by Butch Miller
American Legion National Headquarters
Our nation is on a precipice that could bring American fighting forces onto a battleground of ethnic hatred that began centuries ago. Americans can not bring an end to such hatred on foreign shores.
Today American troops are on the verge of being sent to Kosovo. Right now the American Legion, the nation's largest war-time veterans' organization, is warning of the consequences of an ill-defined operation.
Before leading us further into the Balkans, the administration must meet at least four crucial tests:
- Explain why intervention in Kosovo is in the national interest;
- Establish operation guidelines for the mission, especially an exit strategy;
- Obtain the support of the American people and the approval of Congress;
- Guarantee that U.S. forces will only be commanded by U.S. officers.
American forces suffer from a high rate of deployments. These deployments span from Bosnia to the Persian Gulf, from the Indian Ocean to the Far East. Military leaders already must cope with a decline in recruiting and retention by service members who don't want to spend so much time away from their families.
An open-ended commitment to Kosovo could further erode military readiness and undermine the support of the U.S. public for peacekeeping operators.
The 2.8 million men and women of the American Legion are veterans of war-time service in uniform. We understand the hardships of deployments. We understand the sacrifices necessary and the toll it takes on families. Most important, we understand that our nation's leaders have an obligation to each of us. An obligation to provide answers up front, to explain the need for our troops to go and to understand the very real potential of shedding the blood of American patriots.
I believe the time to find out whether a Kosovo operation has the support of the American people is before -- not after -- any troops are committed.