Kosovo a Vietnam Insanity

Henry C.K. Liu hliu at mindspring.com
Fri Apr 9 21:15:11 PDT 1999

April 9 1999 OPINION The London Times By Simon Jenkins

Nato's leaders are treading the path that led to

insanity in Vietnam

Will they never learn?

Another middle way has not worked. The Great

Bombing Pretence is collapsing in Kosovo, as it

was bound to collapse. Foreign policy is

revealed not as focus-grouped, glamorous

kid-machismo but as something that kills people.

Nato's bombing adventure in Kosovo looked

good for a day or two. But it was always cynical

and ill thought-out. Now, with generals on both

sides of the Atlantic screaming no, the

"immaculate coercion" of the cruise missile war

must be followed by the real thing.

In the United States this week I have heard

almost no support for Nato's belief that

"bombing alone" would win security for

Kosovo's Albanians. I hear only Lyndon

Johnson's notorious Vietnam quote, "I never felt

that this war would be won from the air".

Yesterday's New York Times/CBS poll was

clear. Will airstrikes stop President Milosevic?

Sixty per cent say no. Will America send ground

troops? Seventy-five per cent say yes. The 24

American ground attack helicopters being sent to

Albania are the first swallows of an awesome

summer. Last October Western diplomats told

Mr Milosevic to give autonomy to Kosovo "or

else". He was threatening no state, and

perpetrating no greater evil than those being

ignored by the West in the Caucasus or

condoned as a fait accompli in Bosnia. But

great men had said "or else", and the networks

were watching. So now it is "or else".

Europe thinks it goes to war when diplomacy

has failed. America thinks it goes to war when

Europe has failed. It is grimly intriguing that the

American pro-war lobby is made up of mostly

younger people who do not remember (or have

forgotten) the Vietnam escalation. The issue,

once again, is not the plausibility of the

operation but the esteem of Uncle Sam and

confidence in America's military omnipotence.

As for whether a Kosovan war will be anything

but an American one, you can hear, read and

talk about this subject from dawn to dusk and

not hear a word about British involvement -

beyond the complaint that "America is having to

rescue Europe from another of its messes".

The collapse of "bombing alone" this past

fortnight has been spectacular. The misreading

of Mr Milosevic by Nato deserves to rank with

Gallipoli and Pearl Harbor in the annals of

military incompetence. Bill Clinton and Tony

Blair could not have been more clear in the

objective. It was to "stop the killing and ethnic

cleansing in Kosovo and force Milosevic to

grant the region partial autonomy". The

bombing has achieved the opposite. By targeting

cities, factories and bridges, and hitting enough

houses to kill civilians (including, of all

obscenities, native Kosovans in Pristina), the

bombs have increased support for the regime

and made compromise less likely.

Why leaders pursue strategies that so regularly

fail (as this approach failed in Iraq) is for

psychologists to answer. Mr Milosevic's

response was exactly as predicted. Faced with

demands that he accept Nato troops on his soil

and a promise that they would not be imposed,

he had to judge whether that promise was

believable. He sensibly concluded that it was

not. He urgently moved his formidable army

into Kosovo, where until this week not a single

bomber had been able to find it. In two weeks

the Yugoslav leader cleared half the province of

its Albanian population and, in grim Balkan

fashion, treated perhaps hundreds of Albanian

men as putative KLA fighters and shot them

dead. Mr Milosevic is now in a position to offer

a "monitored ceasefire" but with the Kosovo

Liberation Army truly crushed. It defies belief

that anyone in London or Washington thought

bombing alone would achieve any other


Nato spin-doctors are frantically trying to

express "surprise" that Mr Milosevic moved so

fast and acted so ruthlessly, and argue that

bombing alone was always a long-term strategy,

whatever that means. The American press hoots

derision at such excuses. The Pentagon and the

Ministry of Defence are known to have been

sceptics about bombing from the start. In the

nearest Washington comes to an official

statement, "sources" this week admitted that

there never was any coherence to bombing

alone. As a State Department official admitted:

"We have accomplished nothing." The policy is


Whether Mr Milosevic would have behaved

with the ruthlessness of the past two weeks

without the bombing is, of course, horribly

moot. What is certain is that before the arrival

of Madeleine Albright, Robin Cook, Richard

Holbrooke and the world's most powerful

bombs, Mr Milosevic was conducting a guerrilla

war with the equally ruthless KLA, a group that

had scant local support until its cause was

"adopted" by Britain and others. The United

Nations last week put the Albanian-Serb balance

of atrocities at roughly even. After the arrival of

the grandees, Mr Milosevic changed tack and

did what he did in Bosnia. He has killed

thousands and displaced half a million people,

while conceding not one inch to Nato. He has

enforced an Albanian diaspora, tweaked Uncle

Sam's nose and won the grudging support of

Russia and China, important if there is to be a

land war. In other words, he has done precisely

what President Clinton and Mr Blair said they

would never let happen.

This week Nato's leaders, having learnt nothing,

came up with a new pledge. It was that the

displaced people of Kosovo would soon march

home under the banner of a Nato protection

force. If I were a Kosovan, I would give no

more weight to such promises than to an offer

of autonomy from Belgrade. The West gave

similar pledges under Dayton to displaced

Muslims in Bosnia. They have not been


We now have "the ground option". The

Pentagon is reported to have considered the

invasion of Kosovo so crazy that it refused to

draw up contingency plans. That has had to

change under presidential order. Schemes of

Vietnamese fantasticality are now being woven.

They involve the air cavalry "cleaning" corridors

into Kosovo for an infantry advance through the

mountains. Behind them will come returning

Albanian villagers, to be resettled in safe havens

along the border, secured by modern technology

from marauding Serbs. What the RAF has left

standing of Pristina may have to be flattened.

But as they said in Vietnam, you sometimes

have to destroy the village to save the village.

In the heat of war, a fine line divides practicality

from insanity. An idea later dismissed as risible,

like bombing Cambodia or defoliating North

Vietnam, may have seemed serviceable at the

time. Desperate leaders need desperate ways out

of corners. Today's armies, designed to confront

communism, are being marched into battle by

fidgety leaders to get nasty pictures off the

television screen. A wild compulsion appears to

have seized Western liberalism as it gazes

ogle-eyed at whatever atrocity the networks

have selected for the nightly "grief pornography"

slot. It is as if, with the Cold War over, liberals

now want their turn at playing war games. They

want to feel the surge of power, the roar of the

chopper blade, the thrill of "bombs away".

If I thought for one minute that the appalling

destruction America and Britain are now raining

down on Yugoslavia could conceivably achieve

its declared objectives, I might ponder the

justice of such action. There is such a thing as a

world order and it does merit imposition, as in

the Falklands and Kuwait. Though the integrity

of states should be respected, it is not absolute.

But in Kosovo no virtue appears achievable. A

European state, already afflicted by a

communist past and a brutalist present, is being

plunged into further misery. Those we purport

to help are being killed and exiled. The best we

can hope is that Mr Milosevic declares his

cleansing at an end and invites the "monitors"

back, as he did last October. That will be a Nato

defeat. But it will be a lesser defeat than the

madness now on offer from the hawks of

Washington and London.

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