THE AFTERMATH

In reading today's rather bleak news articles on the war in Kosovo from the NY Times and Wall Street Journal, I was struck by the presence of their subdued, bitter, and savage tone. It is true that the man or woman in the street will not read these particular pieces, really small essays by generally conservative, well-educated pundits, but their tone is seeping through to the talk shows, which they will hear or view. What struck me are the major difficulties facing a country led by a man many people hold in irredeemable contempt.

I'd like to skirt the issue of whether or not that contempt is deserved, but rather to consider it a fact of life, much like federal taxes are due April 15th and the summer weather in Florida is hot and sultry. They cannot be changed. People live with these issues not from choice, but because they must. And we are going to have to live with a war, fronted by NATO, but begun and directed by this American president as leader of the world's only superpower.

Students of war, and neither I nor Mr. Clinton can be considered one, regard the purpose of such a serious and deadly undertaking as a means of compelling an adversary to do one's will, or of taking territory from him, or preventing him from doing something. The latter was the purpose of Mr. Clinton's decision to selectively, surgically, and antiseptically bomb Serbian air defenses and paramilitary forces after the Serbs refused to sign the proposed peace agreement that promised autonomy to ethnic Albanians. Spoken of this way, war can sound pretty refined, sophisticated, and noble, but my frogmen and SEAL comrades have shortened the definition to, "Kick ass, and take names," a handy operational, if not statesmanlike, concept. Unfortunately, their assessment is also much closer to what really takes place during wartime. The terrors now happening in Kosovo clearly show they speak the truth.

Had the Serbs signed the proposed peace treaty they rejected, its provisions were to have been guaranteed by the presence of 28,000 peacekeeping NATO troops, among them 4,000 Americans. NATO's stated and entirely laudable humanitarian goal was to stop Mr. Milosevic from pursuing his so-called ethnic cleansing of Albanians from their homeland. In a better world, or on Star Trek, this goal would have been achieved.

The reality is that Serbia's Mr. Milosevic had apparently decided he was going to solve a problem dating back to the Ottoman-Serbian War of 1389. The Serbs lost that war, the triumphant Turks settled in the area, and successive generations of Muslims have called it home for centuries. Until last week, Kosovo was made up of a Muslim majority of 90% ethnic Albanians, with a small minority of 10% Serbian Christians. In a particularly brutal and inhumane military operation, Milosevic's Serbian forces are, on pain of execution, removing hundreds of thousands of Albanian Kosovars from their homes, confiscating their passports and other identification, and telling them to leave Kosovo. Go! Then the homes are often burned or destroyed so that their former inhabitants cannot return. It is a human catastrophe of overwhelming proportions.

Mr. Clinton and his administration did, with the best of intentions, trigger the bombing. They hoped to bring the Serbs to heel by unleashing on them with total impunity a show of force and high technology. One can question whether or not they did their homework well before turning on the cruise missile spigot, but it is academic now. Wishing doesn't always make things so, and Mr. Milosevic called Mr. Clinton's bluff! The bombing appears to have been the trigger for Mr. Milosevic to ruthlessly accelerate his schedule of ethnic cleansing. It is a fact, much like semen on a dress, and spin control cannot change it. Lady MacBeth, confronted with King Duncan's blood on her hands, lamented, "All the perfumes of Arabia will not remove this stain."

Similarly, confronted on Serbian TV by the bruised faces of the three American soldiers assigned to a United Nations command and captured by the Serbs, there is little that Mr. Clinton can say. His word is a laughing joke throughout the world, and when he wags a finger and says, "Now you listen to me, Slobodan Milosevic," it doesn't carry a lot of weight. There is nothing so difficult to redeem as a lost reputation, and many an errant girl and more than a few unwary politicians have sobbed over that truism.

Our press, and our government, have combined to demonize Mr. Milosevic, even as we bomb his homeland and Serbia's capitol city, Belgrade. In spite of the fact that Mr. Clinton has taken great pains to carefully state the United States has no quarrel with the Serbian people, only Mr. Milosevic, the cruise missiles landing on Danube bridges, power stations, military structures, fuel storage tanks, and Serb government buildings tell another story. The explosions seem to have succeeded in uniting the nation behind Milosevic, since it is the Serbian nation that is being attacked, not he. That was flawed political judgment, the area in which Mr. Clinton usually excels. Perhaps there were no dependable Serbian polls. In one essay I read in the Wall Street Journal, the author mentions the paradox that "Just over two years ago, Serbian civilians took to Belgrade's streets to demonstrate against Milosevic. Before that, in 1991, some 200,000 of them demonstrated against Milosevic's war policies, which have been utterly devastating for the Serbs themselves. Indeed, the thought was that once his goal of removing ethnic Albanians had been thwarted, the U.S. could announce a pause in the bombing to see whether there were dissidents in the Serbian military who might move against Milosevic."

Much of this nebulous, happy, feel-good optimism has vanished. With 350,000 Kosovars now waiting on the borders of Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro, a revised plan is for 100,000 of them to be airlifted to temporary camps to await eventual repatriation to Kosovo. The United States has tentative plans to accept 20,000 in Guam or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Germany has agreed to take 40,000 temporary residents, and Turkey another 20,000, Norway 6,000, and Canada and Greece 5,000 each. That will leave a quarter of a million homeless people still living on the borders of Kosovo, plus others added as more are forced from their homes by the Serbian army. What NATO yet has to do is to force the Serbian army from Kosovo, or persuade Milosevic to withdraw it, then airlift and transport all these people back to what's left of their homes, and help them rebuild. Finally, NATO will have to declare Kosovo an independent nation and protect it in perpetuity from the Serbs, who regard it as a holy shrine and the birthplace of Serbia. Moreover, our present plan is to do it without introducing ground troops into Kosovo.

And all this has to be done by our president, a man with zero moral authority, a man known to be a public liar, and a man that I, as a caring, blunt-spoken veteran would not, if my life depended on it, follow out of a burning building. Mr. Clinton, having mortally wounded himself, is a man who cannot lead.


Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)