Backfire In Kosovo
By Arianna Huffington
March 29, 1999
"Today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought." These words, uttered 35 years ago in "Dr. Strangelove," apply with a vengeance to President Clinton and his Kosovo team.
If there had been any strategic thought behind the decision to bomb Serbia, it is hard to detect. The principal rationale put forward by the president to justify military action -- "to deter an even bloodier offensive against innocent civilians in Kosovo" -- can already be declared an abject failure. Not only has the bombing failed to deter Milosevic, it has led to the bloodiest offensive yet against innocent civilians: summary executions, torched villages, young men rounded up in concentration camps, thousands used as human shields in munitions factories and tens of thousands driven out of Kosovo in forced marches.
With journalists, observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and representatives of humanitarian agencies all gone, Milosevic has a license to kill and attempt to empty the province of ethnic Albanians. The NATO offensive -- the largest air war in Europe since 1945 -- has turned a war criminal into Serbia's fearless protector and eliminated any internal opposition.
All these tragic outcomes had been anticipated by our intelligence forces but ignored by the administration, which also stood the Powell doctrine on its head. Developed by Colin Powell as a result of his experience in Vietnam, it asserted that any military action must be fought with a clear exit strategy and with all available means, or not at all. It appears to have been replaced by the Albright-Berger doctrine: Drop the bombs and cross your fingers that they force the enemy to the bargaining table.
"This is a policy," NBC military analyst Dan Goure told me, "that has failed spectacularly in Iraq, where bombing has alternated with callous neglect. And now we are bombing Milosevic to get him to sign the Rambouillet agreement, which was really a set-up. Did anyone really believe the Serbians would accept the de facto independence of Kosovo?"
Every explanation offered last week for the bombing exploded over the weekend. "Our mission is clear," the president said. "To demonstrate the seriousness of NATO's purpose." But NATO has never looked less serious and more at odds with its purpose, which has always been defensive in nature. As for the president's claim that the military action was necessary "to build an alliance with Europe for the 21st century," this alliance is being severely tested as a direct result of the bombings -- with Italy and Greece questioning the continuation of air raids and anti-American demonstrations throughout Europe. And with Russia siding with Milosevic, Mikhail Gorbachev for one believes that "we are sliding toward a new Cold War."
In light of all that has followed our military action, Madeleine Albright's claim that "our own economic prosperity and security" are at stake in Kosovo rings both ludicrous and desperate. But the secretary of State was only dutifully echoing the president, who earlier in the week at a Washington fund-raiser tried to turn the air raids into a pocketbook issue, speaking of the "direct personal benefits to Americans."
During his address to the nation two days later, the president tried altruism instead, appealing to humanitarian moral imperatives. It was hard to see, though, why Kosovo was more of a moral imperative than Rwanda, where 500,000 people were massacred, or Chechnya, where 80,000 were killed, or Algeria (60,000), or Turkey (30,000). And the president's policy of both engaging and toasting the butchers of Beijing has not been in the slightest affected by the humanitarian consideration of more than a million human beings dying in Tibet from starvation, torture and execution.
So it is not surprising that even the supporters of military action in Serbia have a hard time articulating why we are there. "Congress and the American people," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), "have good reason to fear that we are heading toward another permanent garrison of Americans in a Balkan country where our mission is confused and our exit strategy is a complete mystery."
There is something seriously wrong when senators who know the most about war have to hold their noses and shut their eyes before they can vote to support the air strikes. And there is something truly bizarre when one becomes nostalgic for Henry Kissinger. But compared to the Clinton foreign policy team, he has been sounding incredibly clear-headed. "Our military actions," he said, "should be confined to those in which we can explain to the American mothers who lose sons why it was undertaken, and with arguments that look as good at the end of the crisis as at the beginning, a principle we did not follow in Vietnam."Perhaps the high anxiety that gripped the White House when an American fighter pilot was shot down had to do with the fact that if he had died we would not have been able to tell his mother what he gave his life for.
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