Reprinted from the Weekly Standard, May 10, 1999
The congressional Republican party hit bottom last week. On Wednesday, April 28, a majority of Republican House members cast two deeply irresponsible votes on the U.S. military action against Yugoslavia. Most press attention focused on the vote that denied President Clinton support for the air campaign.
Republicans voted six to one against the resolution, and its failure sent a terrible signal, both to American pilots who now have to continue risking their lives knowing that the Republican Congress does not support their mission, and to Slobodan Milosevic, who will undoubtedly read the vote as strong evidence that the United States lacks the will to prevail.
Less noticed, but in our view even more shocking, was the fact that 127 House Republicans -- 57 percent of the Republican majority -- voted to invoke the War Powers Act and compel the president to withdraw all American forces from the conflict within 30 days. Not as part of any diplomatic settlement, not in return for any concessions by Milosevic, not even as part of some phony Russian-brokered deal, for which so many McGovernite Republicans are foolishly pressing. No, just cut and run. Game over. Milosevic wins, the United States and NATO lose. That is what a majority of Republicans voted for last week, and no amount of Republican support for increased defense spending -- urgent as that is -- can cover up the shame of that vote. Last Wednesday was a defining moment for the congressional Republican party, and Republicans defined themselves as the party of defeat.
Congressional Republicans have now miraculously transformed themselves into a simulacrum of Vietnam-era left-wing Democrats. They call for peace at any price. They fly off, Ramsey Clark-style, to negotiate with American enemies and their backers in Moscow. And they invoke the War Powers Act, which Republican presidents from Nixon to Reagan to Bush have declared an unconstitutional restraint on executive prerogative. What's next? Sit-ins? Posing for TV cameras while sitting on anti-aircraft guns in Belgrade?
A few brave Republicans, led by Senator John McCain, have tried to prevent the party from driving off this isolationist cliff. In the House, 27 Republicans, led by the redoubtable Henry Hyde, voted against invoking the War Powers Act and for the air campaign. But it seems pretty clear that for now the majority of congressional Republicans are set in their unfortunate ways.
Which leaves it up to the leading Republican presidential candidates to save the party from the ignominy into which the congressional GOP threatens to plunge it. McCain's efforts have been heroic, but he cannot accomplish this vital task alone. Right now, the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination is George W. Bush. Bush was not as fast off the mark as McCain in calling for victory in the Yugoslav war, but eventually he did take a firm and honorable stand. As the GOP presidential front-runner, however, and in the absence of sound congressional leadership, Bush needs to do more. He should reiterate his position that America must win this war. More important, he should repudiate last week's votes -- for the sake of his party, and the nation. It isn't fun or easy to cut against the grain of one's own party. But at moments like this, that is what leaders do.