Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services, April 6, 1999
The bombing of Yugoslavia is turning out to be a foreign policy debacle of disastrous proportions, yet most of the chattering class insists that we can turn things around if we only commit more troops. We have heard that before.
Nearly two weeks into the war, our government (which has the dominant voice in NATO) has actually helped to create most of the worst case scenario that its intervention was supposed to prevent. Nearly 400,000 people have fled Kosovo since the bombing began. The influx of refugees has already begun to destabilize the region. Macedonia, for example, has a large Albanian population, and the arriving Kosovars will increase tensions there. There are potential ethnic and national conflicts throughout the region, and almost every neighboring country has reason to be nervous.
Meanwhile, the population of Belgrade, furious at the bombing of their city, has rallied around Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic as perhaps never before.
Yet the talking heads on TV implore us to send ground troops to finish the job. That's easy for them to say: they won't be getting shot in the Balkans fighting someone else's war. And neither will their kids. Recall that out of 535 members of Congress during the Gulf War, only four had children in the Persian Gulf. We have an economic draft in America: working class, poor, and minority kids will be the ones most likely to die for the preservation of NATO's credibility.
Anyone who thinks the Serbs will be easily subdued in ground combat is dreaming. The Axis powers had 40 divisions in Yugoslavia during World War II, and the Nazis were particularly brutal. They killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs -- mostly civilians -- and many others. But they failed to destroy the Yugoslav resistance.
Many liberals (as well as conservatives) insist that we "cannot just stand by" in the face of atrocities. But as we have seen, our military action is only capable of making things worse. This was true even before the bombing started, because the prospect of NATO intervention probably made the Kosovar Albanians less willing to reach a negotiated solution.
In fact, we are sending a very dangerous message to every ethnic minority that wants an independent state: just keep killing people -- including civilians -- and you could wind up having NATO for your air force.
Americans are understandably sympathetic to the plight of the Kosovar Albanians being driven from their homes. But it would be a mistake to believe that our government is waging this war in order to help anyone. We now know that US intelligence anticipated that Milosevic would respond to the bombing with a massive "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo. Yet they not only went ahead and bombed, they did nothing to prepare for the ensuing refugee crisis. Why? Because they do not really care about the Kosovars. Although they are now airlifting some of the displaced Albanians to safety, the amount that the Clinton administration allocated for refugee since the bombing began is telling: $58.5 million dollars. That's about the cost of 29 air-launched cruise missiles fired at Belgrade.
As for Milosevic, he would probably rank somewhere in the middle of a list of war criminals, dictators, and other despots that our government has sponsored over the last 50 years. Human rights have not been a serious concern of U.S. foreign policy, and it would very naïve to think that things have suddenly changed.
In Vietnam we were also told that we were "saving" the people there, even as we defoliated their forests and covered vast areas of land with moonlike craters. And of course our national security was supposedly at stake. But the communists won, and the only resulting threat to America's security has been Nike's ability to hire Vietnamese factory workers at $1.60 a day.
After these deceptions, the public became highly skeptical of involvement in foreign military adventures. But our foreign policy elite is disdainful of such isolationist tendencies among the citizenry. These people consider themselves not only technically but morally superior to ordinary Americans, because of their concern with strategic interests and their ready willingness to go to war against whomever our government chooses as its "enemy-of-the-month."
But the average citizens who may or may not be able to find what remains of Yugoslavia on a map care a lot more about human life -- both here and abroad -- than the average pundit or politician. They are a lot less interested in ruling the world, or how foreign policy will "play" in the next elections. Let's hope they can hold their own this time against the steady stream of pro-war propaganda on the tube.