I too appreciated Barkley's travelogue, as well as the query that prompted it. But from what I could see, he reflected a real ambivalence about the situation. The dialogue, as well as some of the reverse jingoism on the Internet, shows that the left does not have a strong political and moral position in these situations. Indeed, if nobody does then right must give way to might; not the best of outcomes.
That the word from any U.S. Administration on justifications for military action is untrustworthy is obvious enough. Even testimony on simple facts is not credible, judging by the consistent historical record. You just can't trust a secretary of state. But it should be just as clear that the word of such persons as Saddam or the Serbs is not currency either. In the matter of atrocities, both sides are apt to lie without hesitation. It will always be hard for external observers to sift out the truth.
What seems very possible, at minimum, is that the Serbs have committed atrocities against unarmed civilians, and will commit more if given the chance. Does anybody doubt this? More generally, from time to time very bad guys are going to gain power in assorted parts of the world and use it to horrific effect. No power on earth can prevent this altogether, but some of it can in principle be dealt with.
The criticism that bombing "won't work" is clearly unsatisfactory and disingenuous, since it implies that bombing is not a sufficient military response. If military action against military targets is justifiable, bombing them is too.
We are used to seeing these conflicts in terms of class strugle, in a bipolar international context, if you'll pardon the foreign relations-speak. But today the U.S. is a lone hegemon. It doesn't need to conquer Yugoslavia. Often these situations are more complicated than class relations would imply. Sometimes the explanation for an intervention could be so trivial as to defy the gravity of the act; Grenada comes to mind.
Contorted efforts to explain interventions in terms of some base economic motive can draw us further from the basic moral truth of a situation: who is mostly right, and who mostly wrong? Over the past few days I've heard raised "military keynesianism," testing military hardware, control of pipeline routes, the need to destroy capital in order keep the economic system humming, and other foolishness. Typically in situations like these there can be many reasons for intervention, some crack-brained, others not, as well as purely political, domestic circumstances utterly without economic connotations. But in any case, the existence of bad reasons for an intervention does not preclude the possibility of good ones.
The fundamental question is whether the lives of many innocent people are under immediate, deadly threat at the hands of the Serbs. The uselessness of much of the argument I've seen lies in its neglect of this issue, or even a forthright rejection of it out of wayward principle. In so doing, the moral high ground is conceded to the Administration and left consigns itself to the political wilderness of the Ethically Confused. We are thrown back on a more-or-less dishonest argument about effectiveness, or even neo-Kissingerian arguments about staying out of sovereign states' internal affairs. Of course, we should understand why the GOP is soft on intervention; they are the party that officially doesn't give a shit.
Here's a thought experiment. Imagine a debate on whether the left should support the response of a U.S., bursting with imperial ambition, to Krystalnacht or to the Japanese militarists' rape of Nanking. Think of all the bad reasons why FDR would be interested in such a response, but consider also the real facts of the situations, the consequences of the U.S. abstaining, and the consequences of the U.S. intervening.
If you think history would have turned out better in the absence of U.S. intervention, you would be consistent in automatically condemning U.S. intervention in Haiti, Somalia, Kuwait, Bosnia, and now Kosovo. In other words, you would be a Trot or a pacifist. Fine. Some of my best friends, etc. etc. But if such an implication makes you uncomfortable, then you ought to be uneasy about uncritical support for a politics that abandons the Muslims in Kosovo to the Serbs.
"Stop the bombing" is pretty uncritical. It serves Slobodan Whatzis-name, pure and simple. Interventionist situations are diverse, I would suggest, not all one thing. They deserve to be sorted out. We ought to be uncomfortable with uncritical support for either side, since both are suspect in their own ways. But one mark in favor of Blair and Clinton is that there is little reason to suspect a desire on their part to go into the Balkans and arbitrarily try to massacre any particular local population. They pursue economic subjugation, but we can confidently predict that outcome no matter who wins this struggle.
No revolutionary vision is sufficiently compelling to justify abandoning a people to genocide. If you don't think that is at issue, that's an argument but I haven't heard anyone make it yet. Otherwise, I'd say the revolution can wait. It's likely to in any event.