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Jewish World Review April 12, 1999 /26 Nissan 5759

David Corn

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Clintonís Policy Bombs

(JWR) ---- (
CAN YOU BOMB SOMEONE into acting reasonably? Bill Clinton and his deep thinkers were betting they couldóor, at least, thatís what they told us they were doing. As of this writing, it appears that more than 200,000 Kosovars are dead or displaced, at the hands of the rapacious Serb forces of Slobodan Milosevic, due partly to this miscalculation.

The heart of the Clinton policy on Kosovo was empty, or, worse, negligently self-deluded. The premise was that a U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign would compel Milosevic to sign the Rambouillet Accords with Kosovo, a Serbian province that until two weeks ago was 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

But even if such pressure forced Milosevicís signature, the conflict would continue: Many, if not most, Kosovars desire independence, a goal not supported by Washington; the brutal Serbian regime wants to keep an iron grip on the resources-rich and culturally significant region. And after the barbarity of the first week of war, one canít expect Kosovo or Serbia to abide by a pact recognizing Kosovo as part of Serbia and placing NATO in the role of a supposedly neutral peacekeeper. The logic of the policy was dubious: The bombs were dropped in support of an agreement that would make no sense once the bombs were dropped.

Bombing is often not persuasive. The tons of munitions dropped from U.S. airplanes on Vietnam failed to convince Hanoi to yield. The air campaign conducted against Saddam Hussein hasnít transformed him into a good neighbor. Bombs should not be used to send a message or to make good on the threat to bomb. Bombing may be useful as part of a larger warmaking strategy, but as Julianne Smith, senior analyst for the British American Security Information Council, notes, "Bombing is not a preventive tool. It is a consequence of not having any preventive tools. Itís clear that the NATO bombings are not saving lives. Instead they are contributing to the escalation of the conflict."

In hindsight, itís easy to say now that the mess that followed the first sorties demonstrates the weaknesses of the Clinton policy. Yet the assumptions under which he proceeded were thin to begin with. Clinton chose Kosovo as the conflict warranting military action, yet did nothing while hundreds of thousands were killed in Rwanda. Likewise with Sudan and Sierra Leone, where the number of victims was greater. And Turkey, where a U.S. ally has massacred Kurds.

This unevenness in U.S. policy does not bode well. Before pulling the trigger, Clinton declared that the assault would deter a more brutal Serbian offensive against the Kosovars. What was the basis for that conclusion, other than wishful thinking? It appears Milosevic was prepared with a kill-them-or-clear-them-out plan to be put into action once the bombing began. Yet Clinton was confident a bombing campaign would be sufficient to stop Milosevic in his evil ways.

Yielding to the we-gotta-bomb-in-order-to-do-something impulse, Clinton and the allies helped turn an ugly situation into a damn nightmare. The larger failure, though, occurred long before the bombing was ordered, for the Clinton administration and the world community were on a course that left them with few options. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright squawked for months that Milosevic would get his if he didnít sign on the dotted line, effectively putting the U.S. and its allies in the position of having to bomb to keep their word. And that provided Milosevic the free-for-all cover he needed to implement his final solution for Kosovo.

It didnít have to be this way. Part of the problem was the absence of a coherent, long-term policy. Two years ago, the Conflict Prevention Network, an outfit connected to the European Union, produced a confidential report that began, "With no solution to its constitutional status, the Kosovo problem remains the most intense conflict in the South Balkans and could become violent any time soon, starting with clashes between Albanians and Serbs and spreading into neighboring countries, perhaps even dragging in EU and NATO member states."

Peering ahead wisely, the report proposed a host of programs aimed at clearing the brush that could catch fire: aid and economic development for the region, money for human rights and democracy programs, the establishment of a special EU envoy, support for independent media and bilingual language programs, a U.S. advisory council for the region and assistance to nongovernmental organizations in the area. Who knows if any of this would have worked? But none of it was tried, and thatís the shame.

"The argument you get from policymakers on why they do not implement these forward-looking ideas," says Julianne Smith, "is that they are too busy putting out the fires of today. When do we make the switch and start heeding warnings so we donít have so many fires and we are stuck only with the option of eleventh hour military intervention? The US and NATO are using a gun to put out a fire. When it doesnít work, they reach for a bigger gun."

Conservative critics who have slapped Clinton for not going all-out have a point: If the dire situation in Kosovo deserves U.S. intervention, then the intervention shouldnít be half-assed. As a general rule, bombing alone does not win wars or resolve conflicts, and by last Thursday, Kosovars were proclaiming that NATO had let them down.

"When we signed the Rambouillet agreement [in February], we were led to believe that NATO and the U.S. will help Albanians [in Kosovo]," Shkem Dragobia, a Kosovo Liberation Army soldier, told a correspondent for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. "So we stopped arming and mobilising ourselves." Apparently, Dragobia did not understand that, typically, Clinton had made but a partial commitment and was taking the cheap way out: bombing.

For a more extensive effort, one that reaches beyond bombing, Clinton would have to obtain a declaration of war from Congress, send in 100,000 to 200,000 troops, force out the Serbs and then occupy Kosovo for an indefinite period. And it still could fail, but at least it would reflect an internally consistent position. Is Kosovo worth a war?

Clinton owes the American public and the Kosovars an honest answer to that question.

JWR contributor David Corn is the "Loyal Opposition" columnist at New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


04/09/99: A Cuban Frost
04/05/99: Coups and Fibbers
03/31/99: The Flynt Fizzle
03/24/99: Liddy and St. Steve
03/19/99: Hope in Hollywood
03/12/99: Clinton: The Novel
03/08/99: A Tale of Two Clintons
03/04/99: ..and Dumber
03/01/99: Post-Mortem Ad Nauseam
02/25/99: Whatís Next?

©1999, NY Press