Cut, Paste and Run
Kosovo's Partition in the Cards
(The New York Times - March 13-19, 2000)
by Gilles d'Aymery
March 19, 2000
Thanks to the various articles published this week in The New York Times, one can further see the re-parsing and re-centering of the message being passed on to the readers and the ever-so-slight alteration of the US Administration on the ground. Significant is the reappearance of Foreign Affairs Editorialist, Thomas L. Friedman, who is no more calling for "[Giving] war a chance." And, as I have suggested for the past three weeks, I still do not observe a willingness on the part of the USA and its NATO Allies to get drawn into a new military conflict. Instead, I am seeing the partition of Kosovo written all over Officialdom.
March 13 - In an unsigned article, Aide to Albright Warns the Kosovo Albanians, the State Department Spokesman, James P. Rubin (of CNN's famed Amanpour, Rubin & Co.), expressed his disappointment at the violence exerted by the Albanians against the Serbs. Rubin: "Every time a Serb is mauled, every time a Serb is shot, every time we hear a story about ethnic violence, our determination to help Kosovo weakens." Would this be construed as yet another political message?
In the News Summary, an AP dispatch reads, Belgrade Shuts Down Media. Another crackdown of the opposition by the government of Slobodan Milosevich. 35 words. Here and there, for the past few weeks, a story about Serbia will run in The Times. It's always about the power play between the government and the opposition or a few headlines against the latter-day Hitler. Not once in that period has The Times run a story about the living conditions of the Serbs; you know, those little subhuman bugs who deserve what they're getting... A young friend asks, "Do you think it will ever end? Do you think the economy will improve?" What should one say? What can one answer? Perhaps, that we can decimate an entire people in total impunity and silence, because, like in Iraq, we do not care to know. We are ostriches who long ago got into the habit of burying our heads, our minds and our hearts in the sand. What counts is the Dow, the price of gasoline and our next trip to the Mall. Should I answer, "You can die, my young friend, we won't even notice"? Does it say something about our level of humanness? Would it be another political message? I'll let you find the answer within yourselves. The Times has none.
March 14 - Albright Aide Cautions Both Serbs and Albanians, writes Carlotta Gall. We are told that James P. Rubin has played a special, personal role with the KLA, before and after NATO's war. So he must feel a sort of letdown, an absence of gratitude from his friends. Says Rubin, "We are trying to create coexistence here. Don't let extremists ruin this." Of course, Mr. Rubin has not yet fathomed that the friends of yesterday and the extremists of today are one and the same. Perhaps he will never learn. Meanwhile, he finds the time to visit a destroyed mosque in western Kosovo "which suffered some of the worst destruction by Serbian forces last spring," and to speak to a crowd. Says Rubin, "If this is to be the end of the violence, all of you who live here must find a way not to visit upon the Serbs that violence that was visited upon you." Coming from a member of an administration that is pro death penalty, his message is particularly ironic. Question: Will Rubin find the time to visit one of the 80 or more Christian Orthodox churches or monasteries that have been destroyed by the Albanians since June of last year under the benevolent eyes of KFOR?
March 15 - In one single paragraph, Jane Perlez, is getting closer to the truth than ever before. In Peacekeepers Are Overwhelmed In Kosovo, Pentagon Envoy Says, Perlez writes: "NATO military officials are concerned that the Albanians are making targets of Serbian policemen there, which could provoke a crackdown against the Albanians from the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevich. This, they fear, could cause a possible repeat of circumstances that caused NATO's war last year over Kosovo: Serbian repression of ethnic Albanian civilians." Notwithstanding the fact that NATO's war was not actually caused by those circumstances but by a long-planned policy to carve Yugoslavia, whether through diplomacy, intrigues or war, it does remain that the circumstances as described by Jane Perlez are right on the mark. Another short sentence is meaningful. It reads, "To get a handle on what was happening in the Presevo Valley, just over Kosovo's border in southern Serbia..." Read again, "just over Kosovo's border..." If there is a border, there is a separation between two countries. Does it mean that the agreement signed last June has become a dead letter? Is Kosovo no more a Serbian province?
