Thursday, June 30, 2005

When The Foo Shat On The Other Guy's Foot 

Alert reader, Hobson, sent me the following reminder of another time and place:

"Liberals saw the savagery of Slobodan Milosevic, first in Bosnia, then in Kosovo and prepared for war.

Consevatives saw the savagery of Milosevic and they said, "Give peace a chance."

No kidding.

Of course it was all a bit more complicated than that.

President Clinton had hesitated before taking action on the Bosnian nightmare until '95, despite having criticized the first Bush administration's passivity in the face of rape camps, mass graves and other similar horrors not seen in Europe since WW2.

The Republican Senate leader, Bob Dole was among the strongest voices to demand that something be done to stop the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims, if not by direct intervention, then by a US led campaign to lift the arms embargo which was keeping only the Muslim side from procuring arms, and leaving them defenseless against the onslaught of a well-armed Serbian army and its Bosnian Serbian militias. There was also the added complication of Croatia's entrance into the fray, committing it's own savagery, mainly against the Serbs.

Still, it is fair to say that Clinton, having acted in Bosnia, learned the lessons of dealing with Milosevic, and when he threatened to make another Bosnia of Kosovo, where the majority population of ethnic Albanian Muslims had been struggling to preserve their most basic human rights in a decade-long non-violent campaign of resistance to the tyranny of the ruling Serb minority, Clinton included the threat of military action to back up the year-long attempts by the State Department and General Clark, then the Supreme Commander of the NATO forces, to solve the conflict through negotiation.

When violence against Muslim Kosovars accelerated throughout late 1998, and then in early '99 Serbian fighting forces started to gather on the northern border of Kosovo, Clinton, having rallied the support of all the NATO nations, while managing to secure the unofficial acquiescence of the UN, demanded that either Milosevic must agree to withdraw all of his forces by a date-certain and to let an international peace-keeping force enter Kosovo or he must be prepared to face the certain prospect of an allied bombing campaign against broadly defined military targets inside of Serbia.

Hobson also pointed me to this Slate article from May of 1999, in which William Saleten had some fun playing vice versa with the Republican response to Clinton's Kosovo campaign, first positing the Saleten view of what are the major tropes common to all American anti-war movements, and then illustrating that in this instance it was the Republicans who were leading one that fit that pattern perfectly.

There's much in the column to disagree with, particularly the notion that Democrats and Republicans were being equally as hypocritical in their reversal of roles from the first Gulf War to the Kosovo campaign, (among other differences, once the bombing of Baghdad started in '91, no Democrat did anything to undermine or bad mouth American efforts to get Saddam out of Kuwait), but you should read it to remind yourself of how extreme were the actions and words of those same Republicans who are now accusing Democrats of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, although nothing that Democrats have done or said about Iraq could be considered anywhere near as corrosive and undermining as was the Republican opposition to what our military forces were attempting to achieve in the skies over Kosovo and Serbia.

It was Trent Lott who wanted to give peace a chance in 1999, and yes those were the very words he used, although, as Hobson notes, there's no evidence Lott sang them.

This was within weeks of the start of the bombing campaign, and while Serbian forces were completing the violent ethnic cleansing of one million Muslim Kosovars, who had been forced on trains, onto buses, or to pile what few possessions they could carry with them and to walk away, leaving their homes, their papers, in some cases their loved ones, to seek refuge in the empty border regions between Kosovo and Albania.
The president ought to open up negotiations and come to some sort of diplomatic end." Lott implored Clinton to "give peace a chance" and, comparing the war with the recent Colorado high-school shootings, urged him to resolve the Kosovo conflict with "words, not weapons."


Unless Clinton finds "a way to get the bombing stopped" and to "get Milosevic to pull back his troops" voluntarily, NATO faces "a quagmire ... a long, protracted, bloody war," warned Lott. Clinton "only has two choices," said DeLay--to "occupy Yugoslavia and take Milosevic out" or "to negotiate some sort of diplomatic end, diplomatic agreement in order to end this failed policy."

And then there was Tom DeLay:
On Fox News Sunday, DeLay blamed the ethnic cleansing on U.S. intervention. "Clinton's bombing campaign has caused all of these problems to explode," DeLay charged in a House floor speech replayed on Late Edition.


DeLay, meanwhile, voted not only against last week's House resolution authorizing Clinton to conduct the air war--which failed on a tie vote--but also in favor of legislation "directing the president ... to remove U.S. Armed Forces from their positions in connection with the present operations against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."


