Serbia, Kosovo: Gone MIA?
by Gilles d'Aymery
March 26, 2000 - Note from the Editor: News in the U.S. about Kosovo was pretty scant this week as you will see by reading our main article below. So we decided to compile bits of news published around the world on the subject (we received them by E-mail from our friend Rick Rozoff). On the other hand, Iraq was back in the news in force. Drew Hamre alerted us and we are covering the issue in Barbara Crossette and Iraq: Here She Goes Again. Finally, we are publishing a powerful poem written by a Canadian Serb, Pedja Zoric. Read the various notes at the end of the poem. They are gut-wrenching. (The links are repeated at the bottom of the page).
Do you remember the front page article of the March 12 issue of The New York Times in which Jane Perlez reported that "One administration official said that the driving force behind the [Kosovo] policy now is to keep it 'off the front page?'" (check http://www.swans.com/library/art6/ga085.html) As a matter of fact, if you depended on the US main stream media this week, and The New York Times in particular, to remain informed about a major foreign policy the country is engaged in with its NATO allies, you might as well have believed that Kosovo and Serbia had gone MIA (missing in action). Perhaps they had just sank into the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps Carlotta Gall and Steven Erlanger, the Times correspondents assigned to the region, needed a few days off this very week. Perhaps Barbara Crossette, the United Nations correspondent for the Times, was too busy reporting about the U.N. waltz on the Iraqi front. Perhaps President Clinton and his aides were too focused on preaching the merits of signing the treaty for nuclear non-proliferation to the Hindus (a treaty that the U.S. has not signed). Or perhaps, indeed, the "driving force behind the [Kosovo] policy" has succeeded!
What's clear, however, is the overwhelming absence of news coming from Officialdom this week as we demonstrate below. And since even submarines laying deep under water have a life of their own, we're going to bring you a few bits of news to keep you informed. Call it a free public service from Swans!
As reported last week (check http://www.swans.com/library/art6/ga086.html), a debate is taking place within our political and military circles which could be summed up by a simple question: How to cut our losses in Kosovo? We reported that the idea of partition was seriously floated around by The Times Foreign Affairs Editorialist, Thomas L. Friedman *. And that both the Pentagon and Congress were loudly rumbling about the unruly situation. We wrote this on March 18 and 19, and published it on the 19th.
The next morning, Monday, March 20, The New York Times published an Op-Ed by Robert C. Byrd, the eloquent senior senator from West Virginia, Europe's Turn to Keep the Peace. In his piece, with the subhead Congress should get U.S. troops out of Kosovo, Senator Byrd argues that "If the United States has learned anything in the nine months of peacekeeping that followed it [the 78 days of air assaults], it should be that once again we are proving to be a lot better at waging war than we are at managing peace." He adds, "Kosovo today appears to be on the verge of unraveling." He then goes on to make a case for "establishing an all-European peacekeeping force," and a "removal of American troops from Kosovo." Contrary to the subhead he does not promote a total removal of the troops. Byrd: "We can continue to support humanitarian relief and can provide support in military logistics, communications, intelligence and effective command." And he concludes, "It is just possible that the Europeans will excel at peacekeeping duties in Kosovo if ever they are allowed to emerge from the overwhelming shadow cast by the United States. Unfortunately, we will never know if we do not tie further American investment in Kosovo to a rock-solid plan to turn the peacekeeping operation to them - sooner than later."
Not surprisingly, coming from the talented senator, this is a superb piece of rhetoric, even if slightly condescending toward his European friends. It allows for both washing our hands of the mess we created and keeping our latest military jewel, Camp Bondsteel. In a sense, his piece advocates a more subtle approach to the partitioning of Kosovo than the one floated by Thomas Friedman. You remove the U.S. from the quagmire but keep its investment and strategic position intact.
Senator Byrd makes another point that is symptomatic of the profound contradictions that afflict U.S. policies. He writes, "The United Nations interim administration in Kosovo teeters on the brink of bankruptcy." Then, on March 24, Barbara Crossette of The Times, in U.S. Tells U.N. Dues Problem May Threaten Peacekeeping, writes: "Under an act of Congress in 1996, the United States stopped paying its 31 percent assessment for peacekeeping operations, unilaterally lowering it to 25 percent and falling deeper into debt." On the one hand, we accuse the U.N. of teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. On the other hand, we are bankrupting the U.N.
That is essentially all the news for the week.
On March 22, The Times publishes a report, Senate Fight Snags Aid Bill For Kosovo And Colombia, which essentially describes the political quibbling of the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. There is not much to be concerned about. The troops need not worry. The funds will be appropriated.
