COMMANDER IN CHIEF

“The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States”

-United States Constitution, Article II, Section 2

One of the most important roles for the President of the United States is that of Commander in Chief. Acting in this capacity, the President finds themselves ultimately responsible for the safety and security of the United States and its citizens. In this module, you can explore some of the conflicts that arose during President Clinton’s administration and the ways in which the President used military force to ensure the safety of the United States and its allies. 

Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia

In February 1992, the largely Muslim nation of Bosnia declared its independence from the ailing remnants of Yugoslavia.  Two months later, Serbia, the most powerful of the former Yugoslav Republics, invaded Bosnia with the goal of annexing large swathes of the country for the creation of a “greater Serbia.” After making substantial gains, the Serbian Army settled into a system of ethnic cleansing, seeking to purge their occupied lands of all Bosnian Muslims. 

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Serb War Aims
Click on the memo above to read an intelligence report detailing Serbia's war aims in Bosnia.

Early on in the conflict, President Clinton followed the events while supporting peace talks spearheaded by the United Nations and European Commission. However, as the above intelligence report on Serbian War aims shows, Serbia was not likely to abide by the terms and had continued its campaign of ethnic cleansing while talks were held. For President Clinton, it was clear that the security of the Bosnian people, and perhaps the greater stability of the Balkans, hung in the balance. 

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Genocide in the Former Yugoslavia
Click the document above to read a still partially classified report on ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

In July of 1995, a meeting was held in the White House Situation Room to analyze possible endgame strategies and the involvement of American troops in the conflict. The decision was made to launch airstrikes with the assistance of allied nations from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with the hopes of forcing Serbia to accept a peace agreement and end the ethnic cleansing. 

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End Game Schematic
Click the document above to see the range of scenarios presented to President Clinton in the White House Situation Room days before the airstrikes began.

Once ordered into action by President Clinton, U.S. troops, under General Wesley Clark, began Operation Deliberate Force on August 30th, 1995. By the 20th of September, Serbia’s offensive capabilities had been decimated by over 1,000 NATO airstrikes. Shortly thereafter, in November, Serbia signed the Dayton Peace Accords and the conflict came to an end.  

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Tuzla Visit
President Clinton greets troops during his visit to Tuzla Air Force Base in Bosnia-Herzegovina

 

 

Haiti: Upholding Democracy 

In the 1990 Haitian election, Jean-Bertrand Aristide ran on an anti-corruption platform and promised to hold the military accountable for the excesses they had committed during the dictatorship of the Duvalier family. He would go on to win 67% of the popular vote and became President of Haiti later that year. Eight months later, the threatened Haitian military launched a coup d’état, overthrowing President Aristide, who fled the country. 

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Meeting With Aristide
President Clinton meeting with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti in the Oval Office. Present at the meeting: Vice President Albert Gore, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Samuel "Sandy" Berger and others.

Once in power, the new military government of Haiti began to crack down on supporters of Aristide. Amidst rampant political violence, torture, and executions, people with the means began to flee Haiti, many attempting to seek asylum in the United States. 

After exhausting diplomatic options, facing an influx of refugees and receiving reports of continued violence, President Clinton worked to form an international coalition to force Haiti’s dictators out and return the democratically elected Aristide to power. An ultimatum was delivered to Haiti’s military government on September 17th, 1994 by a delegation of senior U.S. diplomats including former President Jimmy Carter. 

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Working Breakfast Meeting Relating to Haiti
President Clinton meets to discuss Haiti with President Carter, VP Gore, Sen. Sam Nunn, General Colin Powell, Tony Lake, Leon Panetta and others in the Residence Treaty Room.

 

 

The President's Radio Address

from September 17th, 1994:

 

 

 

That night, President Clinton gave a radio address to the American people explaining the situation and how violence in Haiti threatened the security of the United States. President Clinton declared that “The cause is right, the mission is achievable and limited, and we will succeed. The dictators must leave.” 

 

The President's Radio Address

from September 24th, 1994:

 

 

Hearing the resolve of the international community and fearing the elements of the fabled 82nd Airborne Division that were staging for invasion, the dictators of Haiti capitulated. American forces soon occupied Haiti and President Aristide was returned to power. One week on, President Clinton addressed the nation stating that “American power, marshalled in pursuit of our national interests, enabled American Diplomacy to succeed.” 

1996 Iraq Air Strikes

Click the player above to hear President Clinton's remarks on the 1996 strikes on Iraq. Or, click here to read the transcript. 

For much of the 1990s and early 2000s, the government of Saddam Hussein was a perennial thorn in the side of American Middle East policy. In 1996, despite "clear warnings" from President Clinton and the international community, the Iraqi military attacked Irbil, a city controlled by Iraqi Kurds. In response, President Clinton ordered missile strikes to destroy the air defenses of Southern Iraq and expanded the no-fly-zone imposed by the United Nations to include most of the country. President Clinton said in a statement to the American people, “Our missiles sent this message to Saddam Hussein: when you abuse your own people or your neighbors, you will pay a price.” 

To put further pressure on Iraq to withdraw from Irbil, President Clinton put the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 986, which would have allowed “Iraq to sell limited amounts of oil to buy food and medicine for its own people,” on hold until the city was back in the hands of the Iraqi Kurds. Saddam withdrew his forces soon thereafter. 

Crisis in Kosovo

As Yugoslavia collapsed into several independent Balkan nations in the early 1990s, the map of the region was redrawn. When the new borders were formed, the predominantly Muslim-Albanian population of Kosovo found themselves sandwiched into the predominantly Christian-Slavic nation of Serbia. Initially, this arrangement was made tenable by granting Kosovo rights of autonomy; however, in 1997, as Slobodan Milosevic, a Serbian nationalist, won the Presidency of Serbia, peace began to break down.

As part of his Serbian nationalist philosophy, Milosevic began a crackdown on the people of Kosovo. In response to the growing pressure, some Kosovars began armed resistance against Serbia and its troops. With this, the conflict began. Largely outmatched, the Kosovo Liberation Army was forced to engage in a guerilla war against the Serb forces. The Serbian Army, for their part, committed numerous massacres against the civilians of Kosovo, drawing attention and condemnation from world leaders.

In response to the reports of the atrocities in Kosovo and the displacement of thousands of civilians, President Clinton began efforts to bring peace to the region. While this effort brought modest success in the form of a winter ceasefire agreement in 1998, Serb forces re-engaged in March of 1999. 

Click the player above to hear President Clinton's address to the Nation concerning the need to confront Serbia's campaign in Kosovo. 

With negotiations off the table, NATO air units, including those of the United States, began a coordinated air campaign in Kosovo and Serbia designed to defeat the Serbian military and return them to the negotiating table. The campaign, titled Operation Allied Force, involved nearly 38,000 missions over 78 days. In the fighting, NATO forces suffered only minimal casualties while knocking out more than 400 targets in Serbia. Ultimately, the Serb forces, facing the overwhelming air power of the NATO air forces, agreed to respect the autonomy of Kosovo and withdrew their troops. 

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Kosovo Strategy
Click the document above to read about the strategy behind the NATO airstrikes on Serbia's military.

 

 

 

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