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From Vietnam to Serbia

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Strange are the ways of men! It feels like only yesterday that the New York Times was denouncing President Bill as a moral midget, deserving of the harshest reprobation for fondling Monica Lewinsky’s breasts. And today here’s the New York Times doling out measured praise to the same president for blowing little children in pieces. The Times last Thursday had pictures of those dead refugees on its cover, bombed by one of NATO’s aviators. Editorial page editor Howell Raines staked out the Times official view that “For now, NATO must sustain and intensify the bombing.” What a weird guy Raines must be. Kiss Monica’s tits and he goes crazy. Bomb peasants and he shouts for more.

Maybe some corner of Clinton’s brain reckons that bombs on Serbia will extinguish Monica Lewinksy from popular memory. But what man of mature judgment and compassion would not prefer to be remembered by the Starr report than by bomb craters and dead bodies? Many people thought Clinton would be the first president who would somehow prefer Starr’s volume as his epitaph, however embarrassing.But no. Like all the others he wants craters and corpses as his requiem.

Being a peacenik is definitely passe’. Liberals are learning once again–did they every truly forget–that it’s fun to be a warmonger and cheer the high explosive as it falls.After suffering indigestion towards the end of the Vietnam affair,they got the taste for war again in the mid-1990s, with Bosnia.They became the “laptop bombardiers,” an apt phrase coined by Simon Jenkins in The Spectator in 1995.

Back then, there wasn’t a week, for months on end, that Anthony Lewis didn’t call for the bombardment of Serbia. The Serbs became demons, monsters, and Milosevic the most demonic monster of all. Last week I ran across an interesting piece by an Indian, Lt General Satish Nambiar who had been First Force Commissioner and Head of Mission of the United Nations force deployed in the former Yugoslavia from March 1992 to March 1993.He was writing in an Indian journal. “Portraying the Serbs as evil and everybody else as good was not only counterproductive but dishonest,” the general writes. “According to my experience all sides were guilty but only the Serbs would admit that they were no angels while the others would insist that they were.”

Nambiar says accurately that there were plenty of chances of agreement on a Bosnian settlement in the mid-1990sbut the Americans always nixed them. There was the Lisbon plan and then the Vance-Owen plan, both not so different from the final Dayton plan. But the trouble was that the US, amid the furious screams of the liberals, refused to admit the Serbs had legitimate grievances and rights.

In Britain there was a coalition running from Margaret Thatcher to the Laborite New Statesman in favor of bombing the Serbs. Ken Livingston, the pinko firebrand of London,bellowed for bombs. So did the Thinking Woman’s Crumpet (my sister-in-law’s wry description of him), Michael Ignatieff. In this country the laptop bombardiers crossed from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which likes to bomb anything, (though most of all, Little Rock) to William Safire, to Anthony Lewis, to the Democratic Socialists of America.

The worst offender was the press, which carefully ignored detailed accounts of how the Bosnian Muslims were manipulating western opinion most notoriously by almost certainly lobbing a missile in to a marketplace filled with their own people. When the Croats ethnically cleansed the Krajina of hundreds of thousands of Serbs–the biggest such cleansing in the Balkans since World War II–with direction from US military and CIA officer, reporters and commentators mostly looked the other way or actually cheered.”The Serbs Asked For It,” exulted the headline on apiece in the Los Angeles Times by pundit William Pfaff. Monitors for the European Union prepared a report on the Croat atrocities, and though it was confidential, Robert Fisk of the London Independent was able to get a copy. “Evidence of atrocities; an average of six corpses a day, continue to emerge…the corpses–some fresh, some decomposed–are mainly of old men. Many have been shot in the back of the head or had throats slit, others have been mutilated…Serbian homes and lands continue to be looted.The crimes have been perpetrated by the HV (Croatian Army) the CR (Croatian Police) and CR civilians. There have been no observed attempts to stop it and the indications point to a scorched earth policy.”

If American journalists had bothered to report this, then perhaps public opinion would have been prepared for the notion that there are no innocent political players in the Balkans. The better informed the people are the harder it is to demagogue them with the idea that the best way forward now is–to get back to Howell Raines and that New York Times editorial to “sustain and intensify the bombing.”

But Bosnia, back in the middle 1990s, rode on a hysteria that was never properly confronted and now the price is being paid, with contemptible opportunists like Senator John McCain
shouting for “lights out in Belgrade” (why doesn’t McCain have the guts to emulate John Glen, get assigned to a bombing crew and go strafe refugees in Kosovo.) But McCain is more than matched by Democrats like Senator Carl Levin, or by that brass-lunged fraud from Vermont, Bernard Sanders, “socialist progressive,”who has endorsed Clinton’s bombs.

Well over two-thirds of the Democrats in the House are cheering the bombs, and senatorial liberals like Barbara Boxer are discovering the joys of war. “I never believed I’d go back and vote on air strikes.” she marveled in an article in the Boston Globe for March 31.

