Commentary

A Disaster Guaranteed to Worsen

This commentary appeared in the May 24, 2000 Washington Times.
The Clinton administration has ensnared the United States in the irrelevant turmoil of the Balkans. After NATO’s nearly yearlong occupation of Kosovo, the General Accounting Office warns that “many difficult political, social and other issues remain unresolved” in the “volatile” territory. Yet, the Republican Congress does nothing.

A year ago, the United States and its NATO allies fomented war over Kosovo by attempting to impose the unrealistic Rambouillet diktat. Shameless NATO propaganda stirred up war fever. The Clinton administration then attacked Yugoslavia without the sanction of either Congress or the United Nations. After 78 days of bombing, the attackers won - though NATO’s claims of military success turned out be grossly inflated. The political situation has turned ugly.

Former Kosovo Liberation Army thugs rule the streets, kill with impunity, and fight for control of lucrative criminal markets. Weapons remain hidden; paramilitaries continue to operate. Most ethnic Serbs - an estimated 250,000 to 260,000 - have fled. Ethnic Albanians have kicked out most everyone else, including Gypsies, Jews and even non-Albanian Muslims.

The antagonistic communities battle openly where they continue to coexist, such as the city of Mitrovica. The GAO warns that “ethnically related violent incidents occur regularly and have recently increased.” Attacks on Western troops will increase.

Occupation (KFOR) Cmdr. 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.”

Jiri Dienstbier, former foreign minister of Czechoslovakia, told the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that additional troops are needed to combat Albanian separatists determined to create an independent, Serb-free Kosovo. Unfortunately, observes the GAO, in both Kosovo and Bosnia, which NATO has occupied for more than four years, “the former warring parties largely retain their wartime goals.” Kosovar Albanians want independence, Serbs believe Kosovo should remain part of Serbia, Bosnian Croats and Serbs support separate states and Bosnian Muslims desire a unitary government under their control.

Into this mess, the Clinton administration has thrust 12,400 U.S. soldiers. Strategically, the Balkans is not important to Europe, let alone to America. An assassination in Sarajevo (Bosnia’s capital) in 1914 lit the fuse to World War I. But that conflict exploded only because the major powers were ready to fight for other reasons.

In contrast, when Yugoslavia dissolved in 1991, outside states stayed out. The bitter civil war in Kosovo was even less relevant. It was like any number of nasty guerrilla struggles around the globe - by the Kurds in Turkey and the Tamils in Sri Lanka, for instance. What distinguished it were the deaths of white Europeans and the presence of CNN cameras. That was enough to get the Clinton administration involved.

Unfortunately, ethnic hatreds, territorial disputes, economic chaos and social disorder continue to dominate the Balkans. No wonder, then, that Brig. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commands U.S. forces in Kosovo, says the West’s occupation will last “for at least a generation.”

If Europe wants to permanently patrol the Balkans, let it. Kosovo is closer to Berlin, Paris and London than to Washington. The Europeans collectively have a larger economy and population than America. They should use their abundant resources to defend their own interests.

With the administration frivolously deploying U.S. forces in irrelevant conflicts, Congress must act. Alas, expecting decisive action from Republican legislators is even more naive than expecting principled action from Clinton officials. The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, raise armies, and fund the military, but legislators supinely permit the president to bomb and occupy other nations.

The House, led by Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich, Ohio Republican, recently voted no more. If the president did not certify by next April that the Europeans were meeting their commitments in Kosovo - unlikely, since they never keep their NATO promises - he was to develop a withdrawal plan.

But the Senate, despite approval of the full Appropriations Committee and co-sponsorship of former Majority Leader Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, narrowly rejected a similar amendment, requiring congressional approval to keep U.S. forces on station after July 2001.

The Clinton administration naturally threatened a veto; presumptive Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush naturally opposed any restriction of his potential prerogatives. The people’s representatives naturally caved.

Kosovo is a disaster that will only worsen. Warns Jane’s, a British intelligence firm: “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.”

Yet the Clinton administration continues to push the United States ever deeper into the Balkans’ quagmire. And Congress continues to abdicate its responsibility to pull the United States out.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.