Wichita Eagle, May 5, 1999
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services, May 3, 1999
How long can NATO continue bombing Yugoslavia? The Clinton administration's answer so far has been, "as long as it takes" for Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to capitulate to its demands. It doesn't seem to matter if the bombing only worsens the plight for the Kosovar Albanians, the people we are supposedly trying to help.
But there may be limits to what the people who reside within the NATO countries, including this one, are willing to tolerate. This is especially true now that Milosevic has offered to accept an international presence in Kosovo to oversee the return of refugees and their safety. "I think, that as Jesse Jackson would say, give peace a chance here," said Trent Lott, Senate Majority Leader.
This has been a war against civilians, on both sides, an ugly truth that gets increasingly difficult to conceal with each set of bombing raids directed at non-military targets. Indeed President Clinton practically admitted as much when he declared that Milosovic's intransigence would cause the "the Serb people he claims to represent [to] face mounting hardship."
The Yugoslav army and paramilitary have terrorized the civilian population of Kosovo for the same reasons that the United States and its proxies did so in Vietnam, El Salvador and Guatemala: they are fighting against a guerrilla army that has support among the population of the contested territory. One way to wage this fight is to "drain the sea from the fish that swim in it," as U.S. counter-insurgency strategists used to say. These barbaric methods are now labeled "ethnic cleansing."
On the NATO side, the war is being waged against civilians for somewhat different reasons: NATO's leaders cannot afford to risk their soldiers' lives by engaging Yugoslav forces on the ground, due to lack of support at home. So they have been trying to bomb Yugoslavia "back to the Stone Age" or at least to make it a very poor country for some time to come. They are close to achieving this goal.
For US policy-makers, destroying the Yugoslav economy is an important goal. It demonstrates to the world that any country that refuses to obey U.S. orders will pay an unbearable price. Hence Secretary of Defense William Cohen's response to the release of the three American POW's over the weekend: "We're going to intensify the bombing."
But American citizens have been sold on this war as a humanitarian effort to rescue the Kosovars. They do not see the need to punish the people of Yugoslavia, nor do they share their leaders' other strategic aims. For example, the Clinton administration has already used this war to establish NATO's new role as an aggressive international police force, in contrast to its original stated purpose as a defensive alliance during the Cold War. The ever-expanding membership and mission of the new NATO is also a means by which the US can continue to control Europe's foreign and military policies.
Most Americans are not interested in these goals, and certainly wouldn't want all the suffering on both sides of the conflict in Yugoslavia to continue for reasons of power politics. This is the basis for the cracks that are appearing in the political support for the war here, beginning with last week's vote in which the U.S. House of Representatives refused to endorse the bombing.
Europe's leaders are mostly willing to accept the hegemonic role of the United States, and the continued violence and suffering that this entails. But there too, the citizenry has different ideas. Anti-Americanism is on the rise in Germany, and on May 13, Germany's Green Party will meet to debate their policy on the war.
The Greens will probably ask their leaders why they are supporting the continued bombing of Yugoslavia, while the Republican leadership in the U.S. Congress is now pushing for a negotiated solution to what some are calling "Clinton's war." Twenty-six Democrats also broke ranks last week and voted against the bombing. Many Greens are very angry about their party's collaboration with the war, and if their views prevail, it could conceivably topple the German government (a coalition of the Social Democratic and Green Parties).
If the real purpose of the bombing were to secure a safe return and democratic government for Kosovo's Albanians, a settlement might well be reached. Some compromise could be worked out on the differences that remain: primarily the composition of the international peace-keeping force and their weapons.
But the Clinton administration has imperial ambitions that carry a much higher priority. So we will need increasing pressure from citizens on both sides of the Atlantic to get President Clinton and his European allies back to the negotiating table.