Kosovo Conundrum 

The Collective Confusion of American Progressives

Photos by Peter L. Rosenberg

Is the NATO bombing of Serbia yet another instance of aggressive American imperialism? Or is our intervention crucial to stopping genocide? We invited a group of local academics and others with a strong interest in the issue to talk about the war and our involvement in it. The following was excerpted from that discussion. Roundtable participants included:

Peter Antonijevic, a Serbian film director once jailed by the Milosevic regime

Bekim Hasani, an Albanian born in Macedonia, now involved in Kosovo relief efforts

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The Rev. James Lawson, pastor of Holman United Metho dist Church

Harold Meyerson, executive editor, L.A. Weekly

Vera MijojliC, a Bosnian Serb who was active in the Serbian peace movement and now works for a relief agency in Los Angeles

Ronald Steel, a professor of international relations at USC and contributing editor to The New Republic

Marla Stone, an associate professor of history at Occidental College and co-founder of Jews Against Genocide

Jon Wiener, a professor of American history at UC Irvine and a contributing editor to The Nation.

L.A. WEEKLY: As we suggested when inviting you all to this discussion, the U.S. action in Kosovo is something on which thinking people can strongly disagree. I’d like to start by trying to get a sense of where each of you stands on whether or not the U.S. should have intervened militarily on behalf of the people of Kosovo.

PETER ANTONIJEVIC: Whenever I look at the options, it seems to me that it’s not choosing anymore between the good and bad, it’s just choosing between bad and worse. I do not think that this military action in Yugoslavia will produce the results which are expected. The longer the war continues, the greater the suffering and human losses, and the greater the price tag of any eventual resolution. I would like to see Milosevic go, but not 2 million people along with him. That’s my moral dilemma.

JON WIENER: I think we should stipulate here that what Milosevic has done to the Albanian Kosovars is wrong. The question that we have to address is whether the badness of Milosevic makes what we are doing good. I don’t think it does. I think the bombing has been counterproductive, and I don’t see ground troops as contributing anything toward a solution either. So I’m in favor of stopping the bombing and exploring diplomatic resolutions.

HAROLD MEYERSON: Everyone is certainly right that there are no good options in this war. But I find myself thinking that, as when Vietnam invaded Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and Tanzania invaded Idi Amin’s Uganda, there are times when one nation’s intervention in the affairs of a neighboring nation can serve very commendable ends, both morally and strategically. I wish that the Balkans were such a place, where a neighboring state could do this. I wish Europe was not so under the NATO umbrella, that this was a matter that they themselves could undertake. Unfortunately, in today’s world, Europe has basically punted its military capacity — and we have urged them to punt it — to a U.S.-dominated NATO, and so I think that the only plausible intervention that could happen in Kosovo is a NATO intervention. That said, I wish it were happening in Kosovo and not in Serbia. We seem to be fighting a strategic war, bombing everything we can in Serbia and having very little effect on what’s going on in Kosovo. I would support action that is strategically different from what we are doing right now, but I do think the proper course is to intervene.

THE REV. JAMES LAWSON: It seems to me that we always need intervention with one another. That is, intervention of cooperation and support for issues of human rights and justice and nonviolence, but I think that the intervention of the superpowers in the 20th century has long outlived its usefulness.

So my posture is that the war must end. That military intervention is wrong. It’s wrong on several counts. First, it’s wrong because America has become largely a military state. The number-one federal budget item is military funding. We have been engaged in war for some 50 years. We have demonized far too many people.

The war is also wrong because it breaks international laws. NATO was organized primarily as a military alliance — a defensive military alliance — and when we expanded NATO recently, we promised Russia that it would not initiate military offensives. That expansion was already a touchy affair with Russia. Now we have broken another major promise to Russia — and Russia has some 8,000 nuclear weapons that are available and that are poised for use. This intervention could trigger, accidentally or otherwise, nuclear war, which is still a great danger for the nation.

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