Gore criticizes Bush's strategy for Balkans

Monday, October 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Texas governor would recall U.S. troops from region

By G. Robert Hillman / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – Vice President Al Gore on Saturday challenged George W. Bush's intention to end U.S. military peacekeeping in the Balkans, declaring it a poorly conceived strategy that would "jeopardize fragile alliances."

"It would be a damaging blow to NATO," Mr. Gore said at a union rally beamed by satellite throughout the country. "It is the wrong course for America and the wrong course for the world."

Mr. Gore's rebuke followed an assertion by Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that the Texas governor, should he be elected president, would withdraw U.S. troops from NATO's peacekeeping mission in the Balkans, leaving it up to the Europeans.

"The governor is talking about a new division of labor," Ms. Rice told The New York Times.

Her statements amplified Mr. Bush's most recent assertion during the second presidential debate that he wanted to end direct U.S. military involvement in the Balkans.

"I'd very much like to get our troops out of there," Mr. Bush said in the debate. "I recognize we can't do it now, nor do I advocate an immediate withdrawal. That would be an abrogation of our agreement with NATO. No one is suggesting that.

"But I think it ought to be one of our priorities to work with our European friends to convince them to put troops on the ground."

Mr. Bush also said he opposed any move to turn U.S. forces into some sort of "nation-building corps."

"Our military is meant to fight and win war; that's what it's meant to do. And when it gets overextended, morale drops," he said.

On Saturday, Mr. Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said the governor's views, which he first detailed in a major address a year ago, have not changed.

Nevertheless, Mr. Gore went out of his way at the start of the get-out-the-vote union rally to disagree, questioning the governor's judgment.

"If we had not worked with our NATO allies to end the bloodshed in the Balkans, the entire region would still be in chaos, threatening American security," he said, calling Mr. Bush's proposal the "wrong course for America and the wrong course for the world."

Of the 65,000 NATO troops deployed in Bosnia and Kosovo, fewer than 12,000 are U.S. forces.

"In our second debate, Governor Bush seemed unaware of that fact," Mr. Gore said.

The Democratic presidential nominee, who is again trailing in some public opinion polls, turned to foreign policy for a only a few minutes Saturday, devoting much of the rest of the day to a discussion of values.

Meeting with black ministers and other community leaders in New Orleans, Mr. Gore spoke of the "deeper choices" that he said the nation faces in its robust economy.

"I'm talking about values that determine the future of the next generation," he said. "I'm talking about the need for families to be given the tools to protect their children."

Even Social Security is a "question of values," he said, declaring that the Republican has promised the same $1 trillion to younger workers to invest in private accounts and to the elderly to continue their retirement benefits.

"It's not just a question of arithmetic. It's a question of values," he said, asking: "Do we have an obligation one for the other? Do we care about our families. Do we care from one generation to the next?"

He said he envisioned a time, not so far away, "when we have not only a strong economy, but we have a shared set of values."

Mr. Gore plans to expand on his values theme during an address Sunday in Dallas at the Potter's House Church. His press secretary, Chris Lehane, said the vice president had been invited by the church's pastor, Bishop T.D. Jakes, who has not endorsed any presidential candidate even though he addressed the Republican National Convention last summer in Philadelphia.

From Dallas, Mr. Gore heads for New Mexico, Oregon and Washington state for the start of a campaign drive that will not stop until Election Day.

In Louisiana, Mr. Gore called the race "dead even," the same assessment his fellow Democrats give Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and a handful of other key swing states.

Already in Washington, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said Republicans are "measuring drapes for that White House." But, she added, urging a vigorous get-out-the-vote effort, "They don't know what's going to hit them on Election Day."

Staff writer Sam Attlesey in Austin contributed to this report.