March 23, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Accusing Serbia of "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo similar to the genocide of Jews in World War II, an impassioned President Clinton sought Tuesday to rally public support for his decision to send U.S. forces into combat against Yugoslavia, a prospect that seemed increasingly likely with the breakdown of a diplomatic peace effort.
"It's about our values," Clinton said, explaining his position to an organized labor group during a speech at a Washington hotel.
"What if someone had listened to Winston Churchill and stood up to Adolph Hitler earlier?" the president asked. "How many people's lives might have been saved? And how many American lives might have been saved?"
Accusing Serb troops of terrorizing and murdering civilians in Kosovo, Clinton said: "We have to take a stand now. If we don't do it now, we will have to do it later."
In his remarks to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Clinton said unless Serb troops were stopped, a bigger offensive could start.
"If you don't stand up to brutality and the killing of innocent civilians, you invite them to do more," he said.
And yet, Clinton said, he did not like to use military force.
"We have tried to do everything we could to solve this peacefully." But, he said, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke "got nowhere" in his talks in Belgrade with Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic.
Clinton also said it is in America's economic interest to take a stand on Kosovo.
"If our country is going to be prosperous and secure," Clinton said, "we need a Europe that is safe, secure, free, united, a good partner for trading, wealthy enough to buy our products and someone who will share the burdens of taking care of the problems of the world."
"I want us to live in a world where ... we don't have to worry about seeing scenes (on TV) every night for the next 40 years of ethnic cleansing in some part of the world," the president said.
Earlier Tuesday, leaders of the Republican-led Senate, skeptical of Clinton's Kosovo policy, dropped a threatened attempt to cut off funds for military action.
Instead, a resolution of support for the U.S. military was being drafted with a vote expected later in the day. Senators revealed the change of plans as they left a White House meeting with President Clinton.
The president called the bipartisan meeting of 30 senators in hopes of showing Milosevic that even lawmakers opposed to sending U.S. forces into combat will back the White House and NATO should airstrikes be launched against Serb forces.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said afterward that lawmakers would alter the funding proposal.
"There will be, probably, a different kind of amendment," Hutchison said. "It becomes a different issue when action becomes imminent. While many people may disagree with the president's policies, I would not want Mr. Milosevic to get the impression that ... (U.S. forces) may not get full support."
"I am going to support the airstrikes," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).
Like Hutchison and even some Democrats, McConnell had been among a number of Republican senators deeply skeptical about Clinton's policy in trying to force Milosevic to halt an offensive against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and sign a peace deal.
Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Nebraska) said he has serious concerns that getting involved in Kosovo -- coupled with other U.S. deployments in Bosnia, South Korea and Iraq -- would stretch military resources too thin.
"There's only a certain number of things we can do. I would have preferred to say in this instance to the Europeans, 'This is one you're going to have to do,'" Kerrey said.
Still, Clinton "has made the case to me ... so I'll support him," he said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said he believed there would be a NATO bombing. "And it would be justified," Leahy said, adding the question is whether Congress would support it.
As the senators spoke, Holbrooke told CNN in Belgrade that his two days of talks with Milosevic had failed and that he was traveling to Brussels to meet with NATO officials.
Holbrooke said he had put two conditions to the Yugoslav leader -- an immediate cease-fire in Kosovo and implementation of a peace agreement already signed by leaders of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.
"Neither commitment was forthcoming," he said. "The situation is the bleakest since we began our efforts."
Speaking to American Legion members in Washington on Tuesday, Vice President Al Gore said: "If Milosevic does not call off his attack and stop the slaughter of innocent men, women and children, we are determined to act to diminish the military power that he has turned ruthlessly toward the Kosovo people and help the Kosovar Albanians win the safety, security and self-government they deserve."
Correspondents Wolf Blitzer, Christiane Amanpour, John King and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.
Senators agree to send united message to Milosevic
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