Congress Readies for a Ground War

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WASHINGTON: There's no more escaping it: Congress is back on the job Monday, and they're going to have to talk about ground troops. "It ought to be debated and voted on," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2000 presidential hopeful who has stepped out in front of the pack with his hedge-free "We're in, let's win" exhortations. Now, with Republicans eager to amplify any public doubts about President Clinton's foreign policy acumen, McCain isn't alone anymore. The administration's continued insistence that troops will be sent only to a "permissive environment" is likely to get a good picking-apart as members of both parties return to their places in front of the microphones for what promises to be a heated debate.

Certainly, everyone would hope for the safest possible environment for American troops. But can air attacks succeed without ground support? "Sure," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson, "if you bomb Kosovo into a mudpit. But that could take months, and then there's nothing left to permit." And as the outflow of refugees slows with more Kosovars in hiding, mudpit-making would just mean more innocent blood - this time on NATO's hands. As members of both parties told Clinton in a letter Friday, if NATO is to finish what it started in Kosovo, the American public "needs to be better prepared for the likelihood of Alliance casualties." That preparation begins this week.

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