Postcript to The Choice In Kosovo

When I wrote "The Choice In Kosovo" in early May, the failure of the United States and NATO to make a credible threat of a ground invasion seemed likely to result in a diplomatic settlement that fell far short of the legitimate aims of the war. A month later, these concerns have only partially been borne out. Milosevic has accepted the terms presented by NATO (and negotiated with Russia), calling for the withdrawal of Serbian forces, entry of an international peacekeeping force including NATO, repatriation of the refugees, disarming of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and apparently indefinite Yugoslavian sovereignty over Kosovo. The exact terms of the agreement and their practical implementation remain murky; in particular, it is unclear what control, if any, the Serbs will retain over Kosovo. Perhaps most unfortunate, Milosevic will stay in power unless the Serbs themselves depose him. In this regard, we are left with an outcome similar to the Gulf War; just as Saddam survived to vex us again, so Milosevic now survives to create more trouble for his neighbors -- and for us.

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Nonetheless, if Milosevic has genuinely given in to NATO's demands, the outcome of the war must be counted as a victory for NATO and the United States -- and for the Clinton administration, which as usual faced down an enormous amount of intemperate criticism. The comparisons of Clinton with Neville Chamberlain are ridiculous. Milosevic isn't Hitler, his ambitions for a greater Serbia have been thwarted, and his country and specifically his military have been devastated. Moreover, by avoiding casualties, Clinton and NATO were able to maintain sufficient public support for the war to persuade Milosevic that we could continue the bombing indefinitely. Contrary to the critics who lambasted Clinton for cowardice, it is legitimate for the President of the United States to take into account the will of the people. There was no will for a ground war in the Balkans, and I am skeptical that real support could have been drummed up. Clinton's strategy effectively conserved support for the war by not asking Americans for more of a sacrifice than they could be expected to make in a part of the world where the United States has neither strategic interests nor strong cultural attachments.

As the story is now being reported, Milosevic yielded as the stepped-up air war, combined with KLA ground action, exposed the Serb forces to increasing losses in the field. The last few weeks also saw renewed discussion of a full-scale ground invasion. All this may have tipped the balance, without the loss of a single American in combat. That ought to count as a significant achievement. It's just a pity the balance wasn't tipped earlier - - before 1,500 Serb civilians, 5,000 Serb soldiers, and uncounted Kosovars had died. But the burden of guilt for those deaths should rest on those who are genuinely responsible: Milosevic and his government. We did the right thing in this war, and we ought to be proud of the role that America played. Kosovo is a long way from Vietnam.

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