The NATO bombing is entering it's third week and nothing good has come of
it. I supported it uneasily at the start. I still do, but with even greater
reservations. As a pundit rather than a politician, I occupy a privileged
position. I don't have to make decisions, no one will live or die directly
as a result of what I write. But to take myself--and my readers--seriously,
I have to write as if ideas have consequences. Wartime is no time for jingoistic
slogans. What's happening is complex--and horrendous. Here's my best shot
at understanding what's going on and where we are--and should be--headed.
Second, Third and Fourth
Thoughts on Kosovo
The initial impulse to stop the Serbian onslaught in Kosovo was, I believe,
worthy. If imperial self-interest alone dictated our intervention, we would
have been better to keep our planes at home. It doesn't matter to our national
security (which really means our economic interest) who controls Kosovo
and what is happening to the people there. In the past we've done business
with murderers like Milosevic. Our own record in doing harm to innocent
people is not particularly clean. Milosevic may not be a Hitler out to conquer
the world, but he does have the potential to incite religious and ethnic
hatreds throughout the Balkan region. Ethnic cleansing is a form of fascism
and we are right to try and stop it. For the moment we have failed.
Noam Chomsky and other distinguished critics of American foreign policy
have concluded that however bad the situation was in Kosovo our intervention
only made it worse. Events may prove them right. But I believe that had
we done nothing, as they suggest, the ethnic cleansing that the Serbs are
carrying out would have happened anyway, albeit at a slower less cataclysmic
pace. Pressure for intervention would have built. In confronting evil, the
pacifist Gandhi wrote, "I do believe that where there is only a choice
between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence." The Serbian
military is waging war on an entire people. If we turn our backs on the
Kosovars, as we turned our backs on the Tutsis in Rwanda, it would be cowardice.
The Albanian Kosovars have lost their homes, their country, and their everyday
existence. But what has Serbia won? We do not have to invade the Balkans,
plant our flag on the plains of Kosovo, and "bring the coonskin home"
(as was promised in the heady days of the war in Vietnam) to reverse this
disaster. What we need to do, in addition to pouring in aid and care for
the refugees in the region (but not in detention centers in far-away Guantanamo),
is deny the Serbs a peace in Kosovo. Bombing the Serb military and paramilitary
in Kosovo is still, to me, a legitimate tactic. But "victory"
(whatever that means) through bombing is not a possibility and should not
be the goal.
We need an honest broker to facilitate diplomacy. That honest broker, like
it or not, is Russia. Russia has much to gain from peacemaking. The Russian
leadership needs our loans and the international prestige that peacemaking
will give them. Our rude dismissal of their first peace effort was a colossal
blunder. Clinton seems to have realized this and is now trying to make amends.
The Russians represent a slim reed of hope that Milosevic can be "persuaded"
to pull back and allow peacekeeping forces in Kosovo to guarantee the Albanians
a safe return. The continued bombing of Serbian forces in Kosovo is, I believe,
necessary to create the conditions for negotiations to happen.
Bombing Serbia and, worse, starting to bomb in Montenegro was Clinton/NATO's
second mistake. Bombing cities and population centers is a moral folly reminiscent
of what we did in Vietnam: destroying cities in order to save them. There
are other regions in Serbia where Muslims fear ethnic cleansing. We need
to define our military objectives and not ignite the ethnic cauldron. There
are strong democratic forces within Serbia--and in Bosnia and Montenegro--that
are crucial to any long-term tempering of the region's ethnic hatreds. Our
bombing in Serbia weakens and alienates the forces for democracy and healing.
Clinton will be under tremendous pressure to expand the air war and use
ground troops. A U.S./NATO invasion would be a Vietnam-like disaster. The
Serbs, like the Vietnamese, would fight fiercely for their homeland. Bombing
Yugoslavia to smithereens would be the only way to win, and it's not a victory
that would bring us honor or help anyone in the region.
Democrats have always gone to war to avoid being accused of losing countries
we never "had" in the first place. (E.g., China, Vietnam, in Central
America, and now Kosovo/Yugoslavia). Clinton has always been spineless and
I worry that he will cave in to the hawks and jingoists who see war as a
sporting event, only in terms of winning and losing. This is not a battle
for NATO credibility, American security, our greatness, or the flag. It's
a battle to get the Kosovo Albanians safely back home and to curb fascist
ethnic cleansing to the degree that we can.
The U.S. and NATO cannot impose a solution. At best, we can impose conditions
for a temporary resolution that gives peaceful forces within the area time
to work. There's no guarantee of success, but we are right to try.
Military urgency spells disaster for domestic priorities. But if we're going
to make war to deter hate crimes in the Balkans, we should insist on zero-tolerance
for hate crimes and human rights violations at home.
Marty Jezer was a founding editor of the pacifist magazine WIN (Peace
and Freedom Through Nonviolent Action) during the Vietnam Era. Comments
appreciated at email@example.com.
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