Wednesday, March 23, 2011

1999: Kosovo Quagmire

In preparation to comment on our five-day-old war in Libya, let me first issue a couple of re-runs pertaining to the Kosovo intervention, the one to which our current police action is most often compared. First, from April of 1999, the prelude. As usual, many of my direst predictions failed to materialize. But some of these observations appear pertinent to the current situation:

Pardon me if I'm just a little bit suspicious of our professed motives for yet another in a series of US military interventions. Seems like every time we roll out the warplanes these days, we claim to be doing it for humanitarian reasons. My absolute guideline in these situations is that wars are never fought for altruistic reasons; never have been, never will be. So far I haven't seen anything to make me change my mind about that.

The corollary to that is that if you're going to go around waging wars for non-altruistic reasons, whatever they be, it is first necessary to propagandize your population into supporting (or at least not actively opposing) your efforts. The second most efficacious, time-tested method of doing that is to to try and convince said population that you are going to war for altruistic reasons. The best method, of course, is to convince them that you're going to war out of self-defense.

Most recent US interventions have been justified with a bit of both. For God's sake we have to help those poor South Vietnamese, otherwise they might elect Ho Chi Minh and the next thing you know we've lost Thailand and Indonesia and probably Hawaii too. I ask your support in liberating Grenada from the godless Evil Empire and their dangerous airport and for God's sake they've got our medical students too. We have no choice but to level Panama City to arrest this barabaric coke dealer and plus we think they may have roughed up some of our women. The nastiest guy since Hitler who we just recently stopped supporting has dared to invade our oil supply and besides that he's dumping babies out of incubators.

Sometimes it's not until years later that you find out that the Gulf of Tonkin didn't go down quite like LBJ said or that the "babies-torn from-incubators" story was cooked up by the Kuwaitis' PR firm. Given all of that, why do I feel like we're not getting the full story on our Balkan adventures?

Well, to begin with, we don't exactly have clean hands in this situation. Actually, nobody does in this particular situation, but since I pay taxes to support the Pentagon, I feel like I have a duty to try and figure out what's happening when they start shooting off their high-tech toys. Based on our actions there in the past couple decades, I'm having a hard time believing that we're dropping bombs out of the goodness of our hearts.

In 1984, the Reagan Administration issued top-secret directives calling for Yugoslavia to be destabilized, and just coincidentally, the International Monetary Fund, which we control, did just that. The IMF imposed its familiar austerity plan (which has had such beneficial effects recently in South Korea and Indonesia), and the Yugoslav economy went into a tailspin.

1n 1990, as tensions heated up in the Balkans, the US Congress passed a law cutting off all aid, loans and trade to Yugoslavia unless it agreed to hold elections in each of its constituent republics. At the same time, the US was funnelling covert aid to extreme right-wing nationalist groups in Croatia and Bosnia. Many of the leaders of these groups were actual Nazis from WWII, maintained in exile all these years by the CIA, and now ready to resume their place in civil society.

Seven months after the US law was passed, Croatia and Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia, and the war was on. Germany immediately recognized the secessions, and twisted arms in the European Community to get the EC to do the same. As the former Yugoslavia descended into chaos, the NATO allies backed the Croatian strongman Franjo Tudjman, who expelled over 600,000 Serbian civilians, and the Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, who, with our aid, crushed fellow Bosnian Muslims interested in maintaining a multi-ethnic society.

Which is not to say that the Serbs haven't been wrongheaded and vicious every step of the way. But the Serbs have been kicked around quite a bit in this century – not least by those same Croatian Nazis who helped the Germans toss thousands of Serbs into death camps during the Big One.

Now the Serbs are doing a lot of kicking themselves. Right now they're kicking the stuffing out of the Kosovar Albanians - for whom we performed the service of arming their right-wing nationalists, who then promptly began killing Serb police and civilians. The brutality of the Serb assault, whatever its provocations, is clearly a crime against humanity, and something needs to be done to stop it. But unfortunately, our bombing campaign, as could have been (and was) predicted, has only made matters worse, and has strengthened the hardliners on both sides.

At this point it looks like no amount of bombing can stop the Serbs from kicking the hell out of the Albanians. It would take ground troops to do that, and at least 100,000 of them, who would be obliged to occupy the turf for five years or more. Given our history in the Balkans, we had no business trying to impose a settlement on the rival factions; and now we're stuck in another mess we have no way out of.

So what are we doing there? If it were truly humanitarian, we'd be out doing the same the for the Turkish Kurds. So forgive me if I speculate that the NATO allies are interested in pliable client states or cheap labor markets or favorable investment climates. And please forgive me if I speculate that they dream of strengthening their eastern flank for future interventions to protect the $3 trillion in oil just over the horizon in the Caspian Sea. Sometimes I just can't help being paranoid.

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