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Jewish World Review April 30, 1999 /14 Iyar 5759

David Corn

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A Flyover War

(JWR) ---- (

There are few signs in town that U.S. forces are blasting away at buildings and people and trucks and television studios a continent away. The subway is jammed with spring tourists, and flocks of students from across the land clog the turnstiles. Limousines with NATO plates are zooming through the streets.

In the hallways of the Capitol, the air is free of worry; many lawmakers don’t feel compelled to address the matter: “He didn’t say anything about Kosovo this week,” an aide to a Democratic senator notes, “and he hopes not to say anything next week.” It’s close to a make-believe war—no casualties (for us), just video footage. The wonders of a one-superpower world, in which U.S. military officials hail the era of “asymmetrical warfare” (We hit them, they don’t hit us)

And sloppy thinking is everywhere, most evident in the Clinton administration’s primary thinking regarding Kosovo: initiate a spotty bombing campaign against a thug conducting genocidal outrages, rule out troops, and somehow that will benefit the victims of his wrath who are caught in a hellish nightmare on the ground.

Last week, Maj. Gen. Charles Wald, a Pentagon briefer, conceded, “I don’t think NATO’s air has stopped [Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing] at all.” An admission of failure? Wald, vice director of strategic plans and policy, hung in there: “NATO’s mission, once again, is to reduce Milosevic’s army’s capability to do exactly what I showed you in that picture [of a Serbian attack on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo], so we’re going to continue to do that... Probably the best thing we can do with air is defeat his army so they can’t do that in the future, and I think we’re going down that path.” That’s different from the original sales pitch for this war.

Instead of deterring Milosevic and protecting Kosovars here and now, the bombing, slated to continue into the summer, is intended to prevent a repeat of this awfulness. But will there be any Kosovars left to help? The cravenness of the Clinton policy shines brighter each day. As retired Admiral Eugene Carroll, deputy director of the Center for Defense Information, said, “It is impossible to control military and political realities on the ground with air power alone... We can destroy, punish and kill. But control and protect the Kosovars? No.” Yet the Clintonites bathe in blitheness, indifferent to the fallacy of their folly, insistent success will show.

“It seems doubtful that air power alone can succeed,” says Anthony Cordesman, the former Pentagon official who became a war pundit during the Gulf War. “NATO may well have to carry out some kind of ground option if it is to reintroduce the refugees back into Kosovo and give them security. It will then have to support a major nation-building exercise in Kosovo that also has major ground, military aid, and economic dimensions.” Yet you don’t have to be a military man to know which way this war blows.

Those who believe that Clinton rushed to war too precipitously and that the bombing was a profound miscalculation—and a classic Clinton action—almost had to salute the NATO allies who, at the NATO birthday shindig last week, pushed a reluctant Clinton administration on the question of ground forces. Sending in the troops at least would be consistent with the avowed mission of rescuing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo from Milosevic’s murderous henchmen. Bombing from afar, as Gen. Wald acknowledges, has flopped.

The Clintonites have an obligation—a moral obligation—to the Kosovars more important than preserving NATO credibility, taking out Milosevic or any of the other justifications offered for this war. This obligation—which the entire United States bears, thanks to the rash decisions of the President and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright—can be met in one of two ways: troops or negotiations.

(Even if Milosevic were to surrender in response to the “air,” there would still have to be settlement talks.)

Before troops are dispatched, NATO should halt the bombing while Clinton tries a kick of diplomacy. Washington should let the UN and the Russians take a swing at cobbling up a deal beginning with a ceasefire on both sides (at the end of last week, NATOdid move to involve the UN—not as a deal maker, but as an endorser of NATO’s position—and belatedly recognized a place for Russia “in the search for a solution”.) With a deployment of troops requiring weeks of preparations, a ceasefire offers the only chance of immediately improving conditions for ethnic Albanians still in Kosovo.

If negotiations can be facilitated, the Clintonites must set aside the demand that NATO take the lead in policing a post-accord Kosovo.

(The Rambouillet peace agreement Milosevic wouldn’t sign called for NATO forces to have free run of Yugoslavia and be exempt from its criminal laws. Provisions like that are deal-killers.)

