Stop 'Humanitarian Bombing' by NATO

NATO's intervention in Yugoslavia's civil war not only has accelerated the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo and managed to rally the previously divided Serbian public around war-mongering President Slobodan Milosevic. It also threatens to fan nationalist flames in Russia and suck the oxygen out of United States domestic policy.

The American public started off supporting the bombing runs in Yugoslavia by a narrow margin. With the pictures of Kosovar refugees streaming across the borders of neighboring countries, support for the bombing campaign has increased, along with calls for NATO ground troops to return the Kosovars to their homes by invasion if necessary.

We are not dismissing the horror of the ethnic cleansing going on in Kosovo, but there is no such thing as a humanitarian bombing campaign. Clinton and NATO should call off the cruise missiles and look for peaceful alternatives. Bombing has not forced Milosevic and his army to their knees any more than it has forced Saddam Hussein and his army to their knees in Iraq. The only people who have suffered in this campaign are those who are at the receiving end of the bombs.

Nor is a ground war an acceptable alternative. To stop Milosevic would require an invasion of upwards of 300,000 NATO troops--and Yugoslavs have a heroic history of defending their terrain. (Hitler was unable to subjugate Yugoslavia with 40 divisions of German troops in World War II.) And if NATO sends in the troops, to what end? To put in power the Kosovo Liberation Army, which supplanted the moderate democratic Kosovar leadership in favor of armed rebellion that provoked the current Serbian campaign?

It is almost a footnote that U.S. intervention in Kosovo is illegal under the charters of NATO and the United Nations as well as the 1973 War Powers Act, which requires the President to introduce U.S. armed forces into hostilities "only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces." There was no attack by Yugoslavia on NATO member countries or U.S. troops--at least until after NATO started its bombing runs--and the U.S. government has pointedly refused to take the matter to the United Nations Security Council, where Russia would veto a UN-sponsored intervention.

Meanwhile, the billions of dollars spent on the Kosovo bombing must come from somewhere. Republicans tend to support the military adventure as an opportunity to reduce spending on domestic programs. Meanwhile, the beneficiaries of the undeclared war include Lockheed and Boeing, which make the cruise missiles, and Raytheon, which supplies the laser-guided bombs.

If we're going to spend billions of dollars intervening in foreign countries, we should spend it on building up the economies of those nations that respect human rights and fair labor and health standards rather than blowing up the factories, chemical plants, bridges and highways of nations whose leaders brutalize their minorities.

For those pacifists who don't want to pay for any more cruise missiles falling on Serbian children--or any other children around the world--Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) and Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) have reintroduced H.R. 1454, the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill, which would create a fund within the U.S. treasury to receive the taxes of people who cannot pay for war for religious or moral reasons. Taxes in this fund would be used at the discretion of Congress only for non-military government programs.

The bill is supported by such groups as the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, the U.S. Catholic Conference and the Christian Legal Society. For more information, call the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, toll-free 1-888-PEACETAX; e-mail peacetaxfund@igc.org or see the web site at (www.nonviolence.org/peacetax).

Election of Green candidate Audie Bock to the California state assembly from an Oakland suburb this past month further punctures the myth of two-party supremacy. Her upset victory against a longtime Democratic officeholder shows the popular distaste for status-quo politics is still potent, and that's good news for the independent minded.

Bock will have her work cut out showing that her victory in a low-turnout special election was not a fluke in a district whose voter registration is 65% Democratic. Still, her incumbency should boost Green organizing efforts and encourage "minor" candidates everywhere.

Supporters of alternative political parties have to excel at grassroots organizing and developing alternative news media, since they cannot raise big money to buy ads and the establishment news media cannot be trusted to give a fair and balanced report of political campaigns.

Last year in California, for example, Dan Hamburg, a former Democratic congressman, ran a disappointing Green race for governor, as he was shut out of financing, debates and media attention. In those forums where he was allowed to participate, he impressed observers, but they were too few to make a difference and he ended up with 1.3% of the vote. In 1996, the news media virtually ignored Ralph Nader's Green race for president and he also was shut out of candidate debates despite his national reputation as a consumer advocate. Nader ended up with about 2.5% of the vote in California and 1% nationwide. Who knows how many votes he might have received if he had a fair shot at getting his message out?

Remember that Jesse Ventura's successful insurgent campaign for governor in Minnesota was helped by state funds that matched what he was able to raise. Meanwhile the expenditures of his Democratic and Republican rivals were limited. A liberal attitude toward including Ventura in debates also gave him a boost in credibility. The establishment won't want to repeat that mistake. Voters must demand it.

Alternative parties could use public financing, fair access to ballots and proportional representation. None of those initiatives are high legislative priorities of establishment Democrats or Republicans who, after all, got elected under the current corrupt system. You can support the effort to pass the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill, H.R. 417, which Democrats and moderate Republicans are trying to bring up for another House vote this spring. As we've said before, it is a modest effort to rein in PACs and "soft-money" contributions. It won't clean up elections as much as public financing would, but it would be a step in the right direction.

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., has introduced H.R. 1173, which would let the states elect members of the U.S. House from multi-member districts. Proportional representation would help minorities and alternative political parties elect representatives. The bill has 12 co-sponsors. A similar bill by U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia, was bottled up in a House Judiciary subcommittee last session.

Also, Ballot Access News reported that a New Mexico House committee, on a 4-7 vote, killed a proposed state constitutional amendment that had passed the Senate and would have provided for preference voting for all federal and state offices. A Vermont bill for preference voting, which would do away with runoffs by allowing voters to mark their first and second choices in the general election, has made no headway with a few weeks remaining in the legislative session. The Alaska legislature was still considering a bill to provide for preference voting.

Fair access to ballots also is largely the province of the states. Montana Gov. Marc Racicot recently signed a bill to lower the number of signatures required for new parties and independent candidates from 5% of the last gubernatorial vote (16,039) to a flat 5,000 signatures. However, the West Virginia Legislature, with neither public hearings nor publicity, doubled the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, to 12,730 signatures, and excludes signers from major party primaries. The amendment was attached to a bill that was supposed to toughen campaign finance reporting requirements. Gov. Cecil Underwood, a Republican, signed it into law on April 7.
-- Jim Cullen

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