Reinforcing Failure


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 thepeace settlement fashioned by Secretary of State MadeleineAlbright, a friend told Newsweek that "She's angry at everyone--the Serbs, the Albanians and NATO." Rather than question its ownhandiwork, another Clinton administration official raged: "Hereis 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 administrationbungled so badly. It really believed that it could impose anartificial solution on an ancient ethnic conflict, micromanage aguerrilla insurgency, and unleash the dogs of war without themrunning wild.

The result was a disastrous miscalculation: Washington hassimultaneously magnified violence against ethnic Albanians anddestabilized neighboring states. Yet administration officialshave astonishingly responded that they did indeed foresee therisks of their strategy. If true, they were criminally negligentin failing to prepare for the horrors they unleashed.

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

Expanding the number of targets may ruin what is left ofYugoslavia's economy, but is not likely to break the Serbians'will. Moreover, the broader the assault, the more civiliancasualties. And the more damage done the Yugoslav military andeconomy, the more unstable the regional balance of power.

Although Washington has treated Croatians and Muslims asallies, both have committed their own atrocities and expressedtheir own expansionist territorial ambitions. Indeed, until nowthe single largest case of Balkans ethnic cleansing was Croatia's1995 expulsion of as many as 175,000 ethnic Serbs from theKrajina region.

Even more worrisome is the prospect of Albanian nationaliststurning their attention to Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, andeven conceivably Greece. Washington's pleasure at wreckingYugoslavian power might be short-lived.

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

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

The mind boggles.

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

The U.S. has nothing at stake to warrant paying a similarprice. A ground war against a sovereign state which has donenothing against America--why?

It is not Serbia but NATO which has caused the conflict tospill over Kosovo's borders. Overrunning Kosovo and Serbia wouldcreate a fragile protectorate and a resentful prisoner, requiringmilitary protection and subjegation, respectively, for years tocome.

The refugees should be able to return home, but that's nojustification for war. America has routinely ignored hugenumbers of refugees fleeing conflicts throughout Africa andSoutheast Asia. Washington criticized neither Croatia forexpelling its Serbia minority nor NATO member Turkey, which isparticipating in the attacks on Yugoslavia, for employing ethniccleansing in Cyprus.

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

Indeed, at least twice as many people died in Sierra Leonein January as in Kosovo over the last 16 months. There isnothing humanitarian about the administration's policy, which isto consider saving people if, but only if, they are white,European, not being killed by a U.S. ally, and have theirtravails 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 andadmit that its attempt to impose rather than negotiate a solutionwas 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 giventhe virulent hatreds loosed on both sides. But more warobviously offers no answer.

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.