There are signs all over the country that many Americans have grave
doubts about the wisdom of President Clinton’s military adventure in
Yugoslavia. I have to add my voice to the concerns of those Americans.
In reading over Bill Clinton’s speech attempting to justify the
bombing, something really struck me. Clinton points truly to the fact
that this has been a very volatile region in the course of the 20th
Century. He points to the fact that World War I ignited in this region,
when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated.
What he fails to point out, however, is that the reason the region
became a flash point for conflict was that external powers could never
resist the temptation to meddle in its affairs. It is indeed a volatile
region, but it has been a focus of disputes that led to European-wide
and global conflict precisely because there were external nations with
larger interests who superimposed those interests on Yugoslavia and its
ethnic and religious strife. Thus internal conflicts became a flash
point for the competing interests of external powers.
Before NATO intervened, a province within a country was disputing
with its government. That government, in turn, responded with excessive
force and brutality. We must also remember that the Kosovo forces on the
other side are not saints either, and have themselves not been above the
practices of atrocity and terrorism, and of cultivating ties with
criminal elements throughout Europe. So we are considering a dispute
within a country between two sides, neither of which has been conducting
itself in the conflict in a particularly savory manner. But it has been
a conflict confined within the borders of the country, concerning the
relationship between the government of that country and one of its
provinces — almost the classic definition of a civil war.
It is true that there are ethnic ties that spread across “national”
boundaries. It would certainly make sense for external powers to make
clear that any sign that the conflict was being taken across those
boundaries through aggression or intervention would be reacted against
But think carefully about this particular case. The NATO Alliance
involves all of the countries that at one point came together to face
down the old Soviet Union. That alliance is now intervening in
Yugoslavia. Boris Yeltsin yesterday withdrew the Russian Ambassador who
had been at least formally working on cooperation with NATO. Yeltsin
yesterday explicitly “reserved the right” to take measures if the
conflict spreads, including measures of a military character, “to defend
Russia and the security of
Europe.” Yeltsin called the attack on Yugoslavia “nothing other than
Let’s review: President Clinton points out that this is a volatile
region which has led to international conflict in the past. In fact, it
led to such conflicts precisely because external interests couldn’t keep
from meddling in its internal affairs. He has now taken the lead in
getting a group of countries to meddle. In doing so he has introduced
the very element — conflict between external interests — that in the
past has led this region to be a flash point for larger conflict.
Left to its own ugly logic, and with proper prophylactic measures
taken by others in the area, it is not clear that the strife in
Yugoslavia, in and of itself, would lead to a confrontation between
larger European interests. What is clear is that NATO action introduces
that larger element. It puts the Russians in a situation of possible
temptation to start thinking in terms characteristic of the Cold War.
NATO action invites, if not compels, the heirs to the former Soviet
Union to view this action by the alliance with a revival of the Cold War
sense of danger and threat.
We have a president who is warning us about the dangers of escalation
in the Yugoslavian situation. Yet he is possibly setting up a
self-fulfilling scenario of international war. He himself is leading
those whose unwarranted involvement introduces into that situation the
very danger he is pointing to — a larger European conflict that results
from the situation in the Balkans acting as a flash point for
conflicting external interests.
This is not about peace-making. This is about war-making. Bill
Clinton and others clearly have decided that there are good and
justifiable reasons that we should make war on the government in
Yugoslavia. But I don’t think they know what they are doing.
We have not been in any way attacked by the government of Yugoslavia.
Our direct interests have been in no way threatened by this government.
We are confronted with no circumstance or alliance that represents a
larger threat to our interests in Europe or a global threat of any kind.
None of these things, which in the past could have been invoked under
certain circumstances to justify the need for our military intervention,
exists in this instance.
In this case, we became involved to help bring a peaceful conclusion
to a civil conflict that did have some implications for the region, but
that was confined within one country. If you read between the lines,
the situation now is essentially that NATO is taking this military
action as a negotiating tactic. Instead of being an honest broker, we
have become a party to the negotiations. And in order to force one side
to accept what at this point they regard as unacceptable, we are
introducing the element of military force into the negotiating process
– using military force as part of the negotiations.
