By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The two things at which man cannot look unblinkingly, said the 17th-century French writer La Rochefoucauld, are death and the sun. To which, I think, we have to add a third: radical evil. Even now, after a decade in which the Holocaust has become a major subject of pop culture, the kind of challenge posed to our most basic norms by the ethnic-cleansing policies of Slobodan Milosevic still stuns us all, leaving strategists unprepared, moralists divided and every political tendency groping for the proper response.
In fact, though various members of the national security establishment now tell the press, under cover of anonymity, that they predicted the vast acceleration of the Serbians’ war on the Kosovar Albanians, the record shows otherwise. The intelligence analyses that the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department and others were churning out in the months before the war — analyses printed in The New York Times and the Washington Post over the weekend — were a mass of conflicting predictions about the effects of U.S. intervention, only a few of which foretold the vast escalation of ethnic cleansing that followed the initiation of our bombing campaign. Samantha Power, director of the Human Rights Initiative at Harvard’s Kennedy School, demonstrates in the April 26 issue of The New Republic that neither the media nor the punditocracy, in their op-ed columns or in questions posed at White House or NATO press conferences, even raised the possibility of ethnic cleansing in the days and weeks before the bombing. Radical evil is hard to imagine.
And, by the evidence of the war NATO is waging, hard to counter. And, by the evidence of the arguments that some of the anti-war opposition is advancing, hard to acknowledge.
Measured against the goal that President Clinton articulated on the day the war began, the NATO intervention has to be judged a flat failure. "We act to protect thousands of innocent people in Kosovo from a mounting military offensive," he said. Now, bombing can certainly wreak havoc both for the Milosevic regime and Yugoslavia generally; it may even eventually persuade Milosevic to make concessions, though there’s no evidence that it has or will. But how bombing could ever have protected the Kosovar Albanians against Serbian soldiers and paramilitary units bent on chasing them from Kosovo through a campaign of house-by-house terror has yet to be explained.
To date, the administration’s response to the failure of its policy has been to leave the policy unaltered, but redefine its goals. Now, we’re told, the object of our offensive is to force the Serbs to pull back, enabling the Kosovar Albanians to return. There’s nothing either disgraceful or unprecedented about changing the objective of a war in the middle of a war: Lincoln did it when he proclaimed that a Northern victory would mean not just a restored Union but the abolition of slavery. And there’s nothing remotely wrong with the particular new goal the administration now articulates: Not to insist on the Albanians’ return would be to sanction ethnic cleansing. But how this goal, any more than its predecessor, is to be achieved by a bombing campaign remains murky indeed.
Redefining goals is one thing, however; redefining the language to make it seem you’re winning when you’re not is something else indeed. All wartime governments, save only those able to pull off one-week victories, play tortuous games with the truth, and the Clinton administration seems no exception. The war, we’re told repeatedly, is going well (for whom, exactly?).On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense William Cohen argued that it wasn’t a bad thing that the Serbians were still able to reinforce their units in Kosovo, because the very fact that they needed reinforcements meant that NATO was taking a toll. Oh, reason not the need: By this standard, our war in Vietnam was a smashing success, since the North continually sent reinforcements southward.
Kosovo is the first definitively post–Cold War conflict, our first war in many decades that is not unambiguously a war to protect the American empire (unlike, say, the 1991 Persian Gulf War). As such, it has scrambled almost every known political alignment.
It is, clearly, a progressives’ war, supported not just by the traditional Anglo-American alliance but by the "Red-Green" coalition in Germany, whose leaders — Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Defense Minister Rudolf Sharping — all come from pacifist backgrounds and opposed the NATO buildup of the ’80s. (So, for that matter, did British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, now a notable hawk.) It is supported by most of the French left — neither historically nor today a group much enamored of American imperial adventures. In Italy, it is backed by the government of Massimo D’Alema, the last remaining standard-bearer of the old reform Euro-Communist legacy. And across the continent, longtime activist and intellectual critics of the American capitalist order — from Germany’s Günter Grass to France’s Daniel Cohn-Bendit — offer critical support to NATO’s campaign.
In the U.S., too, the core support for the war comes from doves with long records of opposition to America’s Cold War interventions — although there’s a core of progressive opponents as well. From Paul Wellstone to Maxine Waters, virtually every congressional liberal has gone on record to say the threat posed by Milosevic requires a U.S. military response. Michigan Congressman David Bonior, who rose to the position of House Democratic whip chiefly through his impassioned opposition to U.S. Central America policy during the ’80s, now says, "If it takes more than air power, so be it. Including ground troops."
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