The war in Kosovo ended more than a year ago, but the Clinton administration rarely trumpets its ''triumph.'' Conditions in the territory continue to deteriorate and America could eventually find itself fighting its supposed allies, the ethnic Albanians.
Unfortunately, it will be much harder to get out than it was to get in. Washington should turn Kosovo over to the Europeans, as part of their European Security and Defense Identity.
The attempt to preserve a multilateral Kosovo is dead: Most ethnic Serbs, an estimated 250,000 to 260,000, have fled. Ethnic Albanians have also kicked out Gypsies, Jews and even non-Albanian Muslims.
Even more problematic is the attempt to preclude an independent Kosovo. Garrison commander Gen. Klaus Reinhardt observed earlier this year: ''When NATO came into Kosovo we were only supposed to fight the Yugoslav army if they came back uninvited. Now we're finding we have to fight the Albanians.''
That prospect will only strengthen critics of current policy. It took opposition from both President Bill Clinton and Republican presidential nominee George Bush to narrowly defeat congressional attempts to withdraw U.S. forces from Kosovo.
No amount of administration pressure is likely to bar the door if Americans end up as casualties in Kosovo. The General Accounting Office recently warned of a ''volatile'' situation, and that ''many difficult political, social and other issues remain unresolved.''
Even more ominous, warns the British intelligence firm Jane's: ''It is virtually inevitable that there will be further casualties among KFOR troops a prospect, which raises the specter of a Somalia-style fiasco in which the peacekeepers become themselves the targets.''
Imagine having to explain to Americans why their sons and husbands were battling and dying at the hands of the people the United States came to protect. Public support for the mission would evaporate.
Europe is also at risk. If CNN begins bringing casualties into American homes, the issue, as in Somalia, will not be whether the forces come home, but how quickly they come home. Such a precipitous withdrawal would leave the European Union to pick up the pieces.
Moreover, deeper questions are likely to be raised. Why should Washington continue to bail out countries unwilling to defend their own interests? Why should U.S. taxpayers indirectly subsidize bloated European welfare states? Who needs an American-dominated NATO in a world without the Soviet Union?
Those queries should be asked irrespective of who has how many troops in the Balkans. But the debate will be far uglier if conducted while Washington is rushing, Somalia-style, to bring home American soldiers.
Therefore, Europe should take over KFOR. Command has already devolved on the Eurocorps, providing the multinational unit with its first significant operational commitment. The Europeans should now provide all of KFOR's Western troops. With nearly 3 million soldiers, Europe is capable of supplying KFOR's full complement of 45,700, 7,000 of whom are Americans.
Indeed, the EU could easily replace the 6,400 other American troops on duty elsewhere in the Balkans, principally in Bosnia.
The justification for reducing the U.S. burden is obvious enough. Washington spends 40 percent more than Europe on defense, despite possessing a smaller GDP and population. The Europeans lag behind the United States on almost every military measure; most significant is the disparity in fighting power, evident in Europe's dismal performance during the war against Serbia.
The Europeans, too, would gain. Their security would no longer be dependent on potentially fickle American policy-makers.
They could act if Washington chose not to as Australia did in East Timor. Moreover, EU members would no longer be so easily pushed into military actions that they opposed.
At the same time, ESDI would likely improve relations between the United States and Europe. President Clinton has defended the Europeans from charges that they were abdicating their responsibilities, but with allied military commitment continuing to slide German officials predict defense expenditures will soon fall to little above 1 percent of GDP, one-third American levels the Europeans are shamelessly taking advantage of Washington's generosity.
Corrosive resentment is likely to spread in the United States, given Europe's willingness to hand out blank checks on America's military account. European Commission President Romano Prodi has suggested that the EU offer security guarantees to non-NATO EU members.
The enforcement burden would inevitably fall on America. As would protection of ever-more distant NATO members nine Central and East European countries have requested to be admitted into the alliance in 2002.
U.S. policy-makers have so often cried wolf about burden sharing that the Europeans don't much listen anymore. But, growing congressional criticism indicates that American patience is not boundless.
The most likely catalyst for a precipitous U.S. reaction is Kosovo. Which seems inevitable, unless the Europeans take over responsibility for KFOR. Before the first U.S. casualty comes home from Kosovo.