Why Clinton Is in Trouble Over Kosovo, Colombia

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Away from the limelight of the battles over the China trade bill and the fate of Elian Gonzalez, there's a bipartisan move afoot on Capitol Hill to frustrate key foreign policy objectives of the Clinton administration. A bipartisan initiative in the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday looked set to slow down White House efforts to secure a $1.6 billion emergency aid package to the Colombian security forces who are battling narco-traffickers and leftist guerrillas, while an amendment with strong support on both sides of the aisle obliges the President to move to withdraw U.S. troops from Kosovo by July 2001, and to seek congressional authorization for any deployment beyond that date.

There's little surprise about the Colombia move, given the strong reservations among legislators of all stripes about the war on drugs' becoming a pretext for deepening U.S. involvement in a long-running civil war. "There's tremendous concern in Washington that we may be wading into a quagmire in Colombia, walking the same path we walked in Vietnam," says TIME Washington correspondent Massimo Calabresi. The administration justifies the massive beefing up of the Colombian military by the fact that much of the country's cocaine crop is grown in areas under guerrilla protection, but critics point out that the military's human rights record is anything but spotless and that all sides in the country's civil war have been tainted by narco-trafficking. More important, for many, there's widespread suspicion that simply sending the Colombians large numbers of helicopters won't solve the problem, and that the U.S. will inevitably be drawn deeper into the conflict.

The Kosovo amendment, which would essentially hand peacekeeping duties over to European NATO members, reflects both immediate concern over Washington's apparently open-ended commitment to peacekeeping duties there and a political concern over the authorizing of foreign deployment of U.S. troops. "There's a desire among some senators to retain congressional control over the deployment of troops overseas," says Calabresi. "Because it's so cut-and-dried that the place could blow up again if NATO troops are withdrawn, it may be difficult for the senators to publicly call for that. But this amendment certainly makes a territorial point about how these deployments are authorized."