Clinton "has no plan for the end" and "recognizes that Milosevic will still be in power," added DeLay. "The bombing was a mistake. ... And this president ought to show some leadership and admit it, and come to some sort of negotiated end."

A majority of Republicans had refused to give congressional support to Clinton even while American troops were undertaking military action. They blamed the Clinton administration rather than Serbia for the failure of negotiations. They begged to disagree with military spokesmen who insisted that the air campaign was on target. Republicans sneered when Secretary Cohen insisted that it was Milosevic who had underestimated America and NATO's will to accomplish its objectives, insisting instead that it was Clinton et al who had underestimated Milosevec.

Best of all, Republicans blamed Clinton, not Milosevic, for that ethnic cleansing, which had necessitated a massive emergency construction of temporary camps for a million or so refugees. After all, as Republicans endlessly pointed out, the Serb forces didn't start their campaign of ethnic cleansing until the bombing of Serbia had begun, as if, had NATO backed down, the clearly well-planned Serbian campaign of violence and terror to rid Kosovo of its majority population would not have been carried out.

It should be said that many of the charges made by Republicans were also made by a number of people on the left, although most Democrats and many other liberals supported Clinton's actions. I thought the nay-sayers were wrong. But I saw the intervention as a tragic one, and not a model for future humanitarian interventions. War is always the worst alternative; its necessity almost always results from a failure to deal with a problem when it is solvable by other means.

Interestingly, Republicans paid no price for siding with leftists and against American interests and against an American military that fully supported Clinton's policy.

"What?", you say? Where was Coultergeist, as Hobson likes to refer to Ann?

You're forgetting, this was a "Democrat" president, and Clinton at that. Slick Willy had slipped the bonds of scandal and impeachment. The most corrupt administration in the history of the Republic, as Robert Bork unhesitatingly characterized the Clintons, had defied retribution. What were a million or so Kosovar Muslims, or the reputation of NATO, or the peace and stability of Central Europe, compared with the righteous necessity of all out opposition to all things Clinton all the time?

Think about that for a moment. And then remember the way that right-leaning persons from Andrew Sullivan to Sean Hannity were still able to fain shock at the intensity of Bush-bashing and Bush-hating on the left.

As for that so-called liberal media, as credulous and supportive as they were of Bush after 9/11, they were equally as skeptical and unsupportive of everything said and done in and about Kosovo by Clinton and his administration.

In general, I support skeptical analysis when this nation is called by anyone to undertake a military response to a problem, but in the case of Kosovo, those press voices brought no independent investigation or critical thought to evaluating Clinton's policies; instead, they were content to echo Republican critics.

No surprise, then, that John McCain was a particular favorite of broadcast and cable media. Some things didn't change after 9/111. McCain supported taking on Milosevic, but pronounced Clinton's policy too little, too late; we would need ground troops, he assured any number of Sunday pundits, and sooner or later, Clinton would either come to his senses and agree to that necessity, or lead the American military into a disaster. (Agreeing with McCain, William Kristol, more forward looking than most on the right, cautioned his disapproving fellow conservatives that what Clinton was doing in Kosovo, however incompetently, might be just the kind of thing neo-cons would want to advocate in the future.)

There was an obvious reason why Clinton's Kosovo policy had been shaped around a narrow military option that excluded both the use of ground troops and an invasion of Serbia to unseat Milosevic; only such a narrowly conceived policy had a hope of being supported by all the NATO nations. Nor would maintaining that support be an easy task, since sizable portions of the European electorate were against taking any military action against Serbia.

Yet, not a single interviewer ever asked McCain if he was proposing the US go it alone in Kosovo, and if not, how he would have whipped NATO into line, despite those same media voices' readiness to predict again and again, that NATO's support of its own demands was about to crack.

"War" is by its nature chaotic and the Kosovo campaign was complicated by the limited nature of both its goals and its means, but the US press, repeating Republican talking points rather than doing genuine critical analysis, contributed to a sense that the policy was failing, and sooner or later would have to be abandoned.

One of the major complications was Putin's Russia. A Serbian ally stretching back to WW 2, Russians in large numbers participated in anti-American demonstrations, and Putin made several aggressive, threatening moves, militarily and diplomatically.

The Clinton administration out-maneuvered Putin in the end, but nobody in the media bothered to notice while it was happening. Instead, at every twist and turn in the Kosovo narrative, the media predicted imminent failure. And the derision directed at Clinton as Commander-in-Chief was nothing short of astounding.

