The damage can, however, still be repaired. And the good news is that a few prominent Republicans have stepped forward to uphold the Reagan mantle. Bob Dole and Jeane Kirkpatrick have been arguing on both moral and strategic grounds that the United States must do what it takes to defeat Milosevic and defend the Kosovar Albanians. Republicans have every right to be critical of President Clinton -- Steve Forbes, for example, is absolutely correct to say that "the bombing should have taken place six months ago, a year ago, two years ago." But Sen. John McCain struck the right note when he insisted on the Senate floor that Republicans "must not compound the administration's mistakes by committing our own."
As McCain argued, "That the president has so frequently and so utterly failed to preserve one of our most important strategic assets -- our credibility -- is not a reason to deny him his authority to lead NATO in this action. On the contrary, it is a reason for Congress to do what it can to restore our credibility. It is a reason for us to help convince Milosevic that the United States, the greatest force for good in history, will no longer stand by while he makes a mockery of the values for which so many Americans have willingly given their lives."
Instead of warning hysterically about the possibilities of failure in the current mission, Republicans should be supporting the military action, warning that the Clinton administration is likely to do too little, not too much, and pressing for additional policies that will lead to victory. For example, Senators Jesse Helms, Richard Lugar, and others have introduced legislation to make the goal of American policy the removal of Milosevic from power and to provide some of the means necessary to accomplish that objective. Combined with a continuing air campaign, these efforts to undermine Milosevic stand a real chance of success. And, as Sen. Helms put it last week, Milosevic's ouster is the only real "exit strategy" in the Balkans.
Republicans should also push the administration to abandon its faith in any further "peace" agreements with Milosevic and to arm the Kosovars. Senators Mitch McConnell and Joseph Lieberman have introduced a bill that would provide $ 25 million to arm the Kosovars. A policy that combines a vigorous air campaign with an arms supply to the Kosovars could replicate the successful strategy that brought peace to Bosnia. If one consequence of such a strategy is the independence of Kosovo, so be it. Whatever problems that may cause pale in comparison with letting Milosevic win.
The fundamental point is this: Once the United States and NATO are engaged, there is no acceptable alternative to success. We suspect the air campaign may be more successful than panicky critics are now forecasting; but if it doesn't do the job, it is irresponsible to rule out the possibility of ground troops. In any case, now is the time for Republicans to show some courage. Behaving like McGovern Democrats is not just bad politics, damaging to Republican hopes in 2000. It reflects a fundamental failure to understand what is good for the country. Instead of voting against a U.S. peacekeeping force in Kosovo if one is eventually needed, as about 80 percent of House Republicans did recently, and instead of opposing the bombing campaign, as about 70 percent of Senate Republicans did last week, the GOP should be the party of American leadership and American victory.
William Kristol and Robert Kagan, for the Editors