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Administration and NATO spokesmen, with the complicity of most of the
media, are spinning this week’s delayed agreement to cease hostilities
in Yugoslavia as a victory — perhaps not overwhelming or resounding but
satisfying nonetheless — for the NATO strategy of bombing the country
Slobodan Milosevic misrules into submission. The more incautious among
them are even beginning to make a case that the hoary old saw that you
can’t win a real victory in a real war without ground troops. Maybe
bombing is sufficient after all. It is not difficult to wonder, however,
whether anything at all was won by this war.
The proposed Rambouillet agreement of last March contained two (well,
at least two but two main ones) notable deal-breakers people in NATO had
to know Milosevic would not go for. First, was the promise that Kosovo
would have some sort of semi-autonomous status within Yugoslavia
(enforced by NATO occupation troops) followed by a referendum in which
outright independence was an option. Second, was that the occupation
troops (let’s not grant the phony term “peace-keepers” a shred of
credence) would be NATO-commanded and NATO-led rather than operating
under the auspices of the United Nations with Russians playing at least
Milosevic rebuffed the proposal as was expected. NATO conducted its
jolly little air war — 34,000 sorties, they say, at a cost they’re
willing to admit of around $3 billion. Then came the peace agreement.
After all that bombing, all that degradation of military capability, was
NATO able to impose its deal-breaking demands on Milosevic. Not exactly.
There’s no mention of Kosovo independence in the new agreement.
There’s even a promise that the territory will remain under formal
Yugoslav sovereignty, which is unlikely to mollify the greatly
strengthened Kosovo Liberation Army (which NATO has committed to disarm
or de-militarize or something relatively foggy).
And the G-8 nations made sure the document was submitted to the
United Nations for approval.
While the precise provenance of the occupation army is still a bit hazy,
it will have some U.N. sanction and is supposed to contain at least some
Russians. It is likely, of course, that NATO rather than some other
international organization will have effective command and control. But
the NATO countries had to offer some fig leaves to a Milosevic who was
hardly feeling thoroughly beaten — indeed, the agreement is being spun
on Yugoslav TV as a Yugoslav victory.
So if you didn’t get the two provisions that were considered so
important that NATO had to unleash untold tons of bombs on the territory
of an internationally recognized sovereign nation outside NATO’s
borders, what was the point of all that bombing?
And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that the bombing triggered
ethnic cleansing on a scale that would almost certainly not have
occurred in the absence of bombing, killed a number of the Kosovar
civilians who were supposed to be the people NATO was protecting,
triggered hostility to the United States and the West along the entire
political spectrum in Russia, made the Chinese bolder in their
hostility, made the entire region less stable and exposed to the world
the fact that United States leaders like to talk tough but have no taste
for war on the ground.
Now comes the really expensive part. The West — read, American
taxpayers — will have to reconstruct the damage done in Kosovar, a task
likely to cost much more over a longer period of time than the $3
billion spent on the bombing campaign. They will try to rebuild a
society in which the wealthiest and best educated of the refugees will
be the least likely to want to return rather than to stay in exile in
more comfortable, less stressful circumstances. Thus the rebuilding
effort will lack significant indigenous resources.
I’m indebted to radio talk show host Lowell Ponte for reminding me
that the famous ancient general, Pyrrhus, was an Illyrian, an ancient
clan to which modern Albanians like to trace their ancestry. Pyrrhus
fought for the Greek Empire against the up-and-coming Roman Empire and
did win two victories that so depleted his sources and resources that he
feared yet another victory would undo him altogether. From his name
comes the term “Pyrrhic victory” for a victory that feels a lot more
like a defeat. That seems to be what NATO has won.