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I only caught this because I just finished reading Joe Biden's great autobiography, "Promises to Keep", which you should buy, borrow or steal sometime before Election Day.

Last night Senator McCain said this about Bosnia:

I supported us going into Bosnia, when a number of my own party and colleagues was against that operation in Bosnia. That was the right thing to do, to stop genocide and to preserve what was necessary inside of Europe.

What he neglected to mention is the fact that he was against it before he was for it. And not just a little bit against it, but vehemently opposed.  Follow below the fold for the story of how Joe Biden helped convince the Clinton Administration to intervene in the former country of Yugoslavia, in spite of John McCain:

In the latter half of Biden's book he spends a few chapters talking about his two greatest accomplishments in the Senate during the 1990's: drafting and ultimately getting passed the Violence Against Women Act, and convincing  our government of the need to change our policy with respect to the former Yugoslavia.

A Croatian Catholic monk first brought the issue to Biden's attention. He persistently wrote letters to the Senator, who was a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Yugoslavia broke up into separate countries in the wake of the Cold War, and it was a bloody process. Ultimately the UN imposed an arms embargo in an effort to curb the violence. This had the unfortunate effect of leaving all of the existing weapons in Bosnia in the hands of the Serbs, who were led by Slobodan Milosevic. The Serbs began systematically going about attempting to wipe out the Croats and Muslims in Bosnia. They created concentration camps and even "rape camps."

After holding many committee hearings and making several trips to the region, Biden was convinced something needed to be done. The strategy was called "lift and strike" - air strikes to destroy Milosevic's heavy weaponry and a lifting of the arms embargo so the Croats would be able to defend themselves. He had trouble convincing the President, the UN, and members of Congress in April of 1993. Enter John McCain (here is a passage from "Promises to Keep" by Joe Biden):

Talk of air strikes to halt Serb aggression and lifting the arms embargo against the Muslims in Bosnia met a lot of resistance in Washington. And one of the loudest voices against was John McCain, a former Navy pilot who had been a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict. Senator McCain kept saying there wasn't a single military expert he'd heard from who thought air strikes alone could do the job, and he worried about committing ground troops. "I will not place the lives of young Americans, men and women, at risk without having a plan that has every possibility of succeeding, a way in, a way to beneficially affect the situation, and a way out, and we do not have that," he said. It was the last week in April. A day later he invoked the most forbidding ghost among America's foreign policy failures. "It has a hauntingly familiar ring to me. It was the same rationale we used to start the bombing of North Vietnam. That's the way we got our fist into a tar baby that took us many years to get out of and twenty years to recover from."

It wouldn't be until 1995 that we implemented "lift and strike". The Senate & House voted unilaterally to lift the arms embargo, and NATO air strikes began. Milosevic and Karadzic withdrew their troops and recognized  the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

All told 200,000 Bosnians had been killed in the 3 year reign of terror.

So I don't know what you call one of these things, an "against it before he was for it" or vice versa (maybe someday it will simply be called a "McCain").

Two points:

  1. If McCain had supported Biden rather than opposed the plan, it could have been implemented sooner and saved lives. Bill Clinton was reeling from the Somalia fiasco, a foreign policy and military disaster he inherited from his predecessor, Bush 41. Not having a military record of his own, Clinton was understandably reluctant to commit U.S. troops to battle. But if John McCain, war hero and high ranking Senator in the opposing party had gotten on board, it would have gone a long way towards convincing Clinton that it was the right thing to do.
  1. I particularly find the bolded language in the above quote from McCain fascinating. One wonders what would have happened if McCain had still possessed that attitude during 2002 when President Bush and Vice President Cheney recruited him to sponsor the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq bill. Imagine if he had told Bushco this:

"I will not place the lives of young Americans, men and women, at risk without having a plan that has every possibility of succeeding, a way in, a way to beneficially affect the situation, and a way out."

It sounds eerily similar to what Barack Obama actually did say about the Iraq War in October of 2002. Imagine if Senator McCain, the war hero, had gone on every cable news network and voiced that opinion about the Iraq War, rather than doing the complete opposite, and shilling for the armchair warriors Bush & Cheney.

Because of his valiant service to this country, John McCain held a great deal of influence over whether or not this nation goes to war. Twice he had the opportunity to lead his fellow Senators and sway the President on the issue of whether or not we should put our soldiers in harm's way. And he failed to lead us in the right direction on both occasions.

Originally posted to bobscofield on Sat Sep 27, 2008 at 03:02 PM PDT.

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