End Bill Clinton’s War

May 18, 1999 • Commentary
Reprinted with permission from Copley News Service.

More civilians–Kosovar refugees, at that–have been killed by allied air strikes. NATO has destroyed China’s embassy in Belgrade, dropped cluster bombs on a Serb market, shredded relations with Russia, blasted the Yugoslav economy into rubble, triggered escalating violence against Kosovars, and destabilized all of Southeast Europe.

Yet allied attacks continue. Not just continue, but intensify.

Bill Clinton’s war has proved to be one of America’s greatest foreign policy debacles. What does the President do? Hire Leslie Dash, vice chairman of Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, to advise the administration on Kosovo. President Clinton should end the war instead.

The President launched an unprovoked war of aggression against a small, distant state. He cynically wrapped his campaign in humanitarianism while ignoring worse slaughters elsewhere. He arrogantly assumed that foreign leaders would genuflect before him. He attacked their nation when they didn’t.

How does Bill Clinton justify his war? In a recent speech at National Defense University President Clinton likened events in Kosovo to those in Nazi Germany: a “vicious, premeditated, systematic oppression fueled by religious and ethnic hatred.”

This is pure cant. The administration has nothing against “vicious, premeditated, systematic oppression” if committed by allies, like Croatia and Turkey. Or if perpetrated against black Africans.

Moreover, as ugly as was the Kosovo conflict, it was no Nazi Holocaust, but a minor civil war, with casualties a fraction of those occurring in such places as Kashmir and Sri Lanka. Where real genocide results, like Rwanda, President Clinton studiously averts his gaze.

Once it became clear that the administration intended to effectively strip Yugoslavia of Kosovo, however, Belgrade unsurprisingly lashed out. Indeed, allied bombing turned all Kosovars–whose leaders publicly lobbied for NATO intervention– into enemies of the Serbs.

Yugoslavia wasn’t gentle before being bombed. It certainly wasn’t going to be gentle afterwards. The number of refugees in Albania and Macedonia jumped from 45,000 to 640,000.

At the same time, the allied war quickly turned into a war on Serb civilians, with strikes on everything from bridges to electrical plants to television stations. The only way NATO can continually intensify the bombing is to widen its target list. And that means more dead civilians.

Accidents may be unavoidable, but they are least justifiable in a supposedly humanitarian war. How many Yugoslavs deserve to die to enable Kosovar refugees to go home? Ethnic cleansing is ugly; premeditated murder is worse.

Of course, Bill Clinton argued in his speech that reducing Yugoslavia to ruins “is the right thing for our security interests over the long run.” But he can’t really believe that.

The conflict in Kosovo, though messy, was contained until NATO began bombing. The Serbs were attempting to hold onto what they had, not expand. Yugoslavia’s earlier civil war did not explode Europe because none of the major powers intervened.

But the administration’s maladroit attempt to impose a solution unwanted by either side sparked Belgrade’s crackdown, followed by mass refugee flows that destabilized Serbia’s fragile neighbors. The war has immeasurably strengthened the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has expansionistic dreams–to unite Albanians throughout the region–vis-a-vis Kosovo’s more moderate political leadership.

The NATO countries are fast dividing as they confront Russia, itself sliding towards political chaos. Bill Clinton has spilled gasoline across Europe.

Continued bombing guarantees only continued killing, instability, and failure. Kosovars will suffer and Serbs will die for nothing.

Inaugurating a ground war, and following it with a long‐​term occupation (Republican presidential candidate Lamar Alexander speaks of “three‐​to‐​five decades of patrol”) would be far worse. If the Europeans want to turn Kosovo into a protectorate and occupy Belgrade, let them. They have a million men under arms.

The U.S. should stop bombing. Today.

Forget about concerns over credibility. Credibility, like patriotism, is the last refugee of the scoundrel. NATO’s credibility is already in tatters. Maintaining, nay, intensifying a manifestly failed policy will rend what little is left.

Instead, Washington should propose negotiations where regional proposals, rather than U.S. dictates, are presented. Discussions need to be led by a country that hasn’t warred against Serbia; Russia must participate.

The goals are basic: return of refugees, protection of Kosovars, presence of Western monitors, end of the guerrilla war, and political autonomy for Kosovo.

None of these will be easy to obtain. Thanks to NATO the already deep hatreds in Kosovo have been intensified beyond imagination.

But there is no alternative. It should be tragically obvious by now that Washington cannot impose peace.

The President does have a PR problem with his war. But the problem is the war. The solution is not to hire another media flack. It is to end the war.

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