Rebuttal to Nathan

Seth Ackerman SAckerman at
Thu Mar 16 15:15:48 PST 2000

Nathan, hold on a second.

I admire Ed Vulliamy and I liked his Guardian piece, even though I'm against libel suits on principle and I find his position on Bosnia mad. But Doug is right: Your arguments turn everyone into a pro-Serb or a pro-NATO lackey. Invidiousness lies at the heart of the Ed Vulliamy-Ian Williams line: either you're with the "victims" or you're against them.

There were a lot of victims in Bosnia. But alongside tens of thousands of Muslims who died, there were tens of thousands of Serbs. What do you--or Vulliamy or Williams--have to say about them? Nothing much. Vulliamy once said to me that, yes, Muslims committed atrocities during the war: "But wouldn't you?"

So the Bosnia-solidarity crowd adopts all the poisonous hallmarks of indiginous Balkan nationalism. "The Serbs started it." "Whatever crimes we committed, theirs were worse." "Oh, they're all murderers." Is this really how a Western intellectual should respond to the ex-Yugoslavia crisis? By mimicking all the worst traits of Balkan politics?

Of course, a small faction of pro-Serb leftists does just the same. These people are vile. Ramsey Clark and his ilk are demented--the anti-imperialist left's own worst enemies. But they represent a microscopic fraction of the opposition to NATO--at least on the left--and their views have an audience of approximately twelve. You cannot begin to compare their influence with the likes of David Rieff, Mark Danner, Ed Vulliamy, Michael Ignatieff, and Christiane Amanpour and other anti-Serb partisans.You do yourself no favors, Nathan, when you deliberately tar principled anti-interventionists with that brush.

Then there is your rhetorical sleight-of-hand on the consequences of the Kosovo bombing. Let me set the record straight. Virtually no one denies the Serbs committed terrible crimes. Those who do are marginal figures waiting for the next pronunciamento from Tanjung. The anti-bombers' case hinges on two main arguments which I have never seen you refute:

(1) That NATO's bombing precipitated violence in Kosovo on a much greater scale than would have happened without the bombing. In other words, that bombing made things worse. The standard reply here is that Milosevic would have carried out the same campaign of mass expulsions anyway. But does anybody seriously believe this? Of course, it's an empirical question. We don't have all the evidence yet. But can you explain what evidence there is?

Reportedly, Yugoslav Army plans for "Operation Horseshoe" were intercepted by Austrian intelligence in autumn 1998. This is plausible. We're talking about contingency plans--Belgrade's strategy for a worst-case-scenario. No date was scheduled for their implementation. All militaries make such plans. NATO and its members undoubtedly have plans drawn up for invasions of Kosovo, Serbia, Iraq, Colombia, and a dozen other places. That doesn't mean NATO will ever do these things. And those plans CERTAINLY would not justify a "pre-emptive strike" against NATO by any of the countries targeted.

All the evidence points to Milosevic's intent to keep the Kosovo fight on a low simmer while he angled for a better deal. Javier Solana even says he once overheard a Yugoslav general joke--months before Rambouillet--"a village a day keeps NATO away." In other words, Western pressure--including sanctions--were deterring Milosevic from unleashing something much more savage. It is under just those conditions that diplomacy is intended to forge a settlement. But the U.S. was never interested in diplomacy. It had set its sights on using force long before Rambouillet.

(2) The second anti-interventionist argument is that the murders in Kosovo were vastly exaggerated into claims of genocide by the NATO propaganda machine in order to quiet the opposition. Here your counter-arguments are ridiculous. You are being deliberately obtuse when you claim that opponents of the war have mischievously picked out the "upper end" of NATO's range of estimates to make the actual figures seem small.

Here's the bottom line: NATO launched a calculated propaganda campaign during the war to convince the Western public that Milosevic was trying to systematically exterminate the Albanian population. NATO never actually *said* that Milosevic was doing this. That's because they knew he wasn't--and that sooner or later this would have to be discovered.

Thus, the "500,000 missing Albanian men" ploy. The advantage of "missing" victims--rather than dead ones--is that you can always "find" them later. Again, Nathan: The point was to sway the public into believeing that genocide was taking place. Why? Because the rationale for the war had been to deter Milosevic's "imminent" genocide. As the war dragged on unexpectedly--and public opposition grew--NATO needed to show the public that the predicted Serbian genocide was taking place just as they said it would--and that therefore nothing short of total victory would suffice.

(WSJ 12/31/99: "We were all hamstrung," a NATO official says. As the war dragged on, he says, NATO saw a fatigued press corps drifting toward the contrarian story: civilians killed by NATO's bombs. NATO stepped up its claims about Serb "killing fields.")

And it worked. The front pages of every newspaper carried the 500,000 figure, along with grim pictures of huddled refugees. TV images of freight trains full of Albanians were interspersed with pictures of Holocaust trains to Auschwitz. Do you want to know how effective the propaganda was? In the first few weeks, *I* believed that probably tens of thousands of Albanians were killed. I really believed that.

You seem to doubt that NATO lied at all during the bombing. I suppose you think that since this was the world's first virtuous war--different from all those that came before it--the Pentagon propaganda machine wasn't geared up to sell it? Do you remember the phony Nicaraguan MiG crisis? The medical students in Grenada? The Kuwaiti babies pulled from incubators?

The number of dead probably isn't even close to 10,000. I don't know where you get that figure. I do know that it first surfaced at a British foreign ministry press conference soon after KFOR entered the province last June, to better illustrate the anticipated mass graves stories. The methodology went like this: An estimated 500 graves with an average of 20 bodies each. These numbers were picked out of thin air. The WSJ correspondents in Pristina report that most graves have no more than 5 bodies. Apparently, the ICTY has received "reports" totaling 11,000 dead. But the biggest "reports" have turned out to be hoaxes, like the Trepca mines.

