After over two months of relentlessly bombing bridges, trains,
busses, television facilities, utilities, factories, homes, hospitals,
foreign embassies and even graveyards, Clinton's war on the Serbs came
to a sudden end. The butcher's bill (as casualty reports were called in
an earlier day) counted as many 5,000 Serbian military personnel and up
to 6,000 Serbian, Albanian, Hungarian and other civilians killed by the
The sudden end to the war came as a surprise since experts had been
telling us that according to history and military logic air attacks
alone are not sufficient to bring a country to its knees. Also, the
conflict was beginning to look like a race to see which side would give
out first, Serbian endurance or western public opinion. Apparently,
Milosovic gave in first by agreeing to withdraw Serbian forces from
Kosovo and by letting Clinton's forces and those of his allies occupy
the province without opposition.
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It seemed that Clinton had done it again. The comeback kid had won
yet another victory despite his miscalculations, his blunders and his
callous disregard for civilian life. His fantasy of becoming a
latter-day Winston Churchill was realized. The stain of impeachment was
mitigated, while Chinese espionage and campaign finance scandals were
quietly pushed off the front page and down the road toward the memory
Clinton was now free to follow other powerful leaders of the 20th
century in an effort to impose by force yet another outsider's vision of
how the Balkans should be shaped. In this way he had become the
successor of Franz Joseph, the last Habsburg Emperor, Benito Mussolini
and Adolf Hitler. He must have felt invulnerable.
But as Clinton's victory was suddenly won, so it was suddenly called
into question as the ground shifted once again in the Balkans, as it
always has a way of doing. This current change of fortune came with the
unexpected entry of Russian forces into Kosovo, a move which "stunned
western officials," but which was greeted by "a rapturous welcome by
crowds of cheering Serbs." With Russian forces in Kosovo Milosovic's
hand is greatly strengthened and what at first looked like capitulation
and defeat now looks suspiciously like a smart move.
First, the bombing has stopped. Serbian civilians will no longer be
terrorized, what's left of the infrastructure can be repaired, and
Serbian forces are out of danger and consolidating in new positions.
Secondly, pro-Serbian Russian forces are in Kosovo with their own agenda
and pretty much on their own terms. That means the western army of
occupation will be greatly hampered in its plans for the region.
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Also, western forces are no longer out of range of Serbian
retaliation at 15,000 feet above their heads. Instead, western forces
are now on the ground where Clinton had feared to put them and just
where the Serbians want them to be, for with the volatile mix of
aggressive KLA guerrillas, unpredictable Russians and perhaps revengeful
Serbs, hostilities could easily break out in one form or another. And
with hostilities there are sure to be western casualties, and with
casualties come increased resistance among the people of western nations
to the military occupation of a region that Bismarck once said was not
worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.
It is impossible at this point to say whether this new turn of
affairs is the result of circumstances, or of Serbian-Russian collusion.
Given the facts as we know them, the latter is the most likely case.
Either way, one can think of no better conditions under present
circumstances in which Milosovic can maneuver for a settlement
advantageous to Serbia. This might take the form of partition in which
Serbia retains its holy ground while ceding the ungovernable part of the
province to the occupying forces, letting them administer it as a NATO
protectorate with all the headaches that will bring, or turning it over
No one can predict now what will happen. Yet one thing is certain:
Clinton has stepped with both feet into Europe's perennial quagmire
where he will find his opponents not like the Republicans he has so
easily thwarted, but rather skilled and cunning operators who are every
bit as unscrupulous as he is.
Glynn Custred is a professor of anthropology at California State
University, Hayward. He also co-authored California' Proposition 209
banning racial preferences.