The war leads all around. The USA Today and the New York Times leads emphasize both the Yugoslav government’s claim Thursday that it has accomplished its objective of putting down an Albanian rebellion, and hence that peace has returned to Kosovo, as well as NATO’s rejection of this as spurious. The Washington Post focuses on the military situation, which finds NATO planes stepping up their attacks on Yugoslav forces and supply lines to the point where U.S. sources say the Yugolavs in Kosovo are virtually cut off from the rest of Serbia and have been reduced to hunkering down and trying to hide. Although the NYT lead says the Serbian description of the situation as stabilizing provides some momentum for efforts at negotiating the release of the three Army POWs, the Los Angeles Times lead says hopes are fading that this will happen any time soon. The coverage notes that although there were some positive vibes about the POWs’ possible release, the Serbian deputy prime minister, a hard-liner, said their release was “out of the question.”
The papers report that yesterday’s fighting featured the killing of a “significant number” of Serbian troops. The coverage of the field action was based on the most detailed Pentagon briefings yet, the papers say. (Yet, there is still at least one detail that’s wrong. The WP says that among the planes attacking a convoy were F-16s flying off the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. But this is wrong– F-16s aren’t carrier-based.) The Wall Street Journal notes that despite the successes, the videos shown to the press clearly showed the intense anti-aircraft fire NATO planes had to contend with. The NYT and WP report that among members of Congress travelling with Secretary of Defense William Cohen, sentiment for NATO ground troops is growing. And the WSJ says the White House is preparing a supplemental spending measure for the war of $2 to $3 billion that will go before Congress soon. The Times reports that Serbian domestic support for resisting NATO remains strong. Thursday night, says the paper, residents of one Serbian city gathered on their one remaining bridge across the Danube, almost daring, it seems, NATO to bomb it too.
Everybody notes that in a press conference yesterday, President Clinton was asked whether Slobodan Milosevic should be considered a war criminal and that Clinton replied he does not know but that the question should be investigated. Nobody notes the real reason not to name Milosevic as a war criminal just yet–so as not to remove his last shred of motivation for suing for peace.
Everybody fronts the somewhat surprising development that Clinton and visiting Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji failed to reach an agreement that would make it possible for China to enter the World Trade Organization. The WSJ says that in doing so, Clinton overruled the recommendation of his top trade advisor and his national security advisors. The paper says Clinton figured Congress would reject any deal unless it included protections for American labor unions and industries like steel and textiles.
Thomas Friedman, in his NYT column, excoriates the “turbo finger-pointing” going on in Washington over the Yugoslavian mission. He writes that the Joint Chiefs blame Madeleine Albright, that State blames the Pentagon, that the CIA says “I told you so,” that the Vice President’s worried that the whole thing is going to sink his election chances, and that the congressional Democrats want to dump the whole Clinton foreign policy team (and of course, that the Republicans are sure it’s all Bill Clinton’s fault). “You don’t even have to leave this Administration and write your memoirs to betray it,” Friedman says, “Now you can do it on the job.” Friedman rightly wonders how one is supposed to conduct a long-term campaign in such an environment.