Four years ago this week the President of the United States flew into a war zone in broad daylight and had Thanksgiving Dinner with the troops. This year our President had to sneak into the Baghdad Airport under cover of darkness and remain in a heavily guarded military compound without allowing any coverage until he was 10,000 feet above Baghdad on his way home. The big difference is that Clinton was warmly received by a large contingent of troops in Kosovo, but more importantly was also warmly received by the natives prior to the event, who thanked him for their liberation.
Speaking in a chilly school gymnasium, Clinton drew round after round of cheers as he recounted the leading role the United States played in the 78-day air war against Yugoslav government troops.
"You cheered for us when we came in because when you were being oppressed we stood by you,'' Clinton said. The crowd was more subdued as Clinton continued: "We won the war, but listen: only you can win the peace. The time for fighting is passed.''
An 8th-grader, Ramadan Ilazi, introduced Clinton, "You promised that you will bring us to our homes safe. You kept your promise," the boy said.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE U.S. TROOPS FOLLOWING THE THANKSGIVING WEEK MEAL
Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, the people at my table said that the speech I gave to the other troops was piped in here, which means it either was or it wasn't, and if it was, you heard it, and if it wasn't, you get relieved of hearing it. (Laughter.) Let me say to all of you how very grateful I am for your service here and for the power of your example here. As I said to the other troops, NATO won the military victory, but now the people of Kosovo have to win the peace, and you have to help them win it -- not only by doing your jobs, but by setting a good example.
This was a war caused by a man's determination to drive a whole people out of a country because of their ethnic and religious background. It's the opposite of everything we believe in, everything we live by, and everything the United States military stands for.
And you just look around this room today. We just celebrated Thanksgiving, with, I bet you, conservatively, 25 different ethnic groups represented among the American military forces here in this room -- maybe 50, maybe it's more.
We are interested and proud in and proud of our background, and we should be, but we know that our common humanity and our shared values are more important. That's the message that the children need to get here in Kosovo. And the more you work with people and the more you let children see you working together, having a good time, being proud of what you're doing, doing your job, living the American creed, you will also be fulfilling your mission by doing that.
Kids are not brought up hating each other because they're different, they have to be taught to do that. They've taught generations of people on this land, good people in both communities to do that, and now they've got to stop and you've got to help them. And I can't think of a better Thanksgiving present that you could give to them.
Let me also say that I was very honored -- I've got four members of the Congress here who voted for this, but I was very honored to sign the legislation which raised the pay and improved the retirement of members of the military. (Applause.)
But let me also say that we are well aware that in this good economy, with the training you've gotten in the military, that you're not serving for the money, but we think you ought to be properly compensated and have a good retirement, and it ought to be an incentive for you to stay if you're so inclined. But we honor your service, we need you, and on Thanksgiving, those of us who came here will be home and you will be a long way from home.
But you will be in our hearts, and I hope you know that what you're doing is a great, great gift to your country. Thank you very much. (Applause.)