Thursday’s announcement of an ambiguous Yugoslav peace agreement
shouldn’t obscure the deep damage that the so-called civilized world has
inflicted on its own conscience by following the moral leadership of
Bill Clinton.

The apparent willingness of Milosevic to accept some version of
NATO’s terms may mean that NATO’s criminal effort to break the will of
the Yugoslavian people is working. A sustained and punishing attack on
the people of Yugoslavia themselves can, no doubt, eventually break
their
will, and reduce them to a point where they will say “enough, we don’t
want to die any more.” At that point, however Pyrrhic the victory,
Clinton and his buddies will no doubt stand up and declare a triumphant
precedent for benign internationalist intervention. Perhaps that moment
will soon be at hand, although given the Clinton incompetence in foreign
affairs generally, one would think that Milosevic stands a good chance
of pulling a “Hussein” and manipulating diplomacy in ways he can’t
manipulate NATO airplanes high overhead.

But whatever kind of “victory” Bill Clinton claims, I think that the
rest of us ought to hang our heads in shame. The NATO campaign has
followed a strategy that we know to be wrong and deeply immoral. The
moral norms that as a decent and civilized people we have worked to
establish condemn a strategy that aims to break and destroy the civilian
people of a country in order to achieve political objectives. The
classic definition of terrorism is the use of force against civilians in
order to get them to do your bidding as a result of the terror induced
in their hearts. And we have been practicing a strategy based on just
such a use of force.

Of course, the official spokesmen for our policy have been careful to
avoid stating directly what our strategy has been. That has been left to
Clinton proxies, like Senator Lieberman, who have been making
unofficial, and more truthful, statements of what we are up to. Here are
some of the things he has said in recent weeks: “I hope it doesn’t take
ground troops to win, because I hope the air campaign, even if it does
not convince Milosevic to order his troops out of Kosovo, will so
devastate his economy, which it is doing now, so ruin the lives of his
people, that they will rise up and throw him out.”

Senator Lieberman has characterized our effort as intending to “bring
the war in Kosovo home to the people, the civilians, in Belgrade, so
that they pressure Milosevic to break,” and he has admitted that,
contrary to what one might expect from the usual distinction between
combatants and non-combatants, we are in fact trying to make life
miserable for ordinary Serbs. “That’s what we have been doing for the
last couple of months. We’re not only hitting military targets.
Otherwise, why would we be cutting off the water supply and knocking out
the power stations,
turning the lights off? We are trying, through the air campaign, to
break the will of the Serbian people, so they will force their leader to
break his will, to then order the troops — his troops — out of Kosovo.
You can’t get troops on the ground out of someplace from the air. And so
we are trying to carry on essentially a test of wills, trying to break
his will. …”

So our policy has been to make war on a civilian population so that
they will produce a political change in their country. Any of the
official spokesmen of our military would publicly deny this objective.
They would deny it because Americans have long declared that targeting
civilians in war is deeply immoral and violates the fundamental norms
and conventions of civilized warfare. We have consistently believed that
it is barbaric to conduct a war aimed at harming a civilian
population. This has been our established standard of moral decency. But
if we adopt the Lieberman view of war, then there is suddenly no
difference between the American people and the wicked forces that we
have fought and defeated throughout the hot and cold wars of the 20th
century. Those who realize how precious that difference has been should
be deeply anguished as we watch the conscience of the American people
being deadened by our complicity in the Yugoslavian war.

But perhaps our national conscience will be saved by the humanitarian
sentiments in which this war has been sloppily draped? Aren’t we doing
it for the sake of the Kosovars, and doesn’t that make it all right? We
should remember that the evil enemies we fought in this century did not
consider themselves to be evil any more than we do now. They too told
themselves that they were fighting for wonderful and noble goals, and
that they just had to do certain terrible things in order to achieve
those goals.

The real evil in them was their acceptance of the principle that the
end justifies the means. This is how most human beings, in fact, are
introduced to evil. They are not pushed into evil by a strong desire to
do wicked things, but by people who persuade them that evil is necessary

to achieve some greater good, and that the good justifies the evil. And
this is what has happened to us with the war in Kosovo.

