Right in the middle of President Clinton's Kosovo War came a reminder that not all humanitarian interventions are created equally. This one appeared in the September 1999 issue of the Tucson Comic News.
Indonesia has finally decided to allow UN peacekeeping forces into East Timor, we can hope that at long last, the carnage on that tragic island - the largest per capita genocide since Hitler - may finally come to an end. But those cynics among us who had their doubts about our humanitarian motivations for intervention in Yugoslavia can certainly raise an eyebrow at the comparatively milder response to Indonesia’s vastly more brutal crimes. Apologists for our terror bombing of Belgrade will protest that these are two completely different situations. And indeed they are.
For the two examples to be equal, we would first have to imagine that, instead of being elected into power, the current regime in Yugoslavia took over in a coup that was at least tacitly supported by the CIA. And that once in power, that regime proceeded to exterminate between a half million and a million of its political opponents, with the enthusiastic cheerleading of the New York Times, and working off of lists of “known subversives” provided by the US State Department.
Then imagine that Kosovo was never an historic province of Serbia, but that Yugoslavia just up and grabbed it one day - which happened to be the day after Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger came to visit. And then let us imagine that instead of killing 2000 Kosovars, as the Serbs did last year, that they killed a hundred times that many, and that these 200,000 amounted to fully a third of the population. And suppose that this killing continued for several years, until Yugoslavia had to slow down because they were running out of supplies. Luckily, though, Jimmy Carter and Richard Holbrooke would then have sent them an emergency military aid package.
And then, let us imagine - I know this is far-fetched, but just bear with me - that our UN Ambassador at the time, the well-respected intellectual Daniel Patrick Moynihan, casually remarked about those 200,000 dead bodies: “The US wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring them about.”
But wait, there’s more. Imagine then that Slobodan Milosevic, with all that blood on his hands, was not indicted by an International War Crimes Tribunal, but became a respected statesman and one of the richest men in the world. In fact, imagine that instead of holding on to quaint socialist notions like state control of natural resources and worker management of factories, that Yugoslavia under Milosevic had become a playground for multinational mining, timber and oil companies.
Imagine that Bill Clinton had warmly toasted the living genocide champ as “our kind of guy.” But suppose that after supporting him for more than 30 years, we found that he had made his country such a miserable place to live that he had begun to outlive his usefulness to us. And now, you need to imagine that we simply told Slobo that it was time for him to go. And under this improbable scenario, Slobo would dutifully step down, just a couple hours after he was asked to by Madeline Albright. Then he would shuffle off into comfortable retirement with his vast fortune, but only after being allowed to hand-pick his successor. Let us call him... Mini-Milosevic.
So now. Let us then imagine that Mini-Milosevic had agreed to allow the Kosovars to vote on independence but that his paramilitary forces continued to kill, rape, loot and pillage in order to intimidate the Kosovars (and any other provinces that had any ideas about seceding) into settling instead for “autonomy” under Yugoslavia’s benevolent administration. That part isn’t too hard to imagine, now is it? But suppose that, instead of issuing ultimatums and then bombing the country for 78 days, effectively destroying the most vital civilian infrastructure, we just kind of wrung our hands and fretted that this was an internal concern for the Yugoslavians, and that Kosovo was after all still part of Serbia, and that we certainly weren’t going to send in any peacekeeping forces without their permission.
No, this is even better, because remember, back in the real world, the Yugoslavians actually did agree to UN peacekeeping forces before we started bombing, but balked at a NATO-led force occupying the whole country, rather than just Kosovo. But imagine instead that they had simply flipped off the international community and said, we can handle this ourselves. And imagine that we said, oh, okay fine, let us know if you need any help. And then of course the Yugoslavian Army would have imposed martial law on Kosovo and proceeded to help the death squads do their work.
Okay, and while you’re imagining all of this, you also need to imagine that the corporate media- you know, the Times and the Post, the networks, CNN, Newsweek and Time, and your hometown daily - all basically ignored the massive bloodbath in Kosovo until it had gone on for nearly 25 years. But then the killing machine revs up one last time and it can’t really be ignored anymore because we had just finished bombing the bejeezus out of some other little country in the name of preventing a humantarian catastrophe.
So finally we tap Mini-Milosevic on the shoulder and say, you know what old pal, this is getting a bit embarrassing. We’re forced to distance ourselves from you, and now we’ve had to temporarily suspend arms sales, and we’re under a bit of pressure to hold back economic aid. It’s, you know, getting in the way of business. And finally, to our great relief, he says oh, all right, if you insist. We’ve done all we can here, why don’t you chaps take over. And we say, thanks old boy, see you at the next summit.
But of course, you don’t need to imagine this story, because it’s the story of East Timor. And now you know why there was never any talk of bombing Jakarta. Except from the occasional smart-ass.