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The War at Home 

Local Progressives Talk About Kosovo

Wednesday, May 5 1999
Eric Draper, AP/Wide World

Of all the U.S. military interventions since Vietnam, Kosovo is clearly the one that most divides and conflicts American progressive opinion. Support for universal human rights and a loathing of regimes committed to ethnic purity collide smack against a long-standing antipathy to U.S. military action and, more generally, its foreign policy perspective. A few days ago, the Weekly’s Ben Ehrenreich took soundings in the local progressive community; what follows are excerpts from those interviews.

Xavier Becerra

Congressman, 30th District in California

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To some degree, the U.S. had no choice but to be involved, as a member of NATO and as a participant in the efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Having seen Milosevic withdraw from the diplomatic process and break some of his own commitments, it forced the hand of NATO and the U.S. If we were going to be an organization that lived up to its obligations, we had to do something. At that point, I think the president had very little choice but to see us go through with what NATO had committed itself to do. I also believe that the air campaign has been the proper course of action. You’re never going to respond quickly enough to a guy who’s mad enough to slaughter people in cold blood.

I think it is premature to say that the air campaign has not worked as well as it should have. Bombing can only do so much. It’s not a massive assault, but if it’s strategic and targeted, then it will have a degrading effect over time. Should we get to the point where we need to have a large presence on the ground, what we will have done, we hope, is debilitated, if not totally degraded, Milosevic’s military capacity to inflict significant casualties.

Sarah Cooper

Director, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research

This is the first time in my life I can remember that I wasn’t just immediately opposed to any form of military intervention. I feel very torn about it.

I’m now opposed to [the bombing], but I’m troubled because I think things have shifted. Even though I agree that the U.S. often has imperialist interests, I think there are other interests going on here. I’ve been very affected by the European response to Kosovo. There seems to be a fairly large interventionist sentiment among Europeans.

As the bombings go on, and things get worse and worse, I feel something else needs to be done, some kind of diplomatic route. I don’t believe that demonizing Milosevic as we did with Saddam Hussein gets us very far, but I also think that there’s a kind of force of personality and nationalism that he represents that’s very destructive. I don’t trust all the motives of Clinton, but at the same time, I share with a lot of people around the world a horror at the displacement of people in Kosovo.

Mike Davis

Author, City of Quartz and Ecology
of Fear

Like many people on the left, I’m opposed to the bombings. I don’t think they’ve done anything to stay Milosevic’s hand. I think the real issue is NATO’s credibility. I despise Milosevic, but this has turned into one of the greatest catastrophes imaginable. The first step is to stop the bombing of Serbia, although I’m not necessarily against the use of tactical bombing against Serbian troops involved in ethnic cleansing [in Kosovo].

The second step is to offer a conference that actually holds out the possibility of real economic reconstruction throughout the Balkans and guarantees human rights enforced by international peacekeepers.

It’s obvious that Milosevic can’t be overthrown by bombing his people. Yugoslavia was blown up in the first place by the debt crisis. What really needs to emerge here is a platform of reconstruction and peacemaking by the European left. One of the factors paralyzing the situation has been the way that the European mainstream left and the Greens have supported the bombing. You would think that the example of Iraq would have produced some learning curve among military and political authorities, but it appears not to have.

Mike Farrell

Actor, human-rights activist

I have some ambivalence about it. Were it up to me it would have been done differently, but the bottom line is that I think it’s appropriate for the international community in situations like this to intervene. I am in favor of an intervention. I’m not strong on techno war, however, and I think we have to remember that what they dismiss euphemistically as "collateral damage" is real human beings who are themselves not the perpetrators of either the ethnic cleansing or the slaughters that have been going on in Kosovo. I find myself in the peculiar position of being in favor of an intervention and yet unclear that what we are doing is the appropriate thing to do. On some level you have to say that at least somebody is doing something.

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