Republican presidential contenders reacted to the death of an American soldier in Bosnia with expressions of sympathy - and reminders that they opposed the mission from the start.
The strongest criticism came from Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. Gramm said he opposed sending troops to Bosnia and that, if elected president, he would bring them home as soon as he was sworn in.
“It’s a tragedy for his family, but also is a tragedy for America,” Gramm said during a campaign stop at a general store in Hooksett.
“Sending troops to Bosnia was a mistake for America,” Gramm said. “I said it was a mistake when it was proposed, and I voted against it.”
The soldier, the first American to be killed in action in Bosnia, died when he stepped on a land mine.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who learned of the death as he was flying to an eastern Iowa campaign stop, began his speech in Marion, Iowa, by asking the crowd of about 100 people to join him in a moment of silence.
Dole said if he were president, he would not have sent American troops to Bosnia, but now that they are there, the country must support them.
“I think as a soldier, you have to understand when you’re in harm’s way, these things will happen,” Dole said. “A land mine has always been a big problem. That shouldn’t in any way weaken our resolve. I think we need to stand behind our troops.”
Steve Forbes, campaigning in Manchester, N.H., said he also opposed the deployment.
“The administration knew if we put soldiers there that they are going to be in harm’s way,” the multimillionaire publisher said.
Forbes said the arms embargo should have been lifted on the Bosnian Muslims, allowing them to protect themselves, and that air strikes should have been used against the Serbs.
President Clinton, who was in New Hampshire Saturday for a campaign trip, did not respond directly to the criticism of his Bosnia policy, but said the death did not weaken his resolve regarding the peace mission.
Before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington, Clinton made a brief statement expressing sympathy for the soldier’s family.
“Our prayers are with you this afternoon and so is the pride of the nation, for he gave his life in the noblest of causes, the search for peace,” Clinton said.
“We will continue to take every precaution we can to protect our troops as they work to secure an enduring peace in Bosnia,” he said.