My favorite example - the media response to Clinton's trip to several key European capitals and American bases to bolster NATO's resolve and to acknowledge the work being done by our military by thanking the troops who were doing it. These latter stops on the tour were understated affairs, no big speeches, no big media shows, instead, the President had lunch in the mess with the troops, spoke with maintenance crews in hangars.

In one such stop, Clinton was wearing a jacket given to him by one of the aircraft maintenance units, and while he thanked the men and women who were doing the work of persuading Serbia to withdraw from Kosovo, commenting for MSNBC, Chris Matthews and several of the usual pundit turd-mouths were literally laughing at President Clinton, wondering aloud what the troops thought of this draft dodger wearing that military jacket, all this despite the fact that any neutral observer would have noted that the reaction of said troops was deep respect and appreciation for the presence of their Commander-in-Chief. It should also be noted that everywhere Clinton spoke, he reiterated the six points to which Milosevic must accede to stop the bombing campaign, and offered no hint that there was anything about which to negotiate.

No sooner was the President back in Washington than both Sam Donaldson, who had accompanied the President on the trip, and Tim Russert, who hadn't, reported that the administration was looking for a negotiated way out of the quagmire it had created. Li'l Russ' pronouncement was treated like a breaking news story, and John Hockenberry's MSNBC hour was interrupted to accommodate this important bulletin. Donaldson's pronouncment came during the group discussion on "This Week," and no one on the pundit panel thought to ask why President Clinton had gone to such great pains to express publicly his and net's resolve, if both we're getting ready to back down.

In the end, it was Milosevic (accepting all six of NATO's demands) who backed down, and a million Kosovar Muslims walked home.

Since the NATO policy depended on Milosevic coming to believe that neither Clinton nor NATO would crack, it is certainly a fair assumption that the very loud and public lack of support by Republicans of Clinton's Kosovo policy, and the almost entirely negative coverage by the entire media probably added to the length of the bombing campaign. However, I'm glad that no one in the Clinton administration, and no one among Democrats ever made that argument. No aspirations were cast upon the patriotism of any Republican or any press pundit.

Well, I guess some things did change after 9/11.

Republicans, and neo-cons in particular, have continued to devalue the importance of Kosovo, insisting that it had nothing to do with America's own strategic interests. Candidate Bush followed this line through-out his campaign, and Condi Rice, acting as his foreign policy advisor, made a diplomatic booboo by advising that a Bush administration would be withdrawing American troops from their peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. This caused such an angry reaction from the NATO countries supplying the majority of the peacekeepers there that Condi withdrew her observation.

So, let's test the perspicacity of the neo-cons against that of the security-chops-challenged Democrats.

Let's do a thought experiment.

In the late nineties, a group which included all our favorite neo-con heros, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowitz, you name one, the signature is there, sent President Clinton a letter advising him that now would be the time to finish the unfinished work of the first Gulf War by invading Iraq and getting rid of Saddam Hussein once and for all.

Clinton's position had been and continued to be that while regime-change in Iraq was a worthy goal on the basis of Saddam's horrendous human rights record and his habit of starting wars with or invading his neighbors, it could only be accomplished by a genuine Iraqi opposition which had some support within the country. The administration's evaluation of the Iraqi exile communities who were then answering the call was one of skepticism.

Let us suppose a different response from Clinton. Suppose he had heeded the call of the neo-cons and spent his final years in office leading the country in an invasion of Iraq? Ask yourself if there is any conceivable way such a strategy would have avoided 9/11? Ask yourself if it would have been an effective way to diminish the influence around the Muslim world of Al Queda? Ask yourself if it would have lead to an effective strategy for countering the Taliban or ending the safe passage Al Queda had through-out Afghanistan?

Now think back to our situation post 9/11. Imagine that in the heart of Europe, there were now permanent refugee camps, like the ones in the Middle East in which a million Muslims found themselves in a permanent diaspora. Can anyone in their right mind say that such a situation would have had no strategic importance in that famous neo-con formulation, the GWOT?

Just asking. (Feel free to use comments)

I'll tell you what was different after 9/11. The competent, pragmatic liberal/centrist Clinton/Gore administration was replaced by the incompetent, ideologically extreme, rightwing Bush administration, which didn't have a clue how to stop 9/11, and hasn't had a clue how to respond to 9/11 in ways that strengthen rather than weaken the security of this country, and offer an effective counter to Jihadist Muslim fundamentalism.

corrente SBL - New Location
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