Four letters to the editor are published the same day in response to the Friedman and Byrd pieces. There is nothing in them worth reporting except for a comment signed by Norman Mailer (the novelist): "By the best figures available to me, the Serbs pushed 25,000 Kosovars across adjacent borders in the two years before the bombing began, and expelled approximately 750,000 after the air assaults commenced. These figures come to fewer than 40 people a day before March 24, 1999, and to approximately 9,600 a day after that date." Of course, this arithmetic may remain obtuse to the pundits who've advanced that the killing of just one person of a specific ethnic background with the hypothesized intent of killing the entire population can be justifiably construed as genocide.
March 23: Silence.
On March 24, the anniversary of the start of NATO's war, The New York Times remains totally silent except for a short World Briefing by Carlotta Gall, who must not be on vacation after all, reporting that KFOR had found explosives laid on a bridge near Mitrovica.
For good measure, on March 25 The Times runs a picture of young Albanians riding in a truck and waving U.S., British and Albanian flags in Pristina. A Year Later, Marking NATO's Kosovo Air War, says the headline. A short 40-word paragraph adds that thousands celebrated in Pristina, thousands protested in Belgrade and "top NATO officials visited Kosovo but shortened their stay because of security concerns." Buried in an AP item, in another short World Briefing, we are told that "In a defiant but smaller than expected display of anti-Western sentiment, thousands of Serbs rallied across Yugoslavia to mark the first anniversary of NATO airstrikes (sic)." And for good measure again, the AP concludes, "Opposition parties, and some Belgrade residents, said the rallies were in bad taste given the severe losses the country suffered during the conflict."
Today, Sunday, March 26: Silence
Why so little news? Is it because the American public is fully cognizant of the events? A reader, Hilda Reynolds, writes to Swans: "The Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs consistently lists all the Yugoslav regions in the Balkans as part of the Middle East! It is published by American Educational Trust, P.O. Box 53062, Washington, D.C. - Richard Curtiss, editor." American Educational Trust, s'il vous plait! Reynolds: "I would like to see something published...somewhere...denying the inclusion of the Balkans into the Middle East…" Well, Hilda, here it is, fully denied! On the 24th, I asked a colleague whether he knew about Kosovo? He did. Did he know what happened there? We went to war to help the Albanian population, he said. Did he remember when we went to war? Sure, he answered, sometime last year. Yes, but when exactly? Dunno, but who cares? was his final answer.
Indeed, who cares? The Dow is back over 11,000 points and gasoline costs $1.60 a gallon, and anyway it's Spring break....Excuse the humor.
More seriously, there are two tangible reasons for such silence from Officialdom, one strategic, the other practical.
When one, in this case the U.S. administration, faces the unpleasant prospect of seeing debated all over the country the failure of its policy in Kosovo, the inanity of the war, the unruly criticisms mounting from even the president's own party, it's time to lower the decibels. You do not want to have an all-pumped-up public questioning your great policy and making conjectures about the chaos developing on the grounds, do you?
And, more practically, this was a busy week for the administration and the pundits. There was the pope's visit to Israel and Palestine (a great lead story), President Clinton's trip to India, Pakistan and, on his way back, Geneva, for his tête à tête with President Assad of Syria, the Taiwan elections forcing National Security Adviser S. Berger to go to China, the Russian elections, the forthcoming U.N. Security Council meeting on the "Oil for Food" program for Iraq. The plate was indeed full.
While the spin will be back sooner rather than later one cannot but be in awe of Officialdom's faculty to control public opinion at will. What power! Scary.
* We've received a series of E-mails related to last week's article, "Cut, Paste and Run." Several readers took exception to the idea that the U.S. could consider the partition option. It did not make sense, they said. They may well be correct, but then, what does make sense? It is not a good option, but there is no good one. This week's silence seems to speak loudly in favor of that fact. The U.S. policy makers are reviewing all options from, in the words of Senator Byrd, staying "the course, reacting to events as they occur and hoping for the best as we settle into semi-permanent role of soldiers on patrol and cops on the beat." A solution the Pentagon appears to reject. Or, again in the words of Sen. Byrd, "picking a date and simply pull American troops out of Kosovo." Camp Bondsteel is proof that this option is not very realistic. Then there is the scheme proposed by the senator. Let the Europeans deal with the mess, and let's barricade ourselves in Camp Bondsteel, the Southern outpost for supporting our Eastward expansion. Or partition in one form or another, like the idea floated around by Friedman, who certainly did not come up with it on his own. There are also those who consider that if there is a solution it is to be found in Belgrade. If only Milosevich could be toppled, killed, jailed or retired in Russia, somehow the mess would disappear as if by magic. (It would not.) Meantime, I keep sensing a deep disenchantment on the part of the American leadership for the entire situation, especially in an election year. Somewhere, Americans are practical idealists. At this point, idealism is also MIA. Thus remain the practicalities.
This Week's Other Articles
Barbara Crossette and Iraq: Here She Goes Again - by Gilles d'Aymery
News that did not make The New York Times this week, March 20-26, 2000 - by Swans
She Was Bridge-Killed - by Pedja Zoric
Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath
Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath