Fisk on Kosovo

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Tue Mar 30 06:56:03 PST 1999

INDEPENDENT (London) March 30

ROBERT FISK - Lies, deceit and betrayal

Once upon a time - last week, in fact - we went to war to save the Kosovo Albanians. After months of negotiating and a thousand broken promises, Nato's patience was exhausted. It was time to teach the Serbs a lesson and - dare we suggest it - revenge ourselves on Slobodan Milosovic, not just for Kosovo, but for the years of Western humiliation in Bosnia. But it was for the Kosovars, the 90-per-cent Muslim population of Serbia's Kosovo province, that we would draw the sword.

And our war is turning into disaster. The moment Nato's bombs and missiles began to fall, the Serbs struck ruthlessly against the Albanians of Kosovo.

"They are being helped by Nato and Nato is our enemy and now the Albanians are calling up Nato's air strikes," a young Serb official snapped angrily at me on Monday. The separatist Kosovars - from being merely recalcitrant or, at worst, "terrorists" - have now become fifth columnists. And fifth columns are always destroyed by occupying armies.

Thus has come about what Nato now admits to be the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. And already we are being deceitful to both the victims and the aggressors.

Within two days of the first air strikes - when it became clear that the Serbs were "cleansing" their way through Kosovo; when the first 20,000 refugees washed up on the frontiers of Macedonia and Albania - President Clinton, the architect (along with Richard Holbrooke) of this particular adventure, made an astonishing statement. He said that the bloodshed would have been "even worse" if Nato had not intervened. And he assured the American people that US troops would only be sent into Kosovo in a peacekeeping role.

How happy President Milosovic must have been to hear that. Already, Clinton was making excuses for Nato's air raids - and then promising that ground troops would never be sent to fight Serbian forces in Kosovo.

So Milosevic's army pressed on eagerly. And when the next flood of Kosovars staggered into Macedonia with their stories of summary executions and house-burning, we were told yet again that things would have been worse without the air raids. Once Nato admitted that 500,000 Kosovars had been displaced, this lie was mercifully forgotten. Instead, the air raids would be increased, the rules of engagement broadened, in order to end Serbia's "scorching" of Kosovo's earth. The fruits of war had now become the reason for its enlargement.

A terrible formula has now emerged, one that the Kosovo Albanian leadership is only beginning to understand. We in the West cared so much for their people's suffering that we went to war to end their grief and bring them peace. But we would not risk the life of a single soldier to do this.

The Kaiser's policy - that the Balkans were not worth the life of a single Prussian grenadier - has been adopted to the letter by Nato. Even as distraught women were entering Skopje with tales of the execution of intellectuals in Pristina, a British officer vouchsafed the opinion in Macedonia that "we are here simply to implement a peace agreement and that's what we will do, if [sic] and when we get the chance."

So, more comfort for President Milosevic. However reasonable this sounds in Washington and London, the message for the Serbs is clear. Nato - supposedly the iron shield of Western democracy in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe - cannot even defeat Serbia. The men who were trained to defend the Fulder Gap against Moscow's legions are going to sit it out in the hills of Macedonia - to act as peacekeepers "when they get the chance".

We cry for the Kosovo Albanians. Perhaps we even love them. But we will not die for them.

Instead, we seek more monsters to justify our continued war. George Robertson, our beloved Defence Secretary, has reintroduced the world to the arch-villain Arkan, "ethnic cleanser" par excellence in Bosnia.

Indeed, Arkan is an indicted war criminal. Mr Robertson spent some time dwelling upon the deeds of this "outrageous thug". But the fact is that Arkan's cruelty was made manifest in Bosnia, not in Kosovo. There is no evidence - so far - that his "Tigers" are murdering Albanians in Kosovo.

President Clinton told us, too, that if we didn't continue the war against Serbia, then we would see repeated "what happened in Bosnia".

The West has every reason to feel humiliated by its performance in the face of evil in Bosnia. And to blame Mr Milosevic as one of those who shamed us - and let's not muddy the waters by remembering the ruthless Franjo Tudjman's "cleansing" of 170,000 Serbs from Krajina - is fair enough. But to go to war to avenge ourselves for the Bosnian war was folly. And it is becoming ever more clear that this is partly what Nato's first-ever conflict is about. It is about getting our own back.

Meanwhile, we are enduring the usual half-truths. Before America bombed Libya in 1986 and Iraq in 1991, Washington insisted that it had no argument with the "Libyan/Iraqi people". President Clinton said the same after he bombed Afghanistan and Sudan last year.

And sure enough, just three days ago, the Americans - joined this time by the British - repeated the same old lament. We had nothing against the Serbian people. It was just "Milosevic's murder machine" that we hated. But, again, our hatred was not enough to die for.

Of course, Nato itself cannot be humiliated on the eve of its 50th birthday. This was one of the raisons d'etre of this war at the weekend. Presumably, we would have been less keen to bomb Serbia if it were the 49th birthday or the 51st birthday.

There is, needless to say, one very clear way that Nato could show its teeth - by arresting two Serb warlords even more infamous than Arkan: General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadjic.

How strange that Mr Robertson didn't mention those two indicted war criminals last week. Why didn't he? Because he forgot? Or because Mladic and Karadjic happen to reside in Bosnia, in a district controlled by the very Nato troops whose reputation must be defended by going to war with Serbia?

Why doesn't Mr Robertson order their immediate arrest? Is it because such arrests might be resisted, and Nato lives lost?

In the next few days, two possible scenarios are likely to present themselves to President Clinton and Tony Blair (and also, I suppose, to Mr Cook).

One will be to grit their teeth and go for the kind of haven created for the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991. The other is to pay a humble visit to the Secretary General of that poor old donkey, the United Nations.

The first would be costly - Serbia has promised to fight an invader, not slink away as Iraq did after the Gulf conflict. If Nato troops were to get involved in a fire-fight in Kosovo, it would betray every promise that Clinton made to the Americans. Bodies would probably come home in coffins. But the promise to the Kosovo Albanians would have been honoured.

The second would be an experience deeply humbling to all the armchair warriors who have been preaching the morality of war to us over the past few days.

Yes, of course, President Milosevic may capitulate. Or he may be overthrown. But if he does not give up, Nato commanders may have to decide whether to put their soldiers' lives on the line for the policies of their governments, or hand the cause of peace in Europe to the UN.

Sane men would probably go for the UN option. Meanwhile, the Kosovo Albanians are the ones who have chiefly been doing the dying over the past week. No doubt the survivors will thank us for our sympathy.

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