By Jeff Jacoby,
The Boston Globe, 06 May 1999
Sunday: ”We are not only not going to stop the bombing,” says Defense Secretary William
Cohen, ”we are going to intensify the bombing.”
Monday: President Clinton tells reporters that ”under the right circumstances, we would be
willing to have a bombing pause.”
Sunday: ”We have to be part of the force,” insists State Department spokesman James Rubin,
referring to the peacekeeping brigade that will secure the Kosovars’ right to return. ”And it has to
be a NATO force.”
Monday: The United States, Clinton says, is ”open to a broad security force. We would
the United Nations’ embrace of such a security force,” which could include ”the Russians,
perhaps the Ukrainians, perhaps others who come from the Orthodox tradition, who have close
ties to the Serbs.”
Slice by slice, the Clinton capitulation is underway. No longer does the president demand
unconditional compliance with NATO’s terms, as he did when this fight began. Instead he says,
”There’s plenty to talk about.” No longer does he vow to bomb Serbia until Slobodan Milosevic
surrenders. Instead he is open to bombing pauses and to negotiations with Serbia’s hard-line ally,
Russia. No longer does he declare that a ”NATO force” or even a ”NATO-led force” police the
peace in Kosovo. Instead he throws the door open to a UN force so broad as to comprise even
pro-Serb, anti-Albanian Russians and Ukrainians.
Soon it will all be over but the arranging of the fig leaves. And on every important principle,
NATO and the United States will have lost.
The West went to war to compel Slobodan Milosevic to sign the Rambouillet treaty, to
Kosovo’s autonomy, and to halt the brutal pogroms Serbian forces were unleashing against
Kosovar civilians. Today Rambouillet is dead and a million Kosovars have been torched and
terrorized out of their homes. The most homicidal dictator in Europe dared the world’s mightiest
democracy to stop him, and the mighty democracy choked.
Clinton’s means were stunningly unsuited to his ends. From the start he ruled out a ground
which signaled Milosevic that his ground war could proceed. The president invoked Hitler’s
horrors in making the case against Serbia yet never called for the overthrow of the Serbian
regime. He should have labeled Milosevic a war criminal, should have notified the world that the
fighting would go on until the dicator was dead or behind bars. Instead he talked about
”degrading” the Yugoslav military until a ”permissive environment” was achieved and scarcely
mentioned Milosevic at all.
In the course of prosecuting this war to save Kosovo, NATO managed to send a laser-guided
bomb ripping through a convoy of Kosovar refugees and vaporized a bus – possibly two buses –
filled with civilians. These were tragic accidents, of course. But they were also the sort of
disasters that occur when you try to stop expulsions and massacres on the ground with F-16s
flying at 15,000 feet.
In the Independent, a British daily, Robert Fisk recently compared the allies’ approach to
Kosovo’s suffering innocents to that of a passerby who sees someone being victimized across the
”What NATO has done … has been to stay on the other side of the road, to make a note of the
criminal’s address, and to throw stones through the window of his home later that night,” Fisk
wrote. ”Not a single NATO life has been lost in five weeks of war … because we do not regard
the catastrophe of the Kosovo Albanians as worth a single NATO life.”
The failure of the United States to crush Milosevic will have grave repercussions.
America’s standing in NATO has plummeted. The allies launched the first nondefensive
action in NATO’s history despite misgivings because they trusted Washington’s leadership. That
trust was squandered by a White House that turned out to have no strategy for victory and no
plan for stopping Serbia’s ”ethnic cleansing.”
Thanks to Clinton, the world will be less likely to defer to American leadership from now on.
the last six years, Washington has shown itself unable to defeat the warlords of Somalia, unable
to curtail North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, unable to destroy Islamic terrorist Osama bin
Laden, and – above all – unable to outmaneuver Saddam Hussein. Now comes the debacle in
Yugoslavia. If there was any remaining doubt that the Colossus of Desert Storm had feet of clay,
the events of the last 45 days have blown it away.
The United States was not obliged to go to war – or whatever the term is for an enterprise in
which the overriding priority is to keep soldiers’ boots from getting muddy – to arrest the
depredations in Kosovo. But having chosen to do so, the United States was obliged to fight to
win. The Clinton administration’s refusal to take that obligation seriously will cheer barbarians
The bombs are still falling on Yugoslavia, but the choreography of arranging a cease-fire and
cobbling together a deal is underway. Before long the bombs will stop. Milosevic and his junta
will not be obliterated. The Kosovars will not be made whole. As the 20th century ends, it is still
possible for tyrants – even in Europe, even at NATO’s doorstep – to drive out minorities at the
point of a bayonet. Such is Clinton’s legacy to the world. History will not be kind.