The following is an e-mail about Kosovo from Lee Modesitt, a United
States Naval Academy grad. In 1951, General Omar Bradley said, “This
strategy would involve us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the
wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.” Lee’s e-mail shows that we
haven’t learned a darn thing in forty-eight years. Here is Lee’s answer
to the question, “What is going on in Kosovo?”
A Good question. It’s obvious to me that Clinton and his advisors
don’t really understand what we’re doing there. Here’s my synopsis:
- Kosovo has historical and religious significance for the Serbs;
particularly the Serbian Orthodox Christians, who had the land “first.”
- During the Ottoman Empire’s domination of that part of Europe,
many Muslims moved into the area, and Serbs became a minority. Muslims
during this time were not exactly tolerant of Christians (one of their
more barbaric practices was known as “impaling”). At any rate, during
the centuries of Ottoman rule, the Albanians/Muslims developed their own
sense of ownership in Kosovo.
- When the Austro-Hungarian empire moved into the vacuum left as the
Ottoman empire receded, they basically stepped on any vocal minority
groups. Including both Serbs and Albanians. The Serbs, being Christian,
though, had an advantage.
- As the Austrian Empire slowly disintegrated during the 19th
century, Serbia broke off and became its own nation. They were kept
landlocked and unhappy, though, as the Congress of Europe drew arbitrary
borders, creating Montenegro. The Serbs wanted all the “Serbian” lands
under the rule of one country — and they couldn’t do that as long as
Montenegro remained independent and Austria retained its provinces of
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. This is partly why the Black Hand sent
Gavrilo Princip to shoot the ArchDuke (in Sarajevo) in 1914, starting
the chain of events that led to WWI.
- Yugoslavia was formed by drawing (again) pretty much arbitrary
borders on the map of the Balkans at the end of WWI, and it included
Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Serbia. The Serbians had the upper hand
during this time, but the country as a whole was pretty fractious, ruled
by a constitutional monarchy. (At least one king was assassinated in the
1920s-30s, but I can’t remember who or when.)
- The Nazis rolled in during the war, and when they rolled back out,
many Albanians saw an opportunity to establish themselves as dominant in
Kosovo, and there is some evidence that they used an ethnic cleansing
program of their own at the time. There is much more evidence that there
was a substantial crime wave that (strangely enough) only seemed to
victimize Serbs. Many Serbs left Kosovo during this time, leaving the
Albanians in the majority.
- The violence between the two groups was stopped cold when Marshal
Tito, aided by the Soviets, took control of the country and made it very
plain that it didn’t matter if you were Serb, Muslim, whatever, so long
as you were Communist. This left Albanians with a majority population in
Kosovo, but the Serbs, however, ended up in most positions of power in
the Army and the government.
- Yugoslavia fragmented at the end of the cold war. Chaos since.
The land has changed hands many times. Both groups feel they have a
claim on the land in Kosovo. Both groups have done unspeakable things
when they had the upper hand. Both groups have long memories. Right now,
the Serbs have the upper hand, and are using it to kill off or drive off
as many Muslims and Albanians as they can. They see this as their best
chance, and aren’t really willing to entertain other options.
But neither (as Albright found out) are the Albanians willing to
entertain other options. Neither side is willing to let the other side
have even the slightest claim on the land. Neither group trusts the
other group enough to want to live near them.
I think there is substantial doubt as to whether we could resolve
this conflict by placing a permanent peacekeeping force in the region.
The Ottomans did it. The Austrians did it. The Nazis did it. Tito did
it. They all did it through the ruthless use of military might and what
might euphemistically be called “limits” on domestic freedom. And every
time a power vacuum occurred, the Muslims and the Serbs picked up right
where they left off and started killing each other again.
Even if it were theoretically possible to pacify the region, it is
absolute lunacy to think we can accomplish anything by air power alone.
There is no doubt in my mind at all, however, that anything short of a
full invasion and occupation of the region will fail.
The Serbs have had plans for Kosovo for years. They had already
started a program to “cleanse” the area for their own. They couldn’t be
too overt about it, because the West was making noise about the
situation. But now that we’ve attacked, the Serbs have quite naturally
decided that since they are being bombed anyway, they have nothing to
lose by pushing ahead with a full-scale attack on the Albanian minority
in Kosovo. Repulsive, but very understandable from their point of view.
Incredible that Clinton and his advisors didn’t see this as the likely
It seems to me that bombing isn’t the answer. The approach of “let’s
bomb these people to the peace table” has been tried before in other
places where the warring populations actually had something in common
with each other. It didn’t work then, so why do we expect it to work in
a place where the two groups have different cultures and have hated each
other for centuries?
So, now that the Serbs have embarked on an unabashed campaign of
violence against the Albanian minority, NATO faces a VERY ugly set of
- Do we continue to bomb? It isn’t going to stop ethnic violence,
which is essentially a low-tech operation that can be accomplished by
paramilitary groups with small arms. Best analogy I’ve heard so far is
that using air power to stop ethnic violence would be like the NYC
police using helicopters to stop muggings.
- Do we fly away and go home? After all, it is a sovereign nation –
what are we doing bombing them? Well, given the atrocity in progress, I
really doubt we can walk away. That might be too much even for typically
- Do we invade? Well, that’s going to cost lives. And to what end?
Do we invade, set aside land for the Kosovars and put up a big fence for
the next forty years, like we did in Korea? Is that the right thing to
do? Do they have a better claim on the land? True, they were there most
recently, and make the most telegenic victims, but I am not convinced
they are blameless in creating this crisis.
The Serbs are very likely assuming that NATO won’t have the stomach
to invade. Sure, the Serbs might lose a few planes, lose electricity,
lose industry, etc. But they won’t lose the land due to an air campaign.
And nothing tends to unify a people like being attacked by the local
I see little or no chance that this bombing will destabilize the
regime. So what we are doing is basically making a lot of people more
miserable than they were, putting our own people at risk, and doing
nothing that will resolve the issue. (Unless, there is some secret plan
to actually invade the country — but this I doubt.)
No matter what we end up doing, I think the s— work is a job for
the Europeans, not the U.S. They’ve been blasé about the Balkans for
most of the century, and were content to leave Tito in power so as not
to have to face the issue. This is Europe for C—-sake! Let the
Europeans reap the bloody harvest they’ve sown with their parochial
attitudes. It’s their own f—— backyard, anyway. (They p— me off –
they whine about low-flying U.S. jets, then expect us to take the lead
when the kaka hits the rotating blades.)
Likewise, my guess is that Americans in general wouldn’t support a
messy engagement in the Balkans, regardless of who did what to whom. The
U.S. military should be used for crap in the middle of nowhere, where no
one else can project the power necessary. (Only trouble is, it isn’t. We
stood by and wrung our hands about how awful it was that there was a
bloodbath in Africa four years ago.)
Talk Europe, though, and suddenly we’re willing to expend lives and
god only knows how much ordinance trying to pacify the European
equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys. And we (Americans) wonder why
the world sees us as hypocrites.
Ok, that’s my $.02 (and change).