Clinton at the Crossroads
I wrote this headline six days ago, the day after NATO bombs fell on the
Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, a Serbian hospital, and a Bulgarian village.
It's now clear that President Clinton has turned right at that crossroad
and is speeding pell-mell through a swamp towards the town of Deja Vu, the
site of the Hubert Humphrey 1968 Presidential Election Campaign Memorial.
The road is rutted and dirty. It's hard to turn around without getting stuck
in the quagmire.
Before we follow Mr. Clinton to Deja Vu, let's briefly consider the road
not taken. It begins with a declaration of a bombing halt and ends in the
city of Negotiations. It's not an easy trip to Negotiations, a destination
famous for its dead-end streets and potholes. But along the way, Mr. Clinton
is welcomed in Moscow and Beijing by civic leaders who pledge support for
the journey. Europeans, lining the route, especially those living in proximity
to the Balkans, cheer him through. Once in Negotiations, Serbian democrats,
though wary at first, are delighted to receive him.
A bombing halt, had it started last week when the negotiation process was
ripe, would have set in motion forces that could have forced Milosevic to
accept a just settlement. The Russians were pushing him for concessions.
The Chinese were cooperative. Given a bombing halt and a little encouragement,
the democratic forces inside Serbia -- which had almost toppled Milosevic
a few years ago and which are necessary for the success of any future healing
process -- might have reasserted themselves.
Like an extended metaphor, an extended bombing campaign has its limitations.
Once it makes its point (usually early on), it loses its meaning and becomes
a pointless exercise; military or political leaders keep it going for the
sake of keeping it going. Arrogance, a refusal to change course, becomes
its only justification.
Years ago, during the Vietnam debacle, Senator William Fulbright described
American war policy as "the arrogance of power." The continued
bombing of Belgrade and other cities in Serbia, after diplomacy had started
up in earnest, similarly reflects arrogance of power.
Continuing the bombing is a recipe for disaster. It aggravates an unsettled
political situation in Russia, drives pro-Western (and potential) allies
in Serbia (and Montenegro) further underground, raises tensions all over
Europe, and, at this point, does nothing to help the Kosovars return to
War, for Clinton and NATO, is being fought as if it was a sporting event;
it's only the score -- measured in sorties and hits -- that matter. War
aims at a clear decision, a loser for every winner. Negotiations, on the
other hand, require a win-win resolution. All parties have to gain something
from the process (even if only a face-saving illusion). That's too ambiguous
for sports-minded politicians. Instead of encouraging negotiations we continue
to bomb Serb cities, miss targets, and hit civilians.
There's nothing more dangerous than the combination of arrogance and ignorance.
Apologists for the CIA blame the bombing of the Chinese Embassy on a lack
of funding. But how much does an up-to-date Belgrade street map cost, or
a change of address memo to the military planners? Money won't raise the
intelligence level of the CIA. Recall: this is the same organization that
assured President Kennedy that the Bay of Pigs invasion would inspire the
Cuban people to rise-up against Castro. It's the same organization that
advised President Johnson that victory in Vietnam was just around the corner
(censoring the reports of many of their agents in the field who wrote that
we were, in fact, losing). And it is the same organization that consistently
supported murderers, drug-dealers, and thugs in Central America and armed
the fundamentalist "freedom fighters" of Afghanistan who then
became the cadre for anti-American terrorist organizations.
Stop the bombing, Mr. Clinton; the policy has failed. Negotiations will
not easily bring justice to the Kosovars, a binding guarantee that would
allow them safety at home. But at this point the bombing is nothing more
than an arrogant show of power that inflames an already explosive situation.
The road you've embarked on is morally reckless and political disastrous.
You've nothing to gain by further bombing. Liberals, who supported the war
for humanitarian purposes, no longer trust your motives -- or the competence
of your advisors. Lyndon Johnson's refusal to negotiate a settlement in
Vietnam led liberals to turn against the war and abandon their party. Al
Gore, your would-be successor in 2000, is in the position that Humphrey
was in 1968. Vietnam defeated Humphrey and the Balkans will bring down Gore.
Marty Jezer of Brattleboro, Vt., was a founding editor of the pacifist
magazine WIN (Peace and Freedom Through Nonviolent Action) during
the Vietnam Era. Comments appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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