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Dole, GOP Leaders Support Sending Troops to Bosnia

By Stanley Meisler
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Accepting the argument by Secretary of State Warren Christopher that the issue is now "an acid test of American leadership" in the world, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and other congressional Republicans on Thursday reluctantly endorsed President Clinton's planned deployment of 20,000 troops to enforce the peace agreement in Bosnia.

Although he does not agree with Clinton, Dole told the Senate, "we have one president at a time. He's the commander-in-chief. He made the decision." The Republican leader said that he would try to fashion a bipartisan resolution in the next few days to support the deployment while setting down conditions that would "end it quickly and successfully."

Dole drew immediate support from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a former Navy pilot who spent several years in a North Vietnamese prison camp. McCain, who has considerable influence in the Senate on defense issues, insisted that Congress must not force the president to renege on his commitment.

"When the president's word is no longer credible abroad, all Americans are less safe," he said.

The Republican opposition wilted as the Clinton administration sent its main diplomatic and defense team - Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff - to Capitol Hill in the first of a series of committee appearances to marshal support for the mission. Led by NATO, the mission will enforce the peace agreement initialed in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 21.

In sessions before the House Committee on International Relations and the House Committee on National Security, the trio, replying to questions, put the cost of the mission at $2 billion and anticipated that casualties would be no greater than those suffered by U.N. peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia in the last three and a half years. They also insisted that it is feasible to count on all troops leaving within 12 months.

Their main plea, evidently heeded by many Republicans, was that there is no choice but to back the president in fulfilling his pledge to commit American troops to NATO enforcement. "Whether we take action now in Bosnia is an acid test of American leadership ..," Christopher said. "I can tell you from my personal experience as secretary of state that if our country doesn't follow through on this initiative, no nation around the world will follow us, not in Europe, not in the Middle East, not in Asia, not anywhere."

The officials were reluctant to give members of Congress an estimate of casualties but, under pressure, Shalikashvili said that the only possible model is the U.N. peacekeeping operation. The United Nations, which now has 32,000 troops in the former Yugoslavia, has suffered 212 fatalities in Croatia and Bosnia since 1992 - with 80 listed as war casualties. The others died from traffic accidents and other non-military causes.

Shalikashvili implied that NATO forces could expect fewer casualties because the U.N. peacekeepers were "in the midst of a conflict" and "did not possess the right armament." Further, he said, they had rules of engagement that often made them "sitting ducks." None of this would be true in the case of the NATO forces, he said.

But the Joint Chiefs chairman went on to stress that it is difficult to make projections from the U.N. experience because "these numbers are relatively small, and so statistically they will only be misleading." He explained that, with such small numbers, a single calamitous incident could change the picture completely.

Perry estimated the cost of keeping the ground troops in Bosnia at $1.2 billion, with another $300 million for continuing the air patrols over Bosnia and $500 million for support facilities in Italy and Hungary. These figures did not include the salaries of the personnel, he said.

Any expectation of a grand battle between the Clinton administration and the Republicans in Congress over the deployment of troops was diminished in the morning when Rep. Jim Leach, (R-Iowa), said in the first House hearing that, despite his concerns about the mission, "I believe Congress has the responsibility to recognize that the president has the constitutional right to act and we have the obligation to support our troops."

"Indeed, at this point," he went on, "it strikes me that except for second-guessing, the arguments are largely over and what the Congress now has to cope with is the question how we can help make this mission successful." Others on the committee followed Leach's lead.

This theme was picked up by Dole in the afternoon with his dramatic announcement to the Senate. Although he maintained that the dispatch of American troops would not have been necessary if Clinton had accepted past congressional appeals to lift the arms embargo on Bosnia, Dole said that "it is time for a reality check in Congress.

"The fact is that President Clinton has decided to send U.S. forces to Bosnia," he went on. "The fact is that these troops will be sent, and indeed some are already there. The president has the constitutional power as the commander-in-chief to send these forces. The Congress cannot stop this troop deployment from happening."