Instead, an international force, with Russian participation, can be assembled under the auspices of the UN or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Sen. Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat who lost his legs and an arm in Vietnam, has called for a cessation of the bombing and a new attempt at negotiations. “War by increments gets people killed,” he says. If a bombing freeze and negotiation doesn’t pan out—Milosevic’s an evil fellow who might prefer war to resolution—the bombing can resume. And troops can follow, if Clinton and Congress decide the Kosovars are really worth the cost.

At present, Clinton is striving to be a wartime leader, without going all-out, hoping his serious-crisis management will counter his image as a lying Lothario. He’s not the only war-profiteer in Washington: House Speaker Dennis Hastert claims that the Kosovo operation proves that military spending has been reduced too much. Nevertheless, congressional Republicans have been plotting to pad $6 to $12 billion onto the $6-billion emergency spending bill the White House sent to Congress for the costs of the Kosovo operation. If GOPers want to grant the military more billions for non-Kosovo activity, they should do it by the book.

But they prefer to duck budgetary restrictions and fatten emergency spending legislation with nonemergency items. This is an underhanded maneuver, showing the hypocrisy of the party that preaches fiscal restraint.But that’s the GOP’s m.o. In October 1998, the Republican-led Congress stuffed $7 billion in pork and pet projects into the White House’s emergency appropriation bill that asked for $1.1 billion to remedy supposed deficiencies in military readiness. Plus, it’s not as if the Pentagon has been shortchanged this year. In January, Clinton increased its budget by $12.6 billion. A few weeks ago, the Republicans approved a budget bill accepting this raise and tossed another $8 billion at the military.

While they scheme to use Kosovo to beef up the Pentagon, Republican leaders in Congress have thwarted a move to put Congress on record on the war. They don’t want to force GOP members to take a firm position on the “Clinton-Gore war.” Most Republicans would rather voice concern and let the White House take the heat if there is no light at the tunnel.

(At this point, it looks as if there isn’t even a tunnel.)

So the Republicans shirk their constitutional duty—it’s up to Congress to authorize war—but they don’t mind trying to cash in on the conflict for their pals in the military. Their stand: Let’s throw taxpayer money at the military but assume no accountability for how the Pentagon uses it. And in another abandonment of responsibility, two Republican senators—Pat Roberts of Kansas and Ted Stevens of Alaska—both said they would vote for funds to support the military action in Kosovo but would not support significant funding for rebuilding Yugoslavia after the war. Their slogan: Money for war, not for peace.

Another reckless idea being pushed by a Republican is the arming of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Sen. Mitch McConnell has assumed point on this, with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat, riding shotgun. Their proposal is an on-the-cheap alternative to Clinton’s bombs-alone policy. Just sprinkle $25 million on the ragtag force and—presto!—watch it beat back the Serbian army and bring freedom and democracy to Kosovo.

One problem with the plan is the KLA. The group, according to various published reports, has been linked to Islamic fundamentalists and drug smugglers. Some of its founders and leaders were associated with the brutish Yugoslavian secret police. KLA members have called for a Greater Albania; they might not be satisfied with only control of Kosovo. When the democratic opposition in Kosovo tried to set up an armed branch, the KLA killed the branch’s leader. Only a year ago, the State Dept. was labeling the group a terrorist outfit.

McConnell has brushed aside criticism of the KLA, noting, “I don’t think we have to do a background check any more than we did on the contras.” Sounds great: Flood this conflict-ridden region with more weapons and arm extremists who have no proven allegiance to democracy or pluralism. Who else supports this? Steve Forbes (who, if he truly believed in the cause, could send $25 million of his own to the KLA) and the Heritage Foundation. Geraldo Rivera also is keen on the KLA.

When you’re thousands of miles away from the action, it’s easy to play general or, in Clinton’s case, air marshal.

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


04/30/99: Darwin Made Me Do It
04/16/99: Spin to Sell
04/16/99: No Controlling Authority
04/16/99: Damage Done
04/14/99: No Left Churn
04/12/99: Clinton’s Policy Bombs
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: What’s Next?

©1999, NY Press