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"IT IS FATAL TO ENTER ANY WAR WITHOUT THE WILL TO WIN IT." - General of the Army Douglas MacArthur

As Yugoslavia burns, this country - or at least its president - seems committed to an involvement in the Balkans that will stretch well into the next millennium.

Moreover, since dragging the United States and the NATO alliance into a botched air campaign against Yugoslavia, President Clinton has been behaving as if the war will take care of itself.

Mr. Clinton has conspicuously and alarmingly failed to use the "bully pulpit" of the presidency to rally American opinion behind the policy while meekly deferring to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and NATO's Secretary General Javier Solana.

Indeed, even the president's grandiloquent rhetoric regarding phantom Hitlers in the Balkans is not a substitute for a properly planned and executed strategy to engage the enemy, defeat the enemy and impose peace terms.

With no workable strategy, all we are left with is pathetic, maligned consequences of a poll-driven, focus-group war of political correctness. It is the stuff which can win presidential campaigns, but it is a certain formula for disaster in a war.

In all of his lip-tugging, finger-wagging, chest-thumping "I am commander-in-chief" declarations, Mr. Clinton has failed time and time again to accomplish his basic mission: Make a case for ground troops in Kosovo.

That was obvious in Wednesday's vote in the House of Representatives where the body overwhelmingly passed a measure requiring the president to get Congress permission before committing ground troops to Kosovo. It was even more obvious when a 213-213 tie vote failed even to approve authorization for continuing air attacks against Yugoslavia.

The house votes do not mean that this country still isn't with some seemingly inexorable force, moving - or being pushed - toward the fateful decision in which U.S. ground forces will be committed to a bloody war in Yugoslavia where a great many will only come home in body bags.

But why should that be different? The whole execution of this war will indubitably go down in the annuals of military history as one of the strangest and most bungled campaigns ever conducted.

Indeed, if it were not for the tragedy which has befallen more than 1 million Kosovo ethnic-Albanians by a combination of NATO bombing and murderous Yugoslav troops, the only fitting word would be surreal.

This is perhaps the first war in history where the priority is to avoid casualties at all cost. That is, casualties among our own forces and not among Kosvo refugees or the Serbian civilians who seem to be fair game - "collateral damage" in NATO speak - for our "smart" bombs and laser-guided missiles.

It seems that the NATO prevailing doctrine is: If someone has to get hurt or killed, let it be civilians. This is a strategy hardly worthy of the "most successful military alliance of all time."

Lest someone think we exaggerate regarding this new concept of modern warfare, just look at Monday's briefing by NATO Gen. Klaus Naumann. Speaking about the belated arrival of 23 Apache attack helicopters - which finally arrived in Albania only to have one of them promptly crash in a training accident - the Pentagon, Gen. Naumann said, is making absolutely sure that the rest of the helicopters and their crews are not placed at risk.

Risk free helicopter attacks?

That, it seems, is what war has come down to.

Of course , no one wants to see ONE American soldier or airman killed, but if that is the top priority, then maybe we shouldn't be sending them off to war in the first place.

That alternative seems to have been lost on Mr. Clinton as well as many of our military leaders. Otherwise, how can anyone explain Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander, uttering one of the most discredited phrases in military annuals. When asked how long the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia President Slobdan Milosevic would continue, he replied: "It is to some extent a function of his threshold of pain and loss>"

Flash back to 1968 when "threshold of pain" was a strategic term widely used when the United States was conducting a bombing campaign to force concessions out of North Vietnam. We never did find Hanoi's "threshold of pain" and finally withdrew from the war. Our efforts earned us only a memorial wall in Washington D.C., with more than 58,000 names on it.

Now, we have Mr. Clinton's hand-picked leader of NATO's war against Yugoslavia parroting a round-filed Air Force slogan as if it were a whole new concept in strategic planning.

Is this the depth to which military science has sunk? Is it that we have dumped all the hard-learned lessons of wars passed in favor of the Clinton doctrine of modern warfare: Risk free, military casualty free, devoid of any real preparation of how to enter, how to win and how to exit.

It is a design for failure. And that failure should not be carried forward to final, unalterable disaster by the use of American ground troops.

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