March 16 - However, the Yugoslav army or the Serbian police have not forcefully confronted the KLA-supported violence in the Presevo Valley. Serbs may be subhuman, but they appear to have their gray cells in total control! This is NATO's predicament. It makes it much harder for the Western Powers and much less politically palatable to start another conflict. Meantime, it allows Milosevich to assert that, "Instead of using their authority and impartiality to restrain terrorist gangs of Albanian extremists, we face the situation in which the terrorism is taking place under their auspices, and even being financed by United Nations means." Of course, whatever Milosevich says can easily be discarded by the public. He is after all Hitler's latest reincarnation. Still, there is this gnawing sentiment among "officials" -- a sentiment which could very well seep into the public opinion, thus creating a Public Relations disaster in the midst of an election campaign (in the USA) -- that the real instigators of the present violence and that of the past few years are not and were not the Serbs but, as Swans' readers have known all along, the Albanian KLA. For, if such a sentiment were ever to reach the public in the Western Powers, would it not become increasingly challenging to keep the fašade under which those powers have operated all along, that is, NATO had to intervene to stop Serbian atrocities and savagery? And just imagine what would ensue in the corridors of power were the public to realize that the Western Powers launched this illegal war for the furtherance of their eastward historical expansion and in the name of the free-market ideology? Dazzling thought, isn't it? The New York Times, a faithful member of our corporate and political elite, is fully aware of the potentially disastrous consequences.
So, Carlotta Gall, once again, emphasizes Serbian violence in As Violence Erupts, Milosevich Says U.N. Helps Albanians. The Times even publishes a confrontation between Serbian civilians and French troops (and we who thought that the French were somehow Serbs' allies!). That particular scene of Serbian middle-age men and women attacking the French troops made the nightly TV newscasts. Even the Newshour on PBS broadcast the video of the skirmish. People attacking troops with canes can only strengthen the description of the Serbs as a violent and dangerous people.
March 17 - But to keep emphasizing Serbian malevolence and do nothing about Albanian dubiousness could be construed as a lack of even-handedness on the part of NATO. To let the Albanians stir up trouble in the Presevo Valley as a bait for the Serbs to react violently, thus justifying NATO's new intervention in Serbia proper made good sense. Once more, the Western Powers could blame the Serbs and finalize their strategic objective of subduing the last socialist state in the Balkans. But the Serbs have not bitten the bait. The plot has failed. Essentially, our elite is left with Serbs being killed in the Presevo Valley by ethnic Albanians and an unruly Serbian population in Northern Mitrovica (10,000 Serbs with canes, sticks and stones fighting 90,000 Albanians for the control of their enclave). Not much to boast about and certainly not enough to justify invading Serbia proper, or even bombing Belgrade again. In addition, as pointed out last week, there is a lot of recriminations and finger-pointing going around in the chancelleries and among the top brass of the military establishment. In that context, the articles published in The Times on March 17 are quite illuminating. There are no less than five of them, including an Editorial and an Op-Ed. A short World Briefing, Serbia: Media crackdown, reiterates the pressure put on the "independent" media by the government. It's signed by Steven Erlanger. (Would he be in Belgrade for the war's first anniversary conference to be held in Belgrade next week?) Steven Lee Myers, in Pentagon Balks at Adding Kosovo Battalion, writes what is already well known. Gen. Wesley Clark, the top NATO commander, wants the US to commit more troops to Kosovo and, as the headline indicates it, the Pentagon is balking. Clark wants to be proven right before leaving his post next month. The Pentagon, altogether aware of the mess in which its soldiers are pinned down, resists further involvement. Nothing new here. But the last three pieces are quite revealing of the present turn of events.
First, Carlotta Gall reports in G.I's in Kosovo Hold 9 Suspected Rebels, that American troops raided "Albanian villages and strongholds along Kosovo's border with Serbia proper." (Check the terminology again.) They also detained nine Albanians and are holding them in Camp Bondsteel. This action allows the Editorial to bring to mind The Albanian Challenge in Kosovo. "Unless the guerillas are forcibly disarmed and turned away from the border, their actions could embroil NATO in an unwanted new war with Serbia," says the Editorial. It goes on with a short description of the predicament as it sees it - people want to go on with their lives "but those who try to cooperate with their neighbors across ethnic lines face threats from extremists in both communities" (not just Serbs anymore), and concludes: "It is disheartening that the United States, which went to war in Kosovo to protect Albanians, now must use its military forces to confront the Kosovo Liberation Army and its armed offshoots."" Finally, the Op-Ed of Thomas Friedman recommends the partition of Kosovo.
We'll look into the Op-Ed in a moment. But first, let's analyze the situation.
