By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
|Photo by Luca Bruno, AP/Wide World|
I. For the East
For a war fought in and over an area not much bigger than L.A. County, the Kosovo conflict managed to have some fairly far-reaching effects. Some of the war’s most menacing tremors were registered in Moscow and Beijing. In both capitals, the internal balance of political power shifted — to what extent, we cannot yet tell — toward forces espousing a more nationalist and anti-Western (or at least, anti-U.S.) stance.
By several measures, though, a backlash to America’s ultrahegemony of the past decade is, if anything, overdue. The American commercial and popular culture that increasingly dominates the globe is under attack from right, left and center here at home for its hedonism, violence and shallowness; we should not assume that foreigners embrace it any less critically than we do. The American-made system of global finance has destabilized as many non-Western nations as it has helped.
At any given moment, some portion of the planet is quietly seething at the Americanization of everything, and the particulars of the war triggered popular outbursts that served the interests of particular elites. The accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade certainly helped those party mandarins who fear an outbreak of the democratic distemper.
Russia’s winter of discontent has been longer and colder than China’s. The former superpower has yet to carve out more than a bit part in the new world order. Adding to its anger is a decade’s worth of American bum steers. The justly unlamented Bush administration encouraged Boris Yeltsin’s leap toward a market economy — really, a kleptocracy — while discreetly discouraging Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempt to piece together a multiethnic social democracy. Chaos followed. Not just Russia, but Russians, came unstuck: Work and compensation vanished, living standards plummeted, life spans declined, the population shrank.
To Russia’s largely self-inflicted injuries, the Clinton administration has added some distinctly American insults. Just this year, we expanded NATO eastward to Russia’s very borders. In the past two months, as the Russians see it, we’ve waged a war against one of the few nations with which they have friendly relations, and conscripted Moscow’s own emissary to convey our demands.
Now, at the Pristina Airport, the erstwhile empire has struck back. NATO may have thought that it had waged a low-cost war by avoiding casualties to its own forces, but the Russians have gone NATO one better. With just 200 troops, who have neither fired a shot nor come under fire, they may well be on the verge of carving out a zone of Kosovo at least partly, messily, murkily, under their control. Just as remarkably, the dash to Pristina seems to have been ordered by Our Man in Moscow — Boris Yeltsin.
Commentators have noted that the race to Kosovo’s capital is a bizarre minireplay of the 1945 race to Berlin. This time around, though, the forces from the East are less an expression of Russian power than a vehicle for tweaking American power. On behalf of a frustrated military and a humiliated populace, Yeltsin has, for one brief moment, become a national tribune — and has become a figure out of Russian myth as well. The Heroic Yeltsin, who climbed atop the tank to oppose the Communist coup of 1991, has long since descended into a figure of derision to his countrymen. Now, he has re-created himself as Crafty Peasant Boris, cackling at all those rich Westerners whose plans he has confounded with his mother wit. Impulsive, unreliable, scheming, calculating, decaying, infirm, and still grasping for more: Our candidate to bring Russia into democratic modernity turns out to have been Old Man Karamazov all along.
II. For the Peacekeepers
None of this is to suggest that we should not have intervened in Kosovo at all. U.S. relations with Beijing and Moscow may well grow rockier — in Moscow’s case, a lot rockier. (Given China’s position on human rights, they should grow rockier, but one would hope that would be the result of the Clinton administration’s prioritizing democracy over trade, rather than its inability to get its target list up to date.) But the principles for which NATO fought — to oppose the reintroduction into Europe of racially and religiously based mass deportation, enforced by a policy of terror; and to bring some stability back to the Balkans — are important enough to run the risk of some major ancillary consequences. Even if the increase in stability that comes from Milosevic’s defeat is offset by the increase of instability that comes from Russia’s growing estrangement, the precedent of intervention on behalf of human rights is an important advance over the narrow raisons d’état that characteristically govern international affairs.
The unusual basis of NATO’s war, however, places a special burden on NATO’s peacekeepers. Having intervened to stop (which quickly became, to reverse) the Serbs’ forced expulsion of Albanian Kosovars, the West cannot now sit quietly by while the Albanians expel the Serbs. Given the current levels of enmity, many if not most Serbs in Kosovo — there were 200,000 at the outset of the conflict — may want to leave. But it is incumbent on NATO to ensure that they at least do not leave at gunpoint. To have intervened for human rights is not at all the same thing as to have intervened for the KLA, an ultranationalist militia no more likely to benefit Kosovo than Milosevic’s forces have benefited Serbia, or Franjo Tudjman’s have benefited Croatia.
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