Global Policy Forum

Bush Would End US Role

New York Times/Reuters
October 22, 2000

If Texas Gov. George W. Bush is elected president, he plans to tell NATO that the United States should no longer participate in peacekeeping in the Balkans, Bush campaign officials said on Saturday.

Senior advisers to the Texas governor expanded on Bush's plan, which was explained to The New York Times in an interview with Bush's senior national security aide, Condoleeza Rice. Rice and senior adviser Ari Fleischer said if Bush were elected president, the United States would focus more on fighting war in certain trouble spots than in peacekeeping.

"The governor has made very clear the role of our military should be to fight and win wars and not to be the peacekeepers around the world," Fleischer told reporters. "There are no deadlines, but there is a resolute determination that the purpose of our military should be to fight and win wars, and the governor would be more judicious in the use of our troops in peacekeeping missions."

Rice told the Times that under Bush's plan, peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo would become a European responsibility. The United States would focus instead on deterring and fighting wars in the Gulf, Asia and other trouble spots. "The United States is the only power that can handle a showdown in the Gulf, mount the kind of force that is needed to protect Saudi Arabia and deter a crisis in the Taiwan Straits. And extended peacekeeping detracts from our readiness and these kinds of global missions," Rice told the newspaper.

But at a campaign rally in Washington on Saturday, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore accused his Republican rival of showing "a lack of judgment and a complete misunderstanding of history."

He said if the United States were to withdraw from the Balkans as Bush proposes it would be a "damaging blow to NATO I believe it would be the wrong course for America and the wrong course for the world." Withdrawing from the Balkans, Gore said, would amount to "in effect turning our back on 50 years of commitment to America's most important security alliance." He added that if America had not worked with NATO in the Balkans there would still be chaos there today.

The United States sent 25,000 troops to help police the Balkans in 1995 after the war in Bosnia. Today the size of the U.S. force in Bosnia and Kosovo is down to 11,400 troops, less than one-fifth of the 65,000-member NATO peacekeeping force in the region and a fraction of the 120,000-member American military presence in Europe.

Fleischer and Rice sought to reassure European allies that while Bush would make a redivision of military tasks a major objective, he would consult NATO allies and would not take "precipitous" action. "He believes that upon election it is important to work with our allies, including all members of NATO ... to begin the discussions on how long our troops need to remain," Fleischer said. "He has not discussed any deadlines or established any deadlines," Fleischer said. "It will be done cooperatively, with consultation."

Rice said in The Times interview that United States would continue to provide intelligence, help with communications and transport, and perform other logistical work after withdrawing peacekeeping troops.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said ending the U.S. role in Balkan peacekeeping would send a "very dangerous signal." "Frankly to be talking about this right now, when (Yugoslav President Vojislav) Kostunica is putting together his new coalition ... I think is truly dangerous," Albright said in a telephone interview.

"Signaling to walk away is like punting around the first yard line.... We need to keep our eye on the ball and finish the job," she added. Wesley Clark, the retired U.S. Army general who commanded NATO in the Kosovo campaign, agreed. He warned against a pullout "if the mission continues for NATO and we want any leadership role." "It's not clear how soon it's possible to withdraw a substantial amount of troops without undercutting the mission," he said.

Terence Taylor, assistant director of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, told The Times removing U.S. troops from the Balkan mission would call into question the U.S. military presence in Europe.

"The United States has infantry and tanks in Germany. And if it is not going to send them to the Balkans, what are they there for anyway? Stopping the former Warsaw Pact from rolling westward? It is almost as if they are going back to the Cold War."

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