Should NATO Send in Ground Troops?

Dear John,

In the last few rounds, I’ve tried to formulate as clearly as I could some scenarios in which ground troops would be deployed. At the moment, my preferred option would be to replicate the Kuwait operation. If the bombing fails to dislodge Serb troops from Kosovo–and I suspect it will fail, despite Milosevic’s declaration today of a unilateral cease-fire–then we should send NATO troops in to retake Kosovo and establish the conditions of security in which the refugees could resettle and rebuild. This would mean de facto creating an independent Kosovo, since it’s inconceivable that the refugees would return even to “autonomy” under Milosevic.

It seems to me that such a military operation would have clear and achievable political objectives. It would also provide a clear endpoint for the combat mission, although it would not have a clear and definite “exit strategy” with regard to bringing NATO forces home. Obviously, we would have to accept that NATO troops would be in Kosovo for some time to protect against another attack from Serbia down the road. The only real exit strategy would be the replacement of Milosevic by a democratic government committed to non-aggression against the newly independent Kosovo. And I don’t pretend to know when that might come. In Iraq, we’ve been waiting eight years.

And you’re right, I do like the part of the Powell Doctrine that calls for the application of overwhelming force. I don’t think anyone would deny that the Clinton administration’s gradualist approach to the military operation has been a disaster. The only thing I would say about the Powell Doctrine, however, is that the “bill” he presented George Bush for Desert Storm was deliberately designed to be too high for Bush to stomach. Powell, let us not forget, opposed going into Kuwait and wanted to draw the line against Saddam at Saudi Arabia. I suspect that when he came up with the amount of forces necessary to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait, he expected Bush to blanch. Thankfully, Bush called Powell’s bluff. And the good news is that the United States then did apply overwhelming force to the war and thus achieved an overwhelming success. So, I guess I’d like to employ the Bush corollary to the Powell Doctrine: Go in big, but go in.

But back to Kosovo. Here’s my final question for you: If you don’t like my proposal for a ground offensive to liberate Kosovo, and I suspect you may not, then what is your alternative plan? Do we cut our losses and give up on Kosovo? Do we try to cut some deal with Milosevic on a partition of the province? Do we suspend air strikes and start negotiating, now that Milosevic has declared a cease-fire? Or do we keep pounding away from the air in the hopes that he will eventually withdraw his forces? Would you support sending in NATO as a peacekeeping force to police whatever deal Clinton cuts? Your question about “where’s the beef” in the calls for ground troops is fair enough. But what’s the answer if we rule ground troops out?