These days, to get a dose of common sense,you have to go over the Republican side of the aisle and listen to people like Rep Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania who made a terrific speech in Congress on April 12, reporting on his contacts with members of the Russian Duma (where Weldon has many friends), endorsing their idea that Russia should pledge that Milosevic will abide by the Rambouillet accords on condition that an international peace-keeping force moves into Kosovo, devoid of any personnel from nations now bombing Serbia.

Follow this carefully, because the exact nature of such a force is what’s causing bombs to fall on civilians in Belgrade and Kosovo. Remember that Milosevic agreed to virtually everything on the table at the Rambouillet meeting, with two exceptions.For him the status of Kosovo as part of Serbia was non-negotiable,and he wouldn’t agree to the stationing of NATO forces on Yugoslavsoil, which does after all include Kosovo. But it’s clear enough that a solution could have been found. As Stephen Erlanger reported in the New York Times on April 8, the Serbian Parliament,before the bombing started, accepted the idea of a UN force to monitor a political settlement there. And it’s clear that the notion of an Albanian autonomous region within Serbian Kosovo was negotiable. After all, Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece–to name only three–and also the US have pronounced themselves opposed to the idea of a greater Albania, which is what an independent Kosovo would presage.

It’s plain enough that the US and its NATO subordinates wanted a confrontation and ultimately forced it.It’s also clear that increasingly vocal and explicit charges by the Russians that the KLA was supplied by the Germans and the CIA have merit. The KLA itself was roundly denounced–before the bombings–in the London Times, as a Maoist gang fueled by heroin trafficking. (This is standard operating procedure fora CIA operation, as any scrutiny of recent histories of Afghanistan,or south-east Asia will attest.)

So the NATO bombs began to fall and, exactly as could have been predicted, the Serbian brutalities in Kosovo escalated and the tidal wave of refugees began. Everything has gone according the script. NATO bombs destroying Serbian civilian infrastructure: power plants, sewage treatment, electricity and gas and oil supplies. Everything that’s hit is hastily described by NATO spokesmen as “dual purpose,” (i.e., possibly also for Serb military use) unless it’s obvious to all that only peasants, with no conceivable “dual purposes” have been blasted to bits. Wednesday last saw the mad NATO supreme commander,Wesley Clark, utter his most deliberate and obvious lie to date,when he said that “There was a military convoy and a refugee convoy. We struck the Serb convoy and we have very strong evidence that the Serbs then retaliated by attacking the column of refugees.”By the next day it became clear that there was no “Serb convoy,”no “very strong evidence” and that an Albanian column of refugees on tractors had been killed by NATO bombers.

By the end of last week the Germans were surfacing a plan for international peacekeepers to move in, after a cease-fire gained by the ending of aggressive Serbian operations in Kosovo.The transition from this to a negotiated agreement guaranteed by non-belligerent forces under UN auspices is not too hard, unless the US refuses to relinquish its overall goal of making NATO the arbiter of Europe’s future. This is what the war and the bombing are about. On this strategy which presumes a continued refusal to let Russia have any role in securing a ceasefire or peace settlement,there can be no truce or suspension of hostilities. Indeed there can only be a ground war, with NATO troops, following Hitler’sold invasion plans, which Adolf called “operation Punishment,”because the Serbs overthrew those who sided with him and refused to knuckle under. Serbia was then invaded by Germany, with Italian and Hungarian support. Now US generals are poring over those old Nazi war plans, even while they carefully deny it’s an option.

To date it’s been a lovely war from the American point of view. Only three captives, and one Stealth shot down.(There’s a wonderful Serb sign, “Sorry, we didn’t know it was invisible.”) A ground war? Those who keep talk about the need to “see this through” have probably forgotten what a ground war is really like. People have talked so long about”a new Vietnam” that they don’t recognize it when it finally slouches round the corner. Not just 70 dead refugees:thousands and thousands of dead civilians. Thousands of dead soldiers.Serbian villages being flattened. Our boys being debauched and corrupted by fighting against a people defending their homeland.

This really does take us back to somewhere around 1962 or so, when all the Kennedy liberals and all the Eisenhower”internationalists” thought war in Vietnam was a great and necessary idea. The Republican isolationists had been putout of business by then, ever since the Republican senator Vandenberg signed on to the cold war in the 1940s. But these days there is no communist threat. The Chinese premier just took America by storm, without so much as a weapon in his hand, except for the magic words, “cheap labor” and “big markets.”Maybe our only hope now is that Republican isolationist tradition.Right now my only confusion is whether to vote for Pat Buchanan or Dan Quayle, the only presidential candidates to oppose the war. We’ve always loved Marilyn Quayle, with those wonderful great teeth, big enough to chomp an apple through a picket fence. A Vote for Quayle is a Vote for Peace! The essence of a properly functioning corporate democracy is that there are no agreeable choices. CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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