The New York Times leads with a late-breaking account of Saturday night’s bombing of Belgrade; the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times go with Serbia’s atrociously effective purge of Kosovo’s Albanian population. All three papers scatter updates and speculations on NATO strategy across their fronts. The LAT interrupts its war coverage for a domestic scoop: the first direct evidence that the Chinese government funneled money into President Clinton’s 1996 campaign.
According to the NYT, NATO’s cruise missiles hit two industrial sites and a police academy in Belgrade. The U.S. shipped Apache helicopter gunships to Albania, along with the soldiers and rockets necessary to operate them, and a caveat that the U.S. is “adamantly opposed” to using ground forces. NATO commander Wesley Clark requested the Apaches–low-flying aircraft capable of destroying armored vehicles–over a week ago, but the request languished because of vaguely cited “political concerns” that the helicopters would smell of a ground war. (Whose concern? The White House’s? The Pentagon’s? Shouldn’t an accusation this serious name names?)
The papers tally the horrifically successful expulsion of the Kosovo Albanians: since airstrikes began 11 days ago, a total of 765,000 Albanians have been displaced from Kosovo, including 130,000 on Saturday alone. Neighboring countries from Montenegro to Italy are beleaguered and skittish about the influx of refugees. Estimates vary on how many refugees Macedonia has taken in so far–the WP says 115,000, the NYT puts the number at 55,000-but the country has now closed its borders to the (according to the NYT’s count) 200,000 refugees still en route there. The papers continue to report on the desperate plight of the refugees-the NYT and WP print the same photo of a wild-eyed woman entreating a Macedonian official for entry, and the LAT narrates mass killings of Albanian men by Serbian forces. But the emphasis of the coverage is on NATO’s strategic response to the atrocities. The alliance will dispatch 6,000 to 8,000 troops to Albania to dispense emergency care, and 10,000 British, French, and German peacekeeping troops will be put on refugee detail. The most dramatic and most quoted statistic of the day comes from a NATO spokesperson, who computes that at the current rate, “Serb forces will have emptied Kosovo of its entire population in 10 to 20 days.” As a NYT front-pager on the president’s decision-making process puts it, soon there may not be any ethnic Albanians left in Kosovo to protect.
The Times reports that overcast skies have prevented NATO airplanes from striking the Serbian military and police forces responsible for the ouster. A question: why did the weather prevent NATO from hitting the Serbian forces purging the refugees, when it didn’t seem to hamper the bombing of Belgrade? (A separate piece says that Friday’s bombs landed in Belgrade with “astounding” accuracy, leveling buildings but causing nary a single casualty.) NATO commanders have been ascribing the uneven results of their raids to the weather, but the papers have shed little light on how poor weather can impede various missions.
On the battle front, the WP and LAT report that allied strikes obliterated two more bridges in Serbia; the LAT puts the casualties at seven. As reported previously, the bombs have inspired Serbs to rally around Milosevic: “these bombs will just increase the sense that the world is against us and we must stick together,” a young Serbian tells the NYT. The LAT reports that the Yugoslav foreign minister referred to the three U.S. soldiers captured on Wednesday as prisoners of war, giving rise to hope that they will be treated according to the dictates of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war.
A NYT front-pager reminds readers that NATO’s military speed and agility is limited by the alliance’s bureaucratic structure. NATO “is waging war by committee”–all decisions must be vetted with the 19 member states, which dampens surprise and diffuses consensus. It also seems to muddle communication–the WP lead pointedly criticizes NATO’s “conflicting statements and confused iterations of policy.”
A NYT front-pager questions the viability of “The Clinton Doctrine,” described as “using air power to try to coerce political change abroad at little or no risk to American soldiers.” Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger sanctions the deployment of ground troops on the NYT op-ed page; even though a ground war “would not be an easy or cost-free enterprise,” NATO cannot afford to lose a standoff with Milosevic. His successor, Warren Christopher, says as much in the Post, but in terms far more oblique. He writes that NATO must “make it plain that no option has been foreclosed” and “do all that is necessary,” but shies from explicit reference to ground troops.
The LAT reports that former Democratic fundraiser Johnny Chung has told the feds that a top Chinese intelligence aide secretly funded President Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign. General Ji Shengde deposited $300,000 into Chung’s U.S. bank account, telling him, “We like your president.” Chung then made a series of smaller contributions to the Democratic National Committee. The paper reminds readers that Chung’s testimony provides the first direct evidence of a clandestine plan by the Chinese government to influence the 1996 election. Chung is already serving a light sentence for election law violations, cooperated with the now-stalled DOJ probe of campaign finance abuses, and may write a book about his experiences.
A WP story indicates the generosity, dedication, and responsiveness that Al Gore enjoys from his supporters. On Wednesday, Gore’s aides disclosed that he raised $7 million in the first quarter of the year. The next day, George W. Bush announced that he was close behind with $6 million. Gore’s supporters must have reacted immediately, because by late Thursday, Gore’s aides announced that their candidate now actually had $8.9 million in his campaign chest.