On both sides of the Atlantic, the media have highlighted the credentials of Wesley Clark, the retired general who has entered the Democratic race for president. Bob Herbert of the New York Times said Clark “led the successful military operation in Kosovo in 1999,” while The Guardian of London called him “the U.S. hero of Kosovo.” Human Events is the only newspaper we have seen which noted that the Kosovo war was initiated by Bill Clinton “without seeking prior authorization from Congress.”
But it’s far worse than that. Ignoring the constitutional role of Congress, Clinton waged his war through executive order and presidential directive. Clinton used executive orders to designate a “war zone,” call up troops, proclaim a “national emergency” with respect to Yugoslavia, and impose economic sanctions on the Belgrade government.
Without any acknowledgment of the role of Congress, Clinton claimed the power to wage war on Yugoslavia through his “constitutional authority” to conduct “foreign relations,” as “Commander in Chief” and as “Chief Executive.” Clark was technically the supreme Allied Commander of NATO, but Clinton actually delegated command-and-control of U.S. forces to NATO and its then Secretary-General Javier Solana, who had the authority to order U.S. troops into military action. Without getting Congressional approval, Clinton also announced a new “Strategic Concept” for NATO that went far beyond the defensive purposes of the alliance outlined in the NATO treaty. This new document was never submitted as a treaty for ratification by the Senate.
Several dozen members of Congress filed a lawsuit under the War Powers Act to compel the President to follow the Constitution. The 1973 law permits the President to conduct hostilities for a maximum of 60 days without Congressional authorization. He must, however, notify Congress within 48 hours of engagement in hostilities. Clinton complied with that requirement but exceeded the 60-day limit. The House explicitly refused to approve the action in Kosovo on a tie vote but the Clinton administration continued to wage the war anyway.
To validate his own actions, Clinton later signed another executive order, this one to establish a “Kosovo Campaign Medal” for certain military personnel participating in the operation. But criteria developed by the Pentagon meant that it was limited only to those who served in and around the Balkans. Clark, who was based at NATO, was ineligible for the award but finally received it after getting a special waiver. Earlier, Clinton had cited Kosovo in giving Clark a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The continued deployment of U.S. troops in Kosovo is one reason why some observers say the U.S. doesn’t have enough troops in Iraq. A Congressional Budget Office report says that the Pentagon could free up additional units for rotation to Iraq by withdrawing Army forces from Bosnia, Kosovo and other areas. This would enable the Pentagon to increase the size of the force in Iraq by another 12,000 to 13,000 military personnel.