According to Del Ponte's UN Security Council briefing, so far, ICTY investigators have found 2,108 bodies. According to Gen. Jan Joostein, the former KFOR spokesman in Pristina, out of 2,108 bodies, only 850 were victims of war crimes. In other words, the rest were fighters. Emilio Perez Pujol, the Spanish forensic investigator for the ICTY, was told by the UN to expect 2,000 bodies in his assigned sector of Kosovo. Only 187 turned up. By that ratio, if the UN estimates 11,000 war-crime murders in all of Kosovo, the real total would end up at about 1,028. Pujol projects that when the investigation is completed, that total will probably amount to 2,500. That includes some killings in ambigous or uncertain situations.

So 2,500 is the best estimate, Nathan, not 10,000. Note that even with this much lower figure, the damage is so much worse than if the turmoil had continued at its pre-bombing level. In the year of civil war from March 1998 to March 1999, 2000 people were killed. (That includes some Serbs and KLA, but mostly Albanian civilians.) That converts to 417 dead in two-and-a-half months, the length of the NATO bombing. So instead of 417 people dying, 2,500 died. And 1 million were expelled. And the KLA extremists were strengthened at the expense of Rugova and other moderates. And the Yugoslav infrastructure is destroyed. And sanctions will remain forever so it can't be rebuilt. And on and on...

And I haven't even mentioned Rambouillet...

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Nathan Newman [SMTP:nathan.newman at]
> Sent: Thursday, March 16, 2000 2:40 PM
> To: lbo-talk at
> Subject: RE: Pro-ITN Libel Suit Post (re: THE TEARS OF THE MIGHTY
> >On Behalf Of Doug Henwood
> >
> > Nathan Newman wrote:
> >
> > >LM's apology for Serb murder
> >
> > Whoa, Nathan. Isn't this a little overheated? I haven't seen LM
> > taking an overtly pro-Serb line; it struck me more as a critique of
> > NATO demonization of the Serbs. If what was called a death camp was
> > not in fact a death camp, that doesn't qualify as apology for murder,
> > does it?
> I did not call it a death camp and neither did Penny Marshall or Ian
> Williams. Some people seeing the pictures did so, but LM went further
> than
> complaining about possible misuse of a photo. They published a report
> accusing Marshall and Williams of a fraudulent report AND TO THIS DAY
> refuse
> to admit that the camp was even a "prison", much less that torture and
> murder occurred there.
> To engage in such a position is an apology for Serb murder that occurred
> at
> that camp, irregardless of larger issues. What could be a clearer
> apologia?
> But to jump to the bigger issue:
> >I think the postwar body counts have shown pretty conclusively that
> >the genocide rhetoric - which, as I recall, you endorsed - was
> >completely unearned. And I say this as no fan of Serbia or Milosevic.
> Even your statement reflects the apologia that has fueled the attacks on
> leftists who supported intervention in the Balkans. You take the most
> extreme statement made, interpret it as even more extreme than what was
> meant, than say, "see the Serbs only killed 10,000 people and only
> expelled
> one million from their homes", and in Bosnia, they only committed
> wholesale
> slaughter and ethnic clensing, but since that does not match your
> definition
> of genocide equalling 50% murder of a population, so the Serbs were
> therefore unfairly crticized. It's an odd rhetorical style, which was
> reflected in the fact that NATO during the Kosovo war estimated that
> roughly
> 10,000 people had been killed, and lo-and-behold, that's about the number
> that has come out after the war's end. Yet you and others have seized on
> the
> outer-bound estimates by a few officials as what "was really estimated."
> For the record, here is how I situated the repression in Kosovo last
> March,
> comparing it to Israel in relation to the Palestinians:
> "Actually Doug, the full-scale level of ethnic clensing in the Balkans in
> the
> last few years is on a level few areas in the world match at the moment.
> The Kurds in Turkey have been repressed but the Turkish majority has not
> actually sought to drive them out of their homes and even out of their
> country. The Israel analogy to the Palestinians (which others on this
> list
> rushed to hold up in its unique brutality precisely because people were
> losing their homes) is probably the best on."
> And as for the genocide word, here's is a post on April 12, 1999:
> "Various people have posted numbers comparing deaths in Rwanda and other
> countries with Kosovo deaths as of the day of military intervention. The
> point of the intervention was not to respond to a genocide that had
> already
> occurred, but to prevent one."
> And I also noted last March this odd mirror-image apolgia cycle by certain
> leftists in response to government propaganda:
> "In fact, it is parts of the anti-imperialist Marxist Left that mirror the
> US
> government's inconsistency in shaping propaganda to downplay the human
> rights violations of those regimes that the US government targets, often
> flip-flopping denunciation of "US puppets" to support those "fighting
> imperialism." Sure there is a nuance or two of "critical support" with
> reservations, but the impression given by the weight of [various posts] of
> Serbian support mirrors the US government propagand of war."
> The reason I posted this from last year is that it illustrates the problem
> that you and others keep imagining that others have said more extreme
> things
> than they did, then when it turns out that "only" mass murder occurred
> rather than genocide, suddenly the Serbs appear to be less murderous
> compared to an outrageous standard of crime you have established.
> The bottom-line is that if the Serb killings were relatively low by your
> view, Serb deaths due to NATO intervention were completely negligible.
> Yet
> you and others continue to downplay the first and play up the later.
> -- Nathan Newman

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