This article was originally published on June 6, 1999 in the San Francisco Examiner. (c) 1998 San Francisco Examiner/eXaminer.com
Alex A. Vardamis, former director for European studies at the Army War College, is a retired colonel who served as military attaché in Greece and taught American literature for 10 years at the University of Vermont.
Celebration was premature. Obstacles remain. We have shed too much blood. We have caused too much devastation.
Furthermore, vainglory is ill-befitting a humane nation. With John Dryden, we should remember that "victors are by victories undone."
Where's the triumph? A small, impoverished country is being brought to its knees by the mightiest military alliance in history. Never since Guernica was obliterated by the Condor Legion in 1937 have the odds been so lopsided.
It is high time that Americans pause to count the cost of "victory" and ask some tough questions.
Above all, in preserving its political and military hegemony, has America's moral authority been shattered? Has our relentless bombing brought peace and stability to the Balkans? Is all the death and destruction necessary? Would not patient diplomacy from the very beginning have saved lives and prevented the mass exodus of refugees?
Troublesome questions surround what President Clinton refers to as a war to end all ethnic strife and to rid Europe of its final dictator.
1. Is Slobodan Milosevic really a dictator, or is he the head of a coalition government that includes the parties of rivals Vojislav Seselj and Vuk Draskovic? Has the United States been waging war against a parliamentary democracy? By bombing Serbia, haven't we crushed the future prospects of the pro-Western opposition? In March, we labeled the newly elected president of the Serbian sector of Bosnia, Nikola Poplasen, a troublemaker and summarily sacked him. Do we support democracy in the Balkans only when the winner is our puppet?
2. What if Milosevic, riding a wave of hatred of America and NATO, manages to win a future election? What do we do then? Neutralize a nation of annoying bigots? Intensify the bombing yet again? Impose Draconian economic sanctions? Ethnically cleanse Yugoslavia of all Serbs? Occupy the country?
3. Was the return of the refugees to Kosovo ever our first priority? Why did we continue to bomb when Milosevic agreed to that, in principle? Could it be that we care less about the welfare of the refugees than we do about dominating Yugoslavia and claiming a political triumph for NATO and the United States?
4. What happens if large numbers of refugees eventually refuse to return to their homeland? What if Paris or London or San Francisco seems more attractive to ambitious young people than do rural villages in a militarily policed backwater of Europe? Why should the Kosovars differ from any of the other immigrants of this century who, when they had the opportunity, escaped to prosperous countries like America?
5. Will NATO and the United States win the war but lose the moral high ground? How is NATO's bombing of draftees sleeping in their barracks morally different from Serbs shooting KLA soldiers? Is antiseptic, risk-free slaughter more acceptable than face-to-face executions?
6. Why, in this war, has NATO studiously avoided reporting enemy casualties? Finally, after nearly three months of bombing, NATO estimated that it killed 5,000 Yugoslav soldiers and police and seriously wounded another 10,000. At the same time, it boasted of dropping some 20,000 munitions on Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo.
How many corpses has each bomb produced? Unless NATO pilots are extraordinarily inept, the official casualty figures have to be ridiculously low. Is it possible that NATO has generated more casualties than has the Serbian army? Is it domestic, poll-driven politics that causes the Clinton administration to withhold realistic enemy body counts?
7. American and British planes have bombed civilian targets such as hospitals, schools, jails, marketplaces, factories, private homes, embassies, refugee and relief columns, passenger trains, highways and bridges, oil refineries, power grids, water supply systems and television stations within a sovereign nation that invaded none of its neighbors.
On the day after a provisional peace agreement was reached, NATO announced that it was scaling back to strictly military targets. Is this not a tacit admission that, during the previous 72 days, NATO had been intentionally bombing civilians?
The War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague charges Milosevic with the death of 340 civilians. By comparison, some 1,500 Yugoslav civilians were killed in NATO "accidents." Is it possible that the leaders of NATO countries might be more guilty of human rights violations and war crimes than are the rulers of Yugoslavia?
8. Will the KLA ever lay down its arms and be content with mere autonomy? Will it abandon its ideal of a Greater Albania? Is it not politically significant that the new Miss Albania is a Kosovar refugee?
Will the KLA, a fanatic, ethnically exclusive terrorist group financed, in part, by heroin dealers and radical Muslims, turn on foreign peacekeeping forces that prevent full independence for Kosovo? If they do go in, how long will the 7,000 U.S. troops, and 43,000 others, be stationed in Kosovo? How much will it cost?
9. Has the bombing campaign spawned worldwide hatred of America? Has it not provoked frequent anti-U.S. protests in Europe, China, Russia, India and Latin America? Has it not led to the reappearance, in Italy and Greece, of long quiescent terrorist organizations, like the Red Brigade and the 17th of November?
How will this strong anti-American and anti-NATO sentiment affect the June elections for the European Parliament? Has the bombing validated the communist charge that NATO, all along, has been aggressively imperialistic? In attacking Yugoslavia, has NATO made the United Nations irrelevant and opened the door to military solutions in Kashmir and elsewhere?
Will the fate of Serbia not convince other small countries to develop their own nuclear, chemical and biological deterrents? Has the campaign in the Balkans fueled the arms race and revived the Cold War?
Another fundamental question was posed by a young Serbian woman in a recent television interview.
"Why," she said, "are you doing this to us? Why have you killed spring this year?"
Why indeed? The citizens of the United States, too, would do well to question. Is it possible that NATO's aggressive, militaristic policy towards Yugoslavia is a gigantic strategic blunder?
Why have we killed the Balkan spring of 1999? Will the crops that, this year, were never sown lead to an apocalyptic Y2K winter of famine and despair?