AMERICAN LEGION URGES WITHDRAWAL OF TROOPS FROM YUGOSLAVIA


Clifford "Cliff" StearnsU.S. Representative
[R] Florida, United States

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Mr. STEARNS. Mr. Speaker, I do not know of any group that is more respected and has more credibility when it comes to our Nation's veterans than the American Legion. Mr. Speaker, the Legion, representing over 3 million of our Nation's veterans, has gone on record against our involvement in Kosovo.

I would like to share with my colleagues this afternoon a portion of a letter sent to the President by the American Legion about our involvement in Kosovo, and I quote: ``The American Legion, a wartime veterans' organization of nearly 3 million members, urges the immediate withdrawal of American troops participating in Operation Allied Force.'' The letter went on to outline resolution number 44, the American Legion's statement on Yugoslavia that was adopted unanimously by their organization on May 5, 1999: ``This resolution voices grave concern about the commitment of U.S. armed forces to Operation Allied Force unless the following conditions are fulfilled: One, there is a clear statement by the President of why it is in our vital national interests to engage in Operation Allied Force. Two, guidelines be established for the mission, including a clear exit strategy. Three, that there be support of the mission by the United States Congress and the American people. Four, that it be made clear U.S.

forces will be commanded by U.S. officers whom we acknowledge are superior military leaders.

The Legion believes that at least three of these conditions have not been met, and if they are not all met, then the President should withdraw American forces immediately.'' Mr. Speaker, I agree with this position.

The President has committed the armed forces of the United States in a joint operation with NATO, Operation Allied Force, but has not yet clearly defined what Americans' vital interests are in this region. The American people have a right to know why we are there. The President, in eight weeks of military action, has not properly defined what the specific objectives of NATO are, nor has the White House defined an exit strategy. And if my colleagues will remember, Mr. Speaker, the President promised our Nation that the U.S. military forces would be out of Bosnia in one year. Three years and six months later, U.S. personnel are still in Bosnia, and I expect that they will continue to be there for years to come.

[Time: 13:00] How long will our forces be in Kosovo? Will the President claim they will be there for just 1 year once again? I continue to be troubled with America's participation in this conflict. U.S. forces continue to carry the overwhelming share of the military burden, rather than our European NATO allies. Only 13 of NATO's 19 member nations are actively engaged in Operation Allied Force. American pilots are flying some 90 percent of the missions.

It also seem to me that the Clinton administration continues to disregard attempts to reach a diplomatic solution. After a bipartisan congressional delegation met with the parliamentary leaders of Russia in Vienna recently to start formulating terms of a negotiated settlement to establish a cease-fire and establish peacekeeping operations, and after Reverend Jackson's successful trip to release the three American servicemen, the administration has not attempted to follow through on any of these overtures.

Many of us here in Congress are veterans. We swore an oath to defend our country and her interests. But we must remember, wars are fought to protect national security interests, not for human rights. In fact, no major conflict has been waged solely for the purpose of defending a beleaguered people. The United States has a moral interest in Yugoslavia, but we have no national interest.

This conflict violates the conservative principle that goes back to our American Founding Fathers: nonintervention in the internal affairs of other countries, except to counter threats to our national interest. Our dedication to free markets and democratic institutions are exportable only by example, not by force.

My greatest hope is that we can reach a diplomatic solution to this crisis and bring our men and women home safely.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, the American people are suffering from what I call Clinton fatigue. They question our [Page: H3223] reasons for being in Kosovo, and they now question the bases for which the President is choosing his policy.

I include for the RECORD the full text of the American Legion letter of May 5.

The letter referred to is as follows: THE AMERICAN LEGION, OFFICE OF THE NATIONAL COMMANDER, Washington, DC, May 5, 1999. The PRESIDENT, The White House, Washington, DC.

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT: The American Legion, a wartime veterans organization of nearly three-million members, urges the immediate withdrawal of American troops participating in ``Operation Allied Force.'' The National Executive Committee of The American Legion, meeting in Indianapolis today, adopted Resolution 44, titled ``The American Legion's Statement on Yugoslavia.'' This resolution was debated and adopted unanimously.

Mr. President, the United States Armed Forces should never be committed to wartime operations unless the following conditions are fulfilled: That there be a clear statement by the President of why it is in our vital national interests to be engaged in hostilities; Guidelines be established for the mission, including a clear exit strategy; That there be support of the mission by the U.S. Congress and the American people; and That it be made clear that U.S. Forces will be commanded only by U.S. officers whom we acknowledge are superior military leaders.

It is the opinion of The American Legion, which I am sure is shared by the majority of Americans, that three of the above listed conditions have not been met in the current joint operations with NATO (``Operation Allied Force'').

In no case should America commit its Armed Forces in the absence of clearly defined objectives agreed upon by the U.S. Congress in accordance with Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States.

Sincerely, Harold L. ``Butch'' Miller, National Commander. -- National Executive Committee, The American Legion, May 5, 1999 RESOLUTION NO. 44: THE AMERICAN LEGION STATEMENT ON YUGOSLAVIA Whereas, the President has committed the Armed Forces of the United States, in a joint operation with NATO (``Operation Allied Force''), to engage in hostilities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without clearly defining America's vital national interests; and Whereas, neither the President nor the Congress have defined America's objectives in what has become an open-ended conflict characterized by an ill-defined progressive escalation; and Whereas, it is obvious that an ill-planned and massive commitment of U.S. resources could only lead to troops being killed, wounded or captured without advancing any clear purpose, mission or objective; and Whereas, the American people rightfully support the ending of crimes and abuses by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and the extending of humanitarian relief to the suffering people of the region; and Whereas, America should not commit resources to the prosecution of hostilities in the absence of clearly defined objectives agreed upon by the U.S. Congress in accordance with Article I Section 8 of the Constitutional of the United States; now, therefore, be it Resolved, by the National Executive Committee of The American Legion in regular meeting assembled in Indianapolis, Indiana, May 5-6, 1999, That The American Legion, which is composed of nearly 3 million veterans of war-time service, voices its grave concerns about the commitment of U.S. Armed Forces to Operation Allied force, unless the following conditions are fulfilled.

That there be a clear statement by the President of why it is in our vital national interests to be engaged in Operation Allied Force; Guidelines be established for the mission, including a clear exit strategy; That there be support of the mission by the U.S. Congress and the American people; and That it be made clear U.S. Forces will be commanded only by U.S. officers whom we acknowledge are superior military leaders; and, be it further Resolved, that, if the aforementioned conditions are not met, The American Legion calls upon the President and the Congress to withdraw American forces immediately from Operation Allied Force; and, be it further Resolved, that The American Legion calls upon the Congress and the international community to ease the suffering of the Kosovar refugees by providing necessary aid and assistance; and, be it finally Resolved, that The American Legion reaffirms its unwavering admiration of, and support for, our American men and women serving in uniform throughout the world, and we reaffirm our efforts to provide sufficient national assets to ensure their well being. END

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