"Republicans want to portray the President as a bungler whoís allowed defense capabilities to diminish for six years," says TIME congressional correspondent John Dickerson. Party leaders stand ready to argue that America was not adequately prepared for the current war, and that the country is not ready to fight in a second theater should another crisis suddenly arise. The strategy of attacking the Presidentís military policy in the midst of a war has its risks. "Democrats can certainly be counted on to argue that the GOP is merely playing politics," says Dickerson. "And Republicans are also mindful of the fact they have lost in past showdowns with the President." But the party believes it has a winning issue over military readinesss -- if it is handled carefully -- no matter what happens on the Kosovo battlefront.
Republican congressional leaders, critical of what they say is President Clintonís neglect of the armed forces, plan to use the Presidentís $6 billion emergency request for Kosovo to fight their own war over the defense budget. Their emerging strategy: Use the Presidentís requisition for the NATO action to tack on supplemental funding, perhaps $10 billion or more, to bolster the nationís defenses. The move has the advantage of both backing the troops in Kosovo while also maintaining the GOPís distance from Clintonís general military policy.