Clinton's strategic speech 15 April

Chris Burford cburford at
Sat Apr 17 00:09:13 PDT 1999

I am not copying the strategic part of Clinton's speech to the Association of News Editors in San Francisco on Thursday to offend subscribers to this list who are revolted by yet another war by their government. Although I think Clinton has a more profound economic strategy than does Milosevic, I would suggest to the strongest oppponent of Clinton, that it is best to understand the enemy. I get the impression the news clips from his speech did not convey the strategic range of it, and of course it is wrapped up in a mixture of folksy allusions and high moral ideals. I would also suggest however that the high moral ideals, not only serve to cover up the violent reality of state power. They are in conformity with the material base of global capitalism and the culture of bourgeois democratic rights that is inseparable from the capitalist system of production.

I guess the timing of the strategic speech was partly because he was to try to distract attention from the civilian casualities in Kosovo. So he may have brought forward what he had planned to unveil somewhat later.

The strategy is cleverly presented, dealing with isolationist tendencies. Such a political and economic settlement would be most favourable to the continuation of US capital. What is hidden and perhaps really unconscious as Blair and Clinton work together, is how this strategy deals with imperialist contradictions of interest with the emerging European superstate. My sense is that Clinton believes his own rhetoric and his need to be loved. By showing the Europeans that he is active in this agenda this gives the US the best chance to keep Europe as a junior partner in an alliance in which the US remains hegemon.

While I have no doubt that in historical materialist terms this economic strategy is more progressive than a Serb nationalism which is literally reactionary, requiring forced expulsions, and having no economic future isolated from a wider gathering of nations, the most worrying feature of the speech seems to me the implications of arguing against Kosovan independence. This is done logically on the grounds that Kosovo is not economically viable as a separate state. True. But if it is to be kept as autonomous part of Serbia, then the mission of the war is not just to liberate the Albanians of Kosovo, but to defeat the Serbs led by Milosevic!

This could be consistent with the total land campaign for the defeat of Serbia to which Doug drew attention, even though at one point Clinton talks up the KLA, and this has become a subtheme of NATO propaganda in recent days.

Chris Burford



The history of the United States for a very long time was dominated by a principle of nonintervention in the affairs of other countries, even when we strongly disagreed. Indeed, for most of our history, we have worn the principle of nonintervention as a badge of honor, beginning with George Washington's warning against entangling alliances. The 20th century changed all that with two World Wars, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Panama, Lebanon, Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and others. Our steadily increasing involvement with the rest of the world, not for territorial gain, but for peace and freedom and security, is a fact of recent history.

During the Cold War it can be argued that on occasion we made a wrong judgment because we tended to see the world solely through the lenses of communism or anti-communism. But no one suggests that we ever sought territorial advantage. No one doubts that when America did get involved, we were doing what at least we thought was right for humanity.

Now at the end of the 20th century, we face a great battle between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration; the forces of globalism vs. tribalism; of oppression against empowerment. And the phenomenal explosion of technology, including that of advanced weaponry, might be the servant of either side or both.

The central irony of our time, it seems to me is this: Most of us have a vision of the 21st-century world with the triumph of peace and prosperity and personal freedom; with respect for the integrity of ethnic, racial and religious minorities; within a framework of shared values, shared power and shared plenty; making common cause against disease and environmental degradation, against terror, organized crime, and weapons of mass destruction.

This grand vision, ironically, is threatened by the oldest demon of human society: our vulnerability to hatred of the other, those who are not like us. In the face of that, we cannot be indifferent at home or abroad. That is why we are in Kosovo.

Kosovo is a very small place on a very large fault line; on the borderlands of central and eastern Europe; at the meeting place of the Islamic world and the Western and Orthodox branches of Christianity; where people have settled in a complex patchwork of ethnic and religious groups; and where countless wars have been fought over faith, land and power.

Kosovo is far from unique in its region. It is surrounded by nations with similar challenges of history and diversity. The only difference today is that they -- think of them: Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Bosnia -- are now at least struggling to realize the vision of multiethnic democracy that Mr. Milosevic is struggling to kill.

