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It was a time of joy and thanksgiving when Jesse Jackson won the
release of three American prisoners — but we will never have victory in
Yugoslavia.

If today, Slobodan Milosevic waved the white flag of surrender and
ceded to our every demand, we have suffered a great defeat. If the Serb
troops are pulled out of Kosovo, all forms of “ethnic cleansing” are
halted, and an armed international peacekeeping force is allowed to
escort refugees back into Kosovo and protect them for an indefinite
period of time, we will be the losers.

It is too late for victory. If we had been victorious, ethnic
cleansing would have been prevented, hundreds of thousands of Kosovars
would never have been forced out of their homes and all the nations in
the area would have a sense that their borders were secure and an
impending crisis had been averted.

Every problem we sought to solve with bombs and missiles has been
made significantly worse. We have not stopped one rape, one murder or
one atrocity. We have converted what had been a minor civil war in a
small corner of Europe into a major international crisis.

When open hostilities are finished, all that is available to us now
is a “Humpty Dumpty” strategy of trying to put things back together.
This will not be easy or cheap.

Not only is Kosovo a material and human disaster, our bombing has
effectively ruined the lives of millions of innocent citizens in the
rest of Yugoslavia. By destroying factories, roads, bridges, utilities
and communications, we have sentenced that entire nation to years of
poverty, disease and suffering.

However, every time NATO boasts that a bridge or a factory has been
destroyed, we may console ourselves with the humanitarian thought that
we have a budget surplus available to pay for the cost of rebuilding
them. “Save Kosovo First” has replaced “Save Social Security First” as
the priority of the Clinton administration.

The argument that we must prevail in this war to ensure our
credibility is clearly ridiculous, approaching the delusional. Our
credibility is in tatters.

Our weaknesses are in full view. It is obvious that we support this
war only so long as nobody on our side gets hurt. This weakness of
national resolve together with our military fumbling and unpreparedness
have not gone unnoticed by nervous friends who depend upon us for
protection. And we may be sure that unfriendly eyes have seen our soft
underside.

When Bill “Ho, ho, ho, I won’t go” Clinton became president and
commander in chief, there was much speculation about how his character
flaws, particularly his inclination to run and hide, might affect his
interaction with hostile foreign governments. When confronted with
international thugs and bullies, would he prove too gritless for
leadership, or would he have the right stuff?

The Kosovo quagmire has given us an answer. The revealed stuff of
Bill Clinton is not right. Our commander in chief recklessly bet
everything that Milosevic would fold after a few days of air attacks. He
was obviously looking for a quick and dirty victory. He was dead wrong
– and there was no Plan B.

We ignored everything we learned from our failure in Vietnam and
everything we proved with our success in the Gulf War. We used
insufficient force and the wrong kind of force when the war against
Yugoslavia began. We didn’t have military personnel and equipment ready
in case they were needed.

We found that we are short of missiles. Our Apache attack helicopters
were in the wrong place and not battle-ready. We diverted F-15 and F-16
fighters from their duties in northern Iraq. We belatedly developed a
need for the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, which had to come from
thousands of miles away in the Pacific.

However, these tactical military blunders can be corrected, and we
will probably eventually succeed in pounding the Serbian nation into
submission — but there is no victory. This is to say, when we “win,” we
get Kosovo for the next 30 years. Our prize will be the
multibillion-dollar task of protecting ancient enemies from each other
in an area of the world in which we have essentially no national
interest.

Our aggressive engagement with other countries has not solved
problems, only made us a part of them. NATO is simply a vehicle for the
involvement of the U.S. in the business of other nations and potentially
their involvement in ours.

Thomas Jefferson had it right when he said, “Peace, commerce and
honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none” and
“Our own share of miseries is sufficient: Why enter then as volunteers
into those of another?”

That advice does not reflect outdated isolationism; it reflects
wisdom and common sense.

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