WASHINGTON – Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, has joined a group of colleagues who say it is time for Congress to either declare war on Yugoslavia or demand that President Clinton halt the bombing and bring U.S. troops home.
The group, led by Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Calif., said that only Congress has the authority to commit U.S. troops to battle and that the current military action bypasses the Constitution.
“We elect a president and not an emperor, and I wasn’t around when we tore up the Constitution,” Bartlett said Thursday. He said earlier in a prepared statement that failure by Congress to either declare or end the war in Kosovo “would rend our society as surely as Vietnam did.”
The resolution from Bartlett, Campbell and eight other congressmen directs the president to end U.S. participation in the NATO military campaign that began with bombings March 24. Campbell has a second resolution that would allow Congress to declare war on Yugoslavia.
Bartlett said he will vote to end U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia and to withdraw American forces from the region. If Congress does not vote to end the campaign or declare war, he said he will join Campbell in a lawsuit declaring Clinton’s unilateral use of force unconstitutional and “our next stop will be the Supreme Court.”
The authority for Congress to declare war is established by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.
The resolution calling for an end to U.S. involvement was heard Thursday by the House Committee on International Relations, where it met with resistance from both sides of the aisle.
Although committee chairman Rep. Bill Gilman, R-N.Y., said he believed “the administration has made a serious mistake without consulting Congress,” he also said he would vote against bringing U.S. troops home.
Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., echoed Gilman’s statement and added that a flat- out end to U.S. involvement now would “send the wrong message” to the likes of Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
“I think the civilized world can’t turn its back on a genocide” in the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo, Hyde said.
But Bartlett said he has not been swayed by humanitarian appeals for intervention in the Balkans.
“Neither side has clean hands — they’ve been doing this for 700 years,” he said, adding that if the ethnic Albanians had the upper hand militarily, they would be just as ruthless.
“This is a civil war,” he said. If U.S. ground troops have to be sent in, he said, the Yugoslavians “will go to a guerilla campaign and we will die a death from a thousand cuts.”
NATO forces began bombing Yugoslavia after its army, comprised largely of ethnic Serbians, attacked the southern province of Kosovo, which is home to large numbers of ethnic Albanians. Yugoslavia claimed its action was a response to Kosovar rebels, but other nations have accused the Serbs of using the rebels as a cover for a campaign of genocide.
Bartlett voted against a House resolution March 11 that supported the administration plan to use U.S. forces as part of NATO action in the Balkans. Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, was the only other member of the Maryland congressional delegation member to vote against the resolution.
Campbell’s withdrawal resolution is scheduled for a committee vote Tuesday. Under the War Powers Act, it must be voted on by April 30. The alternative resolution, declaring war, must be voted on by May 4.
Bartlett said he doubts that either resolution will pass, but that the importance of both Congress’ constitutional authority and the safety of U.S. troops demands a vote.
“Even if we were being successful, we need this vote to clarify on the next move,” Bartlett said. “I don’t want to go to war, but I’m ready to fight to get the troops out of there.”