Much of the former Soviet Union faces a similar challenge, including Ukraine and Moldova, Southern Russia, the Caucasus nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the new nations of Central Asia. These nations spent most of the last half century under communist rule. In the years when Western Europe was overcoming its old animosities by integrating its economies and embracing democracy, in the years when Americans began confronting our legacy of racial hatred through open debate and political activism, these nations saw their problems frozen in time, kept in place by a rigid system that allowed no talk of change. They projected to the world a picture of stability, but it was a false picture, a stability imposed by rulers whose answer to ethnic tensions was not to resolve them, but to suppress and deny them.

When the weight of communist repression was lifted, these tensions naturally rose to the surface to be resolved by statesmen or exploited by demagogues. The potential for ethnic conflict became perhaps the greatest threat to what is among our most critical interests: the transition of the former communist countries towards stability, prosperity and freedom.

We are in Kosovo because we care about saving lives and we care about the character of the multiethnic post-Cold War world. We don't want young democracies that have made the right choices to be overwhelmed by the flight of refugees and the victories of ethnic hatred.

We don't want to see Europe refight with tanks and artillery the same battles they fought centuries ago with axes and arrows. And because stability in Europe is important to our own security, we want to build a Europe that is peaceful, undivided and free, a Europe where young Americans do not have to fight and die again to deal with the consequences of other people's madness and greed.

Who is going to define the future of this part of the world? Who will provide the model for how the people who have emerged from communism resolve their own legitimate problems? Will it be Mr. Milosevic with his propaganda machine and his paramilitary thugs who tell people to leave their country, their history and their land behind or die? Or will it be a nation like Romania, which is building democracy and respecting the rights of its ethnic minorities? Or Hungary, which has accepted that ethnic Hungarians can live beyond its borders with security and freedom? Or Macedonia, which is struggling to maintain a tolerant, multiethnic society under the unimaginable pressures of the human and economic costs imposed by Mr. Milosevic's policies?

Now after our recent experience in Bosnia and Kosovo, it's easy to forget that despite all the violence and turmoil they have experienced, the people of this region have in fact found ways to live together through the years. If the nations of the Balkans had truly experienced 1,000 years of unceasing ethnic cleansing, their ethnic makeup wouldn't be anything like what it is. They would be utterly homogeneous, not so diverse. Today, most of those countries are democracies. Most are trying to resolve their problems by force of argument, not force of arms. We cannot allow the Milosevic vision, rooted as it is in hatred and violence and cynicism, to prevail. But if we truly want a more tolerant, inclusive future for the Balkans and all of southeast Europe, we will have to both oppose his efforts and offer a better vision of the future, one that we are willing to help build.

Now what does all this mean for the future of Kosovo and the region as a whole, starting from where we are right now? What many Kosovars want is independence. That is certainly understandable. After what they've been through, it's only natural that they should equate sovereignty with survival.

But I continue to think it is not the best answer. Kosovo lacks the resources and infrastructure to be viable on its own. Moreover, Yugoslavia's long-suffering neighbors fear that an independent Kosovo would be unstable, and that the instability itself would be contagious.

Finally, we must remember the principle we and our allies have been fighting for in the Balkans is the principle of multiethnic, tolerant, inclusive democracy. We have been fighting against the idea that statehood must be based entirely on ethnicity.

Some people think the best way to solve Kosovo's problems, and Serbia's and Bosnia's, is to redraw their borders and rearrange their people to reflect their ethnic distinctions. Well, first of all, a lot of people who say that haven't looked very closely at the maps. It is a problem of staggering complexity. Once it starts, it would never end. For every grievance resolved, a new one would be created. For every community moved to a new place, another community would by definition be displaced.

If we were to choose this course, we would see the continuous fissioning of smaller and smaller ethnically based, unviable states, creating pressures for more war, more ethnic cleansing, more of the politics of repression and revenge. I believe the last thing we need in the Balkans is greater balkanization.

The real question today is not whether Kosovo will be part of Serbia. The real question is whether Kosovo and Serbia and the other states of the region will be part of the new Europe.

