Congress Will Balk but Not Bolt from the Balkans

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Congressional skepticism over Kosovo may be growing, but it's more likely to keep U.S. troops there indefinitely than it is to bring them home. Because while Capitol Hill will inevitably back away from allowing the war to restart, concerns over the safety of the troops means they are unlikely to aggressively pursue and eliminate potential security threats in the troubled Balkan fiefdom. The House of Representatives Tuesday voted to withdraw U.S. forces by next year unless Europe shoulders more responsibility for stabilizing the region, and the Senate will consider similar legislation on Friday. "But even if the legislation passes," says TIME Washington correspondent Massimo Calabresi, "a year from now when it's made clear that the war will restart as soon as the Americans leave because Slobodan Milosevic would love to get back in there, Congress will back down. The Europeans accept that Kosovo is ultimately their responsibility and are moving to run these operations themselves, but it'll be some time before they're able to."

Congressional critics complain that the Europeans haven't met their financial commitments for the rebuilding of civil society in Kosovo, but the slow progress on that front may have more to do with the security situation than with funding. "There's no law and order, no judicial system, no functioning native police — it's a mess, and all of the peacekeeping forces are not making it work," says Calabresi. "It's not as if the U.S. is out there aggressively stabilizing Kosovo and pursuing nation-building. Congress isn't exactly pushing U.S. troops to go out and take risks by pursuing the more aggressive policing duties without which the situation won't be stabilized." A year after NATO's military victory, violence between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs has not been eliminated, and a violent turf war among leaders of the former KLA guerrilla movement is claiming a growing number of victims. "Never mind the fear that Milosevic would come back in; if the U.S. leaves the Albanians would eat each other for lunch," says Calabresi. "Realistically, the U.S. troops are going to be in Kosovo forever unless someone starts doing something serious about nation-building there."