from the Republicans. They declined to sanction the bombing. The Republican presidential candidates have shown no class at all. They sounded small and silly when they heard the news that Milosevic was throwing in the towel.
The Republicans ought to consider the liberating effects of saying they were wrong, and congratulating Clinton. They have behaved so badly for so long they can hardly stand themselves. They should try to figure it wasn't just Clinton that won, but the country, that we have been spared unspeakable anguish and pain. If in the end we had had to invade Kosovo, we would have endured enormous casualties, divisions, and heartache.
Clinton is the luckiest man alive, we've been shown again. But the country is lucky, too. His critics hate him so much, they can't see straight, but there's no way of getting away from the fact that, now, preposterous as it seems, Bill Clinton deserves a salute as commander in chief.