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Historians and social scientists refer to the Balkans as an “ethnic
shatter zone” because of the tangled ethnic and religious loyalties that
have plagued the region since Turkish occupation in the Middle Ages. Any
power wishing to advance peace in the Balkans should therefore proceed
with a carefully laid out strategy based on the realities of the region,
and tempered with measured military action (if called for) lest the
outside power make matters even worse. Bill Clinton’s air war against
the Serbs violates all of these principles, thus making matters worse
not only for the Balkans, but eventually for us all.
There seems to be no understanding of the region on the part of
Clinton and those advisors he listens to. Nor is there any discernible
strategy behind the bombings he has initiated, nor does there seem to be
any clear sense of how we will eventually define victory. As Democratic
Senator Robert Torricelli puts it “from the outset, this operation never
had more vision than the next day.”
Indeed, Bill Clinton does not seem to understand foreign policy at
all, nor does he understand the military and how to use it, for none of
his interventions abroad since he took office were based on American
strategic interests. Instead they have all been responses to domestic
political pressures and vague “moral” sentiments.
As for the moral issue in the Balkans, where was Clinton when 200,000
Serbs were driven out of Croatia in 1995 in Croatia’s act of ethnic
cleansing? And what does Clinton know about the side he has chosen as
his ally, the KLA, an Islamic Albanian guerrilla group that precipitated
the current round of conflict in Kosovo, murdering Serbs and moderate
Albanians and financing their ambitions by running drugs in Europe? Has
Clinton thought of the threat this force might pose to the Balkans if
installed in power, and (if Ariel Sharon is correct) the possible threat
to the rest of Europe and to Israel?
If Clinton were so concerned about Serbian aggression why did he not
back up his many previous threats with measured force rather than
suddenly unleashing a deluge of destruction on the Serbian people and on
their means of livelihood? By this sudden act Clinton appears to be
capricious and anti-Serbian despite his rhetoric to the contrary. Also,
the avowed aims of Clinton’s air strikes were to protect ethnic
Albanians in Kosovo and to stabilize the region. Yet those strikes have
done just the opposite by leading to mass flight, an appalling loss of
life and heightened instability in neighboring Macedonia and Montenegro,
while in Serbia bridges, railroads, factories and refineries are
destroyed and Serbian civilians and ethnic Albanian Kosovars are killed
by American bombs.
Indeed, the only logic that seems to be at work here is: “Serbs kill
Albanians, so Americans must kill Serbs” (and along the way a little
“collateral damage” through “friendly fire” to the people we are
supposedly saving). This is not the logic of a powerful nation acting in
its own strategic interest, nor in the interest of greater peace, nor on
the basis of a higher morality. Instead it is the blind traditional
illogic of the Balkans.
And why did Clinton choose to act now and in that place and in this
sudden and violent manner? Indeed, his motives are highly questionable
given other examples of violence and strife in other parts of the world
that warrant our moral outrage, and given Clinton’s own not
insignificant domestic difficulties.
What is almost as alarming is the fact that Congress has so far ceded
all initiative to a single man — a man who an increasing number of
people are convinced is unfit for the office he holds, and dangerous
because of the power he commands.
Congressman Tom Campbell (R-CA) has introduced two resolutions that
would involve the Congress in these events as they spin out of control.
HR 82 would withdraw American forces, and HR 44 would declare a formal
state of war. I support the former. However, those who support war
should also demand that European troops lead the necessary and bloody
ground offensive against Serbia: Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Spanish,
British and German ground troops, not American ground troops! And if the
Europeans refuse, then we should call for an end to the state of war.
Also the war party should support bills in Congress that would 1)
replace our squandered military stock piles, and 2) divert money from
our own domestic social programs, education and social security to
repair the grievous damage they have done to the peoples of the Balkans.
Glynn Custred is a Professor of Anthropology at California State
University at Hayward