Washington state’s congressional delegation balked Monday at President Clinton’s plans to send U.S. troops to Bosnia.
And judging by a sampling of opinion on the streets of Spokane, the public is also skeptical.
“I was not persuaded,” Rep. George Nethercutt, a Spokane Republican, said after the president’s national address. “It’s a fragile peace. It just makes me feel that the president is rushing to judgment on this.”
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said Clinton made “a compelling case” for America to act as an international leader. But she wants to hear more details of the plan in debates later this week and monitor the reaction in Bosnia before agreeing to support Clinton.
“Their leaders sat at a table last week and said they wanted peace,” she said. “Now will their people back home go along?”
Members of Congress conceded that Clinton, as the military commander in chief, can commit the troops if he chooses. Congress can exercise its objection by refusing long-term funding for the military action.
“I don’t think anybody in the House wants to put our troops at risk” by denying funding, Nethercutt said. “With all due respect to the president, I wonder what his commitment will be if we start to take casualties.”
Nethercutt argued that winter is the wrong time to send troops to the mountainous Balkan region. He also questioned the need for such a large contingent.
“What’s the magic in this number of 20,000 ground troops the president seems to be stuck on?” he asked.
Republican Sen. Slade Gorton said Clinton has yet to make the case that settling the war in Bosnia is vital to American interests.
“The peace the president praises is a peace of exhaustion and injustice, that simply ratifies the aggression and ethnic cleansing that has taken place for the last four years,” Gorton said in a prepared statement.
In Spokane on Monday, most people interviewed opposed sending troops to Bosnia, but the president also had his supporters.
“I think we should stay out of it,” said Charleen Strauch, a 26-year-old Eastern Washington University student. “We have a tendency to intervene when we’re not really needed instead of concentrating on what needs to be done (in America).”
Kristin Cobery, a 24-year-old Gonzaga University law student, said the Muslims, Croats and Serbs don’t appear committed enough to living in peace.
But a few Spokane residents said America has a moral obligation to lend a helping hand in Bosnia.
Betty McKay, an Othello asparagus grower who was Christmas shopping in downtown Spokane, said she supports the president’s plan.
“I think that after all the slaughtering over there it’s necessary for someone to step in,” said McKay, 67.
Jim Waugh, a 66-year-old retired barber, said atrocities in Bosnia are comparable to the Holocaust.
“I sort of feel we have a moral obligation to go help those people out since we’re the strongest country in the world,” he said.