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Jewish World ReviewOct. 19, 1999 /9 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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Madeleine Genuflects at Lenin's Tomb --
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT is back at work. She's been lobbying officials of the European Union to withold fuel oil shipments even to constituencies in Serbia that are governed by anti-Milosevic politicians. Her theory is that a cold and miserable civilian populace will deliver the villain to foreign justice more willingly than a warm and comfy one would do.

There are several problems with Albright's scheme. The first is that it has often been tried and it has never worked. In fact, the opposite is more usually the case only when your belly is full can you concern yourself with right and wrong, as the morally repulsive but well-fed Brecht said so often.

Albright's strategy is really a continuation of the thinking that lead to the unnecessary, disastrous and idiotic war itself. The Yugoslav war -- causing thousands of pointless civilian deaths, dispossessing nearly a million people temporarily, another hundred thousand forever, and forced NATO troops to stand by and watch the KLA rid Kosovo systematically of its native Serbs -- was conducted almost entirely against civilian targets. Milosevic's army was virtually untouched -- the same can't be said for civilian Serbia. The result of the air war was nil: Lt. General Mike Jackson has declared that only Russian intervention brought the "war against ethnic cleansing" to an end whereupon ethnic cleansing began in earnest.

What failed during the war, Albright reasons, will work now. So far it hasn't. In fact, just last week, the EU's attempt to strengthen the "democratic" opposition to Milosevic backfired, embarrassing opposition leaders by making them look like "pro-Western puppets." Why bother to oppose Milosevic if you'll be just as cold when winter comes?

Then there's the dirty provenance of this idea. Though no Marxisant will admit it, the tactic comes from a persistent strain in Communist thought: the worse the better. The more suffering among the masses, the sooner revolution will come. Sometimes the notion is credited to Lenin, at other times to Stalin or Trotsky, but every fraction has advocated it at one time or another, since it fits so well into notions of historical inevitability.

Even today, among the Yugoslav left opposition, there are those who believe in its power. A Serbian politician called Vladan Batic told the Suddeutsche Zeitung in August that making civilians suffer is good for democracy.: "We want to increase social tensions. We can then canalise them into political demands." This is an old dream which has never worked, it's working now, and is likely to bring the opposition into disrepute.

And then there's law and common decency. This administration believes in international law, even when it is hypocritical or disadvantageous to our national interest, like the nuclear test ban and ABM treaties (Of course our National Security Advisor doesn't believe in nations, as he'll tell anyone who will listen). But the U.S. is a signatory of the 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention. And while this document is full of quaint fancy, can you imagine that the U.S. is obliged to forswear the "use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of any State"? We are supposed to live under its provisions.

These include Article 51, which declares that civilians should not be targeted, even incidentally, by military operations, and Article 55, which suggests that civilians should not be starved or harmed and civilian facilities not be destroyed.

The Clinton administration has harmed a lot of people, but usually has done so with precision in the pursuit of some selfish but desired end. Those who've been hurt have put themselves in harm's way, usually by the desire to be a public servant or in some other way to help the Clintons. Albright, like Lenin, targets not individuals but classes of people. Her methods are about as refined as those of the KLA mob in Pristina last week who chose their victim by asking him the time. Because the American UN aid worker answered in his carefully learned Serbo-Croat, he was identified as a member of a class which deserved only liquidation. The Serbs are in the same boat in Albright's eyes, innocent or guilty, there's no escape from Albright's notion of justice.

One tries to use words carefully, but I can't think of a person in public life in the West who so thoroughly combines wickedness and incompetence, who has caused so much immediate harm, and on so many continents has set so much long-term mischief in train. Wouldn't it be nice if the people so upset about the Brooklyn Museum affair might turn their attention to the crime she's now urging in our names?

Sam Schulman Archives

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.


©1999, Sam Schulman