Is this justified? Only if it is right for us to draw the sword in
order to save face for NATO because NATO has issued unwise ultimatums.
So in order to rescue a bad rhetorical policy, we must take military
We are taking a military action, by the way, that may or may not
produce a satisfactory result. It is hard to tell just what the desired
result is. The bombing is first of all intended to rhetorically
punctuate the negotiating process. In terms of concrete objectives, the
best that Clinton has had to offer is that the alliance wants to do
something to damage Milosevic’s war-making abilities.
But what will constitute sufficient damage? Milosevic has 40,000
troops on the ground, moving against an unarmed population in Kosovo. So
the task would appear to require an actual intervention on the ground
between the Serbian Army and their potential victims. It is not clear
how bombing can achieve that purpose.
If Milosevic simply digs in and is able to secure, under these
circumstances, the support of a people rallied by their belief that they
are being victimized by external forces, we may very well need to
intervene on the ground.
Is it worth it? How shall we answer that question? Let me remind you
of something that we should always consider. When American troops are
put into action, and danger, we must always be concerned. But the
concern must go beyond a concern just for their physical well-being.
When we use our military forces we must always be certain that what we
are doing can be clearly justified in terms of our right — that is,
just — interests. It is crucial that there be no underlying moral
question about what America is doing, because we are asking that
American troops kill people. And every time we make a decision that
involves killing people, we are making just about the most weighty moral
decision there is.
So when we decide to use young Americans as instruments of force to
inflict death and destruction, we better be very clear that what we are
doing makes sense, is morally justified, and is absolutely necessary.
Going to war must be a last resort. This does not mean simply that it is
the last thing we do. It means that we must go to war only when the
resort to war is necessary as an essential measure to achieve goals that
are morally justified, and are presentable to the American people and to
the world in those terms.
Is that the case here? Especially in view of the fact that the
bombing is unlikely to achieve the one objective that might be most
morally justifiable — the cessation of atrocities?
If we are witnessing the infliction of mass atrocities against a
population, we certainly are justified in weighing the necessity of
intervention to stop those atrocities. But one part of that weighing
would have to be consideration whether our intervention will occasion
more or less killing. Because, of course, if by intervening we are
actually going to introduce a larger element of conflict, and result in
greater death and destruction, then intervention would not be a good
moral judgment. Even if the atrocities on the ground are terrible, if
the war that we commence produces results that are even more terrible,
then we haven’t made a proper moral and political decision.
In the current case, we must be particularly careful because there
have already been attempts to exaggerate the extent of atrocities on the
ground. It is, of course, immoral to invent justifications that don’t
really exist, because one desires for other reasons to take military
action. We simply can’t know what Bill Clinton’s real motive is in this
case — to save face for NATO, or to distract the world from the latest
batch of scandals concerning China. What we can know is that in dealing
with Bill Clinton we must suspect that the motive isn’t a good one.
I find it unacceptable for this man, who has demonstrated repeatedly
that he has no ability whatsoever to engage in any kind of decent moral
reasoning, to cite “moral duty” on the part of the United States. The
very phrase ought to choke him. He has no claim, no authority
whatsoever, to speak for me or any other decent person when it comes to
This is one of the reasons, of course, that he should not be
commander-in-chief. When he stands before us and tells us that
intervention in Kosovo is our moral duty, we have the temptation to
laugh. But we cannot laugh, because he is in charge of our armed forces,
he will put our people in danger, and he will use them as instruments to
kill people according to his whim. As a result, we as a people will be
implicated in whatever death or destruction occurs. If his moral
reasoning is not correct, then we will be implicated in the immorality
of the action.
That is what we get for having an individual like this for
commander-in-chief. This is what our distinguished senators should have
had the modest vision to have considered when they were acquitting the
impeached Bill Clinton. It is certainly what I think of now, as we look
at the situation in Yugoslavia. Bombs are falling — our sons are
dropping bombs — on people we do not know. As a people, we don’t know
what we are doing or why, or what it will lead to. And we have settled
for a President who is incompetent morally and in matters of state, and
who cannot tell us what we need to know. It is a time of great and
increasing moral danger for America, and Americans.