Gore pulls Balkans into debate

Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas – Al Gore asserted on Saturday that George W. Bush is demonstrating a “lack of judgment and a complete misunderstanding of history” by advocating a diminished U.S. peacekeeping role in Europe.

The Bush camp argued that the GOP presidential nominee has been saying the same thing for months: that Europeans should assume all peacekeeping in Europe but that he would not set a deadline for withdrawing American troops now stationed in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Gore’s attack came as new polls showed Bush had opened a lead over Gore in the days since the final presidential debate and more than two weeks before Election Day.

In a remarkable offensive aimed at Bush’s perceived weakness that he’s not ready for the job of commander-in-chief, the Gore campaign made available to reporters both Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO commander.

Urging the removal of U.S. troops from Bosnia and Kosovo “sends a dangerous signal,” Albright said, though the Clinton administration has been moving toward withdrawal. “We would be undercutting what we have been trying so hard to achieve,” a free and democratic Europe, she added.

Still, she acknowledged of U.S. troops stationed in the Balkans: “I don’t think they should be there any longer than they have to be.”

In fact, Bush has not advocated bringing home troops from the Balkans now and has not changed his position, his aides insisted. Bush said as recently as the second presidential debate in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Oct. 11 that he would not set a timetable for their withdrawal. “That would be an abrogation of our agreement with NATO,” he said.

Gore, at least in debate, told Bush, “I certainly don’t disagree that we ought to get our troops home from places like the Balkans as soon as we can, as soon as the mission is complete.”

But the vice president, in an address Saturday to a union group in Washington, D.C., accused Bush of wanting to turn his back on the Balkans.

“Governor Bush would tell NATO that the United States would no longer take part in peacekeeping in the Balkans, in effect turning our back on 50 years of commitment to America’s most important security alliance,” he said. “I strongly disagree with his view. I believe it demonstrates a lack of judgment and a complete misunderstanding of history to think that America can simply walk away from security challenges on the European continent.”

Gore’s criticism comes as polls taken after Tuesday’s debate show Bush opening a 5- to 11-point lead nationally, while several new state polls showed the vice president struggling to hold onto key battleground states.

Bush campaign officials said they were perplexed with the Gore assault, noting that Bush’s call for phasing out the U.S. peacekeeping presence in Europe has been part of his stump speech for more than a year and was in his acceptance speech at the GOP convention.

Though Bush advocates no U.S. forces in future European peacekeeping missions, he still believes in using U.S. force to intervene to establish peace such as in the Balkans, an operation he backed.

Bush, in a satellite address from his Texas ranch to GOP campaign workers in Washington state, asserted that “we have a solid chance to sweep the West Coast.”

“But this election will be close, and the outcome will be determined precinct by precinct,” he added.

Bush also assailed Gore’s programs as generating “massive government debt.”

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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