As said, neither the Yugoslav army nor the Serbian police bit the bait. Meantime, Officialdom can't keep the lid on the news that the supposedly disbanded KLA is inciting violence with little attempt on KFOR's part to prevent it. NATO has literally cornered itself. Everybody's tired. The brass wants out, the White House wishes it was all a bad dream. What to do? Enters James Rubin, the spokesman for the State Department. As reported earlier, Mr. Rubin went to Kosovo to press the Albanians not to "let extremists ruin this." Left unreported was the actual content of the meeting(s) he certainly held with Hashim Thaci and Agim Cequ. One could surmise that it went thus: Look, the strategy has not worked, the Serbs haven't bitten the bait. Albanians are increasingly seen as the violent culprits. American foreign policy experts are increasingly blowing the whistle (cf. "A Perfect Failure: NATO's War Against Yugoslavia" by Michael Mandelbaum in Foreign Affairs), turmoil is reaching Congress. Time to amend the strategy. So, we're going to gently crackdown on a few of your friends. Let this happen peacefully. Do not start shooting at our soldiers, for Heavens' sake. Once we've been seen as even-handed, we'll start preparing the public opinion for the eventual partition of Kosovo. This is the best we can achieve at this time.
So, the US military seized 22 crates of ammunition and detained nine Albanians on March 16. The Times' Carlotta Gall went on to report the next day that "there were no complaint of rough treatment or about the operation itself." "'It is their duty to check for weapons,' said Rahman Osmani, 60, whose house was searched while his family was made to stand in the field. 'We have nothing against that.'" In one small action, the U.S. showed its even-handedness and its resolve. Meanwhile, a few generals are praying that indeed the Albanians won't start shooting at the US soldiers. It'll be interesting to find out how long the "suspected rebels" will remain in custody. But the fact is, the situation was diffused. And it's more than time to move to the next stage.
This is where the Foreign Affairs Editorialist of The Times, Thomas L. Friedman, makes his entrée on the scene.
Now, this is the same Thomas Friedman who wrote on April 23, 1999 "...Let's at least have a real war...It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted...the stakes have to be clear: Every week you [Serbs] ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too...Give war a chance...." Swans' readers may recall this Op-Ed (Check The Logic of War And The "We Will Prevail" Concept) as well as the followed dramatic escalation of the air campaign afterwards.
This time around, Friedman wants the readers to Get Real on Kosovo. The subhead reads: cut, paste and heal. Yes, heal, not run. Friedman advocates the partition of Kosovo. The Serbs would get the northern part of Kosovo near Mitrovica (he does say "near" Mitrovica because of the Trepca mining complex whose fate has yet to be decided). In exchange, the Albanians would get the Presovo Valley, which is located in Serbia proper. A simple exchange of land, followed by giving Kosovo a self-ruling republic status within Yugoslavia and "a promise to consider independence in the future." This in effect would create two Albanias, "the original Albania and a new Kosovo Albania." If this may seem slightly problematic, what the heck, "Europe will have to live with it," says Friedman. He even suggests offering a carrot to the Serbs. "If they agreed to this land swap the sanctions on them would be lifted." The basis for his position? It's obvious that those guys hate each other. Always have, always will. "[They] have no intention of living together in the multi-ethnic state that the Clintonites once envisaged." There also is the "obvious desire of the Pentagon and NATO to get out of Kosovo forever." And we need to find some kind of stability in the Balkans, "if for no other reason that it would allow them [the U.S. and NATO] to focus on more important problems" (read: Caspian oil, NATO expansion eastward, Russia, etc.).
Look, why is the partitioning of Kosovo clearly on the U.S. strategic map?
Serbia is imploding. We've reduced their infrastructure to rubbles. We have economically strangled its people and condemned them to die a slow death in perfect Iraqi style. Civil war may happen any day. We do not need, therefore, to launch another military action against them. We want out, as there are more pressing issues with which to deal and the longer we stay the more intractable it will become with the associated risks to the well being of our soldiers. The KFOR mission is ending in June and the Yugoslav army is supposed to re-enter Kosovo at that time. This will not happen, at least peacefully. By partitioning Kosovo, we can justify keeping KFOR in place for the foreseeable future, albeit a leaner KFOR, mostly composed of Europeans, and charged to patrol the borders. Meantime, we move on to bigger and newer challenges and we keep Kosovo out of the U.S. election cycle.
Will this strategy bear a fruitful outcome? Will the KLA answer James Rubin's prayers? What to expect from the Yugoslav government (any government, opposition included)? What will be the consequences for Bosnia? Do the Europeans really want to "live with it," as Friedman asserts? Or, is this a calming tactic before the next storm? The New York Times is not telling. Then again, is there any other palatable alternative for the U.S. Administration? Cut, paste ... and run!
[Note: The Times remains silent on Saturday (but for a short Word Briefing about a freed editor in Serbia) and on Sunday, as though it wanted to let the idea sink in the American consciousness.]
This Week's Other Articles
After the Fall - by Antony Black
One Year Ago, Kosovo - by Margaret Wyles
Iraq: Letter to the Editor - by Drew Hamre
Easter 1916 - A Poem by William Butler Yeats
Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath
Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath