Reinforcing Failure

April 13, 1999 • Commentary

As the administration’s failure in Kosovo grows more costly, some analysts argue more strongly for sending in ground forces. That would turn a modest disaster into a complete catastrophe.

When ethnic Albanian guerrillas originally rejected the peace settlement fashioned by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a friend told Newsweek that “She’s angry at everyone– the Serbs, the Albanians and NATO.” Rather than question its own handiwork, another Clinton administration official raged: “Here is the greatest nation on earth pleading with some nothing‐​balls [the Albanians] to do something entirely in their own interest– which is to say yes to an interim agreement–and they defy us.”

Given such hubris, it is no surprise that the administration bungled so badly. It really believed that it could impose an artificial solution on an ancient ethnic conflict, micromanage a guerrilla insurgency, and unleash the dogs of war without them running wild.

The result was a disastrous miscalculation: Washington has simultaneously magnified violence against ethnic Albanians and destabilized neighboring states. Yet administration officials have astonishingly responded that they did indeed foresee the risks of their strategy. If true, they were criminally negligent in failing to prepare for the horrors they unleashed.

In any case, the administration obviously intends to keep on reinforcing failure. More intense bombing will weaken the Yugoslav military, but will not prevent operations against the Kosovo Liberation Army. Destroying buildings and even tanks is not likely to drive Serbian troops out of Kosovo.

Expanding the number of targets may ruin what is left of Yugoslavia’s economy, but is not likely to break the Serbians’ will. Moreover, the broader the assault, the more civilian casualties. And the more damage done the Yugoslav military and economy, the more unstable the regional balance of power.

Although Washington has treated Croatians and Muslims as allies, both have committed their own atrocities and expressed their own expansionist territorial ambitions. Indeed, until now the single largest case of Balkans ethnic cleansing was Croatia’s 1995 expulsion of as many as 175,000 ethnic Serbs from the Krajina region.

Even more worrisome is the prospect of Albanian nationalists turning their attention to Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and even conceivably Greece. Washington’s pleasure at wrecking Yugoslavian power might be short‐​lived.

Thus, continued bombing will kill for no purpose, reducing Yugoslavia to rubble without getting the Albanian refugees home. It will make any kind of compromise settlement less possible and increase the likelihood of war among neighboring countries.

Unfortunately, to many, the preferred alternative to muddling through is massive escalation: a ground invasion. Some would merely seize Kosovo. Others would conquer all of Yugoslavia.

The mind boggles.

Of course, NATO would win. But victory would come at a high price. The Yugoslavian military is tough and Serbs would fight for their homeland. In World War II, they made Germany pay a high price for what at first seemed to be an easy conquest.

The U.S. has nothing at stake to warrant paying a similar price. A ground war against a sovereign state which has done nothing against America–why?

It is not Serbia but NATO which has caused the conflict to spill over Kosovo’s borders. Overrunning Kosovo and Serbia would create a fragile protectorate and a resentful prisoner, requiring military protection and subjegation, respectively, for years to come.

The refugees should be able to return home, but that’s no justification for war. America has routinely ignored huge numbers of refugees fleeing conflicts throughout Africa and Southeast Asia. Washington criticized neither Croatia for expelling its Serbia minority nor NATO member Turkey, which is participating in the attacks on Yugoslavia, for employing ethnic cleansing in Cyprus.

Talk of genocide is as irresponsible as it is false. Suffering by Kosovars has been immense, but Western observers number the deaths in the hundreds. Turkey has killed many more Kurds in its ongoing, brutal civil war.

Indeed, at least twice as many people died in Sierra Leone in January as in Kosovo over the last 16 months. There is nothing humanitarian about the administration’s policy, which is to consider saving people if, but only if, they are white, European, not being killed by a U.S. ally, and have their travails broadcast on CNN.

The administration is responsible for the debacle in Kosovo. Instead of doing more of the same, the U.S. should step back and admit that its attempt to impose rather than negotiate a solution was bound to fail. The bombing should stop; real negotiations, mediated by a neutral country (not a belligerant like the U.S.) should begin.

Even then it’s hard to imagine a solution, especially given the virulent hatreds loosed on both sides. But more war obviously offers no answer.

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