COMMENT/Marty Jezer
Second, Third and Fourth
Thoughts on Kosovo

The NATO bombing is entering it's third week and nothing good has come of it. I supported it uneasily at the start. I still do, but with even greater reservations. As a pundit rather than a politician, I occupy a privileged position. I don't have to make decisions, no one will live or die directly as a result of what I write. But to take myself--and my readers--seriously, I have to write as if ideas have consequences. Wartime is no time for jingoistic slogans. What's happening is complex--and horrendous. Here's my best shot at understanding what's going on and where we are--and should be--headed.

The initial impulse to stop the Serbian onslaught in Kosovo was, I believe, worthy. If imperial self-interest alone dictated our intervention, we would have been better to keep our planes at home. It doesn't matter to our national security (which really means our economic interest) who controls Kosovo and what is happening to the people there. In the past we've done business with murderers like Milosevic. Our own record in doing harm to innocent people is not particularly clean. Milosevic may not be a Hitler out to conquer the world, but he does have the potential to incite religious and ethnic hatreds throughout the Balkan region. Ethnic cleansing is a form of fascism and we are right to try and stop it. For the moment we have failed.

Noam Chomsky and other distinguished critics of American foreign policy have concluded that however bad the situation was in Kosovo our intervention only made it worse. Events may prove them right. But I believe that had we done nothing, as they suggest, the ethnic cleansing that the Serbs are carrying out would have happened anyway, albeit at a slower less cataclysmic pace. Pressure for intervention would have built. In confronting evil, the pacifist Gandhi wrote, "I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence." The Serbian military is waging war on an entire people. If we turn our backs on the Kosovars, as we turned our backs on the Tutsis in Rwanda, it would be cowardice.

The Albanian Kosovars have lost their homes, their country, and their everyday existence. But what has Serbia won? We do not have to invade the Balkans, plant our flag on the plains of Kosovo, and "bring the coonskin home" (as was promised in the heady days of the war in Vietnam) to reverse this disaster. What we need to do, in addition to pouring in aid and care for the refugees in the region (but not in detention centers in far-away Guantanamo), is deny the Serbs a peace in Kosovo. Bombing the Serb military and paramilitary in Kosovo is still, to me, a legitimate tactic. But "victory" (whatever that means) through bombing is not a possibility and should not be the goal.

We need an honest broker to facilitate diplomacy. That honest broker, like it or not, is Russia. Russia has much to gain from peacemaking. The Russian leadership needs our loans and the international prestige that peacemaking will give them. Our rude dismissal of their first peace effort was a colossal blunder. Clinton seems to have realized this and is now trying to make amends. The Russians represent a slim reed of hope that Milosevic can be "persuaded" to pull back and allow peacekeeping forces in Kosovo to guarantee the Albanians a safe return. The continued bombing of Serbian forces in Kosovo is, I believe, necessary to create the conditions for negotiations to happen.

Bombing Serbia and, worse, starting to bomb in Montenegro was Clinton/NATO's second mistake. Bombing cities and population centers is a moral folly reminiscent of what we did in Vietnam: destroying cities in order to save them. There are other regions in Serbia where Muslims fear ethnic cleansing. We need to define our military objectives and not ignite the ethnic cauldron. There are strong democratic forces within Serbia--and in Bosnia and Montenegro--that are crucial to any long-term tempering of the region's ethnic hatreds. Our bombing in Serbia weakens and alienates the forces for democracy and healing.

Clinton will be under tremendous pressure to expand the air war and use ground troops. A U.S./NATO invasion would be a Vietnam-like disaster. The Serbs, like the Vietnamese, would fight fiercely for their homeland. Bombing Yugoslavia to smithereens would be the only way to win, and it's not a victory that would bring us honor or help anyone in the region.

Democrats have always gone to war to avoid being accused of losing countries we never "had" in the first place. (E.g., China, Vietnam, in Central America, and now Kosovo/Yugoslavia). Clinton has always been spineless and I worry that he will cave in to the hawks and jingoists who see war as a sporting event, only in terms of winning and losing. This is not a battle for NATO credibility, American security, our greatness, or the flag. It's a battle to get the Kosovo Albanians safely back home and to curb fascist ethnic cleansing to the degree that we can.

The U.S. and NATO cannot impose a solution. At best, we can impose conditions for a temporary resolution that gives peaceful forces within the area time to work. There's no guarantee of success, but we are right to try.

Military urgency spells disaster for domestic priorities. But if we're going to make war to deter hate crimes in the Balkans, we should insist on zero-tolerance for hate crimes and human rights violations at home.

Marty Jezer was a founding editor of the pacifist magazine WIN (Peace and Freedom Through Nonviolent Action) during the Vietnam Era. Comments appreciated at

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