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On March 24, 1999, NATO began its bombing campaign to stop then-Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic from committing genocide, or ethnic cleansing or something really bad in Kosovo.

Two years later, all is groovy in the Balkans. In Kosovo, Albanians and Serbs are holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” Borders are secure and stability reigns region-wide.

Just kidding.

Actually, everything skeptics of our intervention predicted has come to pass. President Bush, who’d like to extricate 5,600 American troops from Kosovo, has been persuaded that to do so would result in a crisis of confidence in NATO, though he did withdraw part of our forces from Bosnia last week.

Bush is hoping the evil, genocidal — albeit now democratic — Serbs will do the job NATO’s non-peacekeepers have defaulted on.

The reconstituted Kosovo Liberation Army is carrying the war for Greater Albania into southern Serbia and Macedonia, with its Albanian minority.

Since NATO is terrified of sustaining casualties, last week the Yugoslav army was allowed to enter a nine square-mile buffer zone (between Kosovo, Macedonia and the rest of Yugoslavia) that guerrillas are using as a staging area. Since July, the Kosovo Expansion Army has killed 20 Serb police and soldiers. Fighting rages on the outskirts of Tetovo, one of Macedonia’s largest cities.

After sitting on their hands for 20 months while the KLA pretended to disarm and Serbs were ethnically cleansed, NATO’s warriors are a bit out of shape. So the Yugoslav army was permitted to penetrate part of the buffer last Wednesday, but without tanks or helicopters — severely limiting its effectiveness against several thousand heavily armed terrorists.

What choice does it have, when Albanians are trying to annex another chunk of Yugoslavia?

Back in the liberated province, Kosovo is thriving under Albanian control. The New York Times quotes Norm Boucher, director of the U.N. police force in Kosovo: “There’s drugs going through here, weapons, a lot of women being trafficked and abused, stolen vehicles — so it’s big money.”

The KLA involved in narcotics and prostitution? But during the war, Sen. Joe Lieberman told us, “Fighting for the KLA is fighting for human rights and American values.”

American values like drug running, destroying ancient churches and slaughtering civilians? Kosovo now supplies 40 percent of Europe’s heroin. On Feb. 13, ecumenical Albanians blew up another church in southeastern Kosovo. That makes over 1,000 Orthodox churches and monasteries destroyed since the war ended — not purely in revenge, but to erase evidence that a religion other than Islam once existed there.

Kosovo was the ancient Serbian heartland. Before the war, 300,000 Serbs lived there. Roughly 90,000 remain. Hardly a day goes by without a stoning, shooting or bombing.

On Feb. 16, a NATO-guarded bus carrying Serbs between the Yugoslav city of Nis and Podujevo in Kosovo was blown up with a sophisticated remote trigger device, killing 11 Serbs. Kosovo moderates lay this and other atrocities at the doorstep of former KLA leader Hashim Thaci — another exemplar of American values — and his associates.

Kosovars continue to press for province-wide elections as a prelude to independence, which NATO continues to swear it opposes. Bosnian Croats say the Dayton accords are dead. (So much for the multiethnic Bosnian state the West worked feverishly to create.) Montenegro is again agitating for independence from Yugoslavia.

Maps on rebel websites show Greater Albania including Kosovo, southern Serbia, much of Macedonia (along with its capital of Skopje), a slice of Montenegro and territory in northern Greece.

Given the region’s volatile ethnic mix and the propensity for violence and criminal activity of tribal Albanians — it was all predictable.

The Balkans are as vital to American security as Outer Mongolia. We entered this bloody mess on humanitarian grounds. Now, the ground is dropping away to reveal an abyss.

The nightmare that Clinton created, Bush seems content to sleepwalk through, while hoping the Yugoslav Army can save the West from the people the West saved from the Yugoslav army two years ago.

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