If we accept the principle that no rules govern the conduct of any
war effort as long as its ends are themselves believed to be justified,
then distinctions that have been very important in our policy over the
last several decades cease to be tenable. Consider in particular the
stand we have taken on terrorism during that period, and against
governments that are willing to support, aid and abet terrorist
organizations. Terrorism is a form of war, and it is one likely to be
taken up by those without nuclear weapons, multi-billion dollar
economies, and other such things.

Typically, the terrorist “combatants” will be disadvantaged in the
conventional assets of war and consider themselves to be oppressed by
countries they regard as affluent and powerful. They
therefore seek to stop this oppression by disrupting the oppressive
country through inducing fear and terror amongst the civilian
population. The terrorist goal is to use fear to force civilians to put
pressure on their government to change those policies to which the
terrorists object. This is the overall rationale behind much of the
global terrorism practiced by various groups over the past few decades
— some of them mere rogue networks, others more determinately connected
to
sponsoring states.

The American position has been that the approach to war that targets
civilian populations, producing terror aimed at accomplishing political
goals, is terrorism, and is deeply morally objectionable. We have
proscribed various nations from regular relations with the United States

because of their participation in such acts of terrorism. But if the
Lieberman account of our strategy in Yugoslavia reflects our new
national view, then we are saying that it is justified to adopt a
strategy aiming to terrorize a civilian population in order to attain
political goals. We will be abandoning the notion that there are norms
and rules which put terrorism beyond the pale. We will instead be saying
that terrorism is morally acceptable so long as it is practiced by us,
but that it remains bad when practiced by others. The message we are
sending is that as long as we think what we are doing is right, anything
goes.

But how many terrorists believe what they are doing is wrong?
Generally speaking, they are very self-righteous people convinced what
they are doing is right and necessary in order to deal with injustices
perpetrated somehow against groups or causes that they consider
important.

In fact, terrorism is usually adopted by the weaker against the
stronger, and the United States is usually stronger than its opponents.
So the stand we are taking is very likely to reduce our ability to
create effective coalitions in the world against terrorist activities,
and to police those activities so as to safeguard our people and others
in the world. We are also, of course, offering additional moral
encouragement to terrorists themselves, who must be emboldened when they
reflect that they are just doing what big countries do, even if they
have to deliver their bombs manually instead of in fancy aircraft.

So the fruit of the NATO aggression will be a world in which we have
dismissed or forgotten all of the high-minded talk of the post-war era
supposedly aimed at establishing norms of decency and conscience — even
with respect to the awful business of war. But this should break our
hearts, because it means that all the tragedies and horrors we have gone
through in this century, and the high principles that we have offered
the world in explanation for the sacrifices we have made, will have been
thrown away to follow Bill Clinton in reestablishing the barbaric
concepts of warfare and policy we said we were fighting against.

This deadening of conscience has its roots in our willingness to
tolerate, even foster, a culture of death and mayhem right here at home.
We have turned our backs on fundamental principles of truth with respect
to our moral obligation toward innocent and defenseless human life. The
same mentality that says, “It’s OK to bomb ’em back to the Stone Age
because it will achieve our war objectives” can be heard saying that we
should do research on human embryos because we can
achieve great medical benefits. Present both in the war in Yugoslavia
and the war on the unborn is the same dead conscience, the same
willingness to act as if there were no governing moral principles that
must override our profiteering, materialistic interests, or our war
aims, or whatever else may tempt us.

The evil of our effort in Kosovo is the working out of consequences
of deeper evils in our national life and conscience. We should keep in
mind that Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have said that the NATO action in
Yugoslavia is just the beginning. They view this war as a precedent for
a new internationalism, and expect similar interventions to happen
regularly. So while they will no doubt give us a little breather before
pushing us into some other perverse adventure, we will eventually taste
the bitter fruit the precedent the Kosovo war represents. Our “victory”
in Yugoslavia, should it occur, will be worse than hollow — it will be
ripe with the seeds of greater evil to come, now that America has begun
to teach the world that the end justifies the means.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.