The best solution for Kosovo, for Serbia, for Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and all the countries of southeast Europe, is not the endless rejiggering of their borders, but greater integration into a Europe in which sovereignty matters but in which borders are becoming more and more open and less important in a negative sense. It is to affirm the principle that Milosevic has done so very much to undermine, that successful modern states make a virtue, not a blood feud, out of ethnic and religious diversity.

That is the solution southwestern Europe -- excuse me -- that is the solution that western Europe accepted not too long ago really when you think of it, after Europe had been consumed by two of the bloodiest wars in all of human history, after the Holocaust almost erased an entire people from the face of the Earth.

It is hard to visualize today, hard to remember when you drive across Belgium and Holland or cross the border between France and Germany, that twice in this century millions of people spilled blood fighting over every inch of that land.

It is hard to imagine the immediate postwar Europe Winston Churchill described as a rubble heap, a charnel house, a breeding ground of pestilence and hate. But because of the changes which have occurred, it is not unimaginable today that the nations of southeastern Europe will choose integration and peace, just as their Western neighbors have.

To achieve that future, we must follow the example of the World War II generation by standing up to aggression and hate and then by following through with a post-conflict strategy for reconstruction and renewal. If we don't want people to remain mired in the miseries of yesterday, we must give them a better tomorrow to dream of and work for.

Even as we fight this conflict, we must look beyond it to what the Balkans, southeastern Europe, indeed the whole continent of Europe, should look like in 10 or 20 years. We should try to do for southeastern Europe what we helped to do for western Europe after World War II and for central Europe after the Cold War: to help its people build a region of multiethnic democracies; a community that upholds common standards of human rights; a community in which borders are open to people and trade, where nations cooperate to make war unthinkable.

That is why my request to Congress for supplemental funding for our military and humanitarian operation in Kosovo will also support emergency assistance to Yugoslavia's neighbors, which do not want their dreams of democracy and integration undermined by a flood of refugees and the fear of violence.

That is why we've been working to help the countries of the region consolidate democratic reform and build professional armed forces under civilian control. We need to intensify these efforts and to work with the European Union and the international financial institutions to mobilize more support for these countries. And we need to condition this help, just as we did with western Europe 50 years ago, on closer cooperation among the beneficiaries and a new understanding of their sovereignty. This will take constant, steady American engagement together with our European allies, old and new.

It will demand keeping institutions, including NATO and the European Union, open to new nations who make the right choices. It will take money in the form of investment and aid. It will require a willingness to provide material and moral support to people and leaders across the region who are standing up for multiethnic democracy.

Realistically, it will require a democratic transition in Serbia, for the region's democracies will never be safe with a belligerent tyranny in their midst.

It will demand from us a recognition that there is no easy way out of the region's troubles, but there is a solution that advances our interest and keeps faith with our values, if we are ready to make a long-term commitment.

Of course all of this will take time and effort. In the meantime, the people of Kosovo should have protection, security and self-government. That can only be assured by an international security force with NATO at the core. As in Bosnia, this force should also include members of NATO's Partnership for Peace that represent the whole range of ethnic groups in Europe.

This is precisely the kind of mission we envisioned for the Partnership for Peace when it was created five years ago, and the kind of mission I very much hope Russia could join as well, just as it did so constructively in Bosnia. In the long run, our goal for Kosovo should not be independence, but interdependence. Our watchword for the region should be integration, not disintegration.

The ultimate answer for Kosovo, for Serbia, for Bosnia, Croatia _ all the Balkans -- is not to withdraw behind barriers of mistrust and insecurity, but to join a Europe where borders unite, rather than divide; to build a richly textured fabric of civilization that lifts all God's children and resists those who would tear it apart by appealing to the dark recesses of the soul that lead only to dead ends.

The Balkan war that began in Kosovo 10 years ago must end in Kosovo. It should be the last conflict of the 20th century. It should not be the defining conflict of the 21st century. The United States has the opportunity and the responsibility to make that decision come out right for our children and our grandchildren.

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