In the late spring of 1995, my father’s lymphoma, which had been in remission, returned. Untreated, his life expectancy was maybe five years.
The first round of chemotherapy had weakened him. It had not cured him.
But we have do something, said the doctors. And so they bombed him with more chemicals, even harsher ones than before.
Six months later, I held his hand and watched him die from the side effects. The doctors offered no apologies.
They had done everything they could.
The urge to do something in the face of horror is strong. You make yourself feel more powerful over things you can’t control. But that doesn’t mean what you’re doing will actually help the problem.
It may only make things worse.
Here’s a list of the countries the U.S. has bombed since the end of World War II, compiled by historian William Blum and posted on the ZNet Web site:
- China (1945-46)
- Korea (1950-53)
- China (1950-53)
- Guatemala (1954)
- Indonesia (1958)
- Cuba (1959-60)
- Guatemala (1960)
- Vietnam (1961-73)
- Congo (1964)
- Laos (1964-73)
- Peru (1965)
- Guatemala (1967-69)
- Cambodia (1969-70)
- El Salvador (1980s)
- Nicaragua (1980s)
- Grenada (1983)
- Libya (1986)
- Panama (1989)
- Iraq (1991-99)
- Sudan (1998)
- Afghanistan (1998)
- Yugoslavia (1999)
In how many of these instances did a democratic government, respectful of human rights, occur as a direct result?
Depending on who you ask, territorial disputes between Serbs and Albanians go back to sometime between the end of World War II and 1389.
The Serbs consider parts of Kosovo historic national ground, much like the Alamo or Bunker Hill are to Americans. In recent decades, Albanians, often fleeing an oppressive government in their adjacent homeland, have become a large local majority.
Thus, as it is universally termed by the U.S. media, the Conflict In Kosovo.
(Which, you’ll notice, is increasingly pronounced “Kosova” by TV combovers and boob jobs. That’s because they’re mimicking the White House and Pentagon, who prefer the latter because that’s how Albanians say it, thus transforming a single schwa sound into a show of solidarity with a people whose history, customs, and language they have no interest in whatsoever. Lame. But anyway.)
So it’s hard to say exactly when this whole fracas started.
Exactly where bombing the holy crap out of Yugoslavia could have been averted is a little easier to pin down.
For years, the Albanians of Kosovo were led by Ibrahim Rugova, a Gandhi fan who practiced non-violent resistance.
Sounds like someone we’d want to hang out with, right? But Rugova — and the Albanians he represented — were completely ignored by the U.S. framers of the 1995 Dayton accords, which treated Slobodan Milosevic, who could have easily faced trial as a war criminal, as an essential partner in any future peace and stability. Milosevic’s abrogation of Kosovar autonomy had occurred five years earlier, and Serbian repression of the Albanians in Kosovo was already underway and well-documented. But Rugova, the Albanians, and Kosovo were simply not a matter of U.S. concern.
After which, the KLA’s armed solution made a lot more sense to a lot of Albanians. Which in turn gave the Serbs a rationale for increased security measures.
Conflict escalates … and here we are.
Is the U.S. (and its NATO figleaf) truly intervening for humanitarian reasons?
History very strongly indicates otherwise.
As has been widely noted, the U.S. did nothing to stop a death toll literally 100 times larger in Rwanda just five years ago. And in recent years, the U.S. has supported the people committing the atrocities in Indonesia, Columbia, Pakistan, El Salvador, and numerous other countries. Clinton himself admitted just weeks ago that the U.S. was on the side of the murderers in Guatemala.
We’re supposed to believe that this time it’s different. But at this very moment, Turkey, a NATO ally, engages in well-documented repression against its Kurdish population, with U.S. knowledge and support.
Reports of Serbian atrocities are heart-rending to any decent human being, but remember that Serbian repression of Albanians in Kosovo was a fact for years before it became a matter of U.S. concern. Similar atrocities committed by U.S. allies are ignored. And it has already been reported that the CIA was aware in advance that bombing Yugoslavia would lead to increased atrocities against the Kosovars.
And still the bombings began.
The primary goal of U.S. foreign policy after World War II, spelled out explicitly in numerous declassified internal memoranda, is the maintenance and expansion of labor and export markets to support the Western economic system.
Put simply: if it’s good for Wall Street, then it’s good, period. It’s an ingrained, unquestioned, knee-jerk assumption. The only debate among decision-makers is over how best to proceed within that paradigm.
The conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo were never a major concern until they each led to large refugee populations that might move across national borders, where they might join with local minorities to alter the balance of local political power. Which doesn’t make anybody happy. Greece doesn’t need Macedonia getting all screwed up with an influx of Albanians. Turkey, Greece’s historical enemy (yet erstwhile NATO ally), doesn’t need a nationalist leader arising in Greece in response, which would therefore threaten its security. And so on.
Which is why the U.S. put a unilaterally decided, quick-fix solution on the table last February, warning Milosevic we’d bomb the crap out of him if he didn’t sign it. But similar threats were made during the Bosnian conflict in 1994, and nothing happened. So Milosevic didn’t sign.
Anybody who plays poker knows you don’t bluff if somebody’s called your bluff successfully earlier in the game.
So now Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke need to save face.
So far, the bombings have had the following effects:
As U.S. intelligence knew would happen, Serbian security forces have unleashed a brutal wave of violence against Albanian Kosovars. While a Serbian offensive was always considered likely, the bombings in no way have made any Kosovar safer. Instead, they are now endangered two-fold: both from the bombs and from enraged oppressors.
International observers — an acknowledged key to maintaining a standard of civilized conduct on the part of security forces — have been forced to leave the region, exacerbating the atrocities. Relief workers who might have been able to assist the victims have also been forced to leave the country.
Meanwhile, Milosevic’s power is far greater than before. The Serbian population, under attack from a foreign power, has rallied behind their leader. Civilians are being killed in the attacks, and more deaths will surely follow, thanks to the country’s weakened infrastructure. The survivors are angry. Which means the bombings have weakened Belgrade’s political opposition — including Serbia’s Democratic Party — into virtual non-existence. Any check on Milosevic’s domestic police power no longer exists, and so while the people of Belgrade are weakened badly by the bombings, Milosevic will almost certainly survive the conflict vastly more in control than before.
Have we learned nothing from Iraq?
Peaceful negotiations — still possible only months ago — are now unlikely in the near future. A lasting peace has become almost unimaginable.
The likelihood is now greater that minorities will be encouraged by the U.S. action on behalf of the Kosovars to seek their own self-determination. Macedonia and Bosnia are now less stable than before. Russian intervention into the conflict, and the insanely dangerous possibility of escalation, has been treated as an acceptable risk. Washington has displayed its willingness to countenance a new cold war. The world is a more dangerous place.
As the bombing campaign fails to accomplish a single stated objective, the insertion of ground troops to become an occupying force with no end in sight becomes ever more likely. Which means protracted years of guerilla warfare, more destruction of the country under occupation, more refugees, and more deaths.
Have we learned nothing from Vietnam?
Back at home, the use of NATO as a figleaf renders the War Powers Act a quaint relic of a time when American citizens could expect their elected representatives in Congress to have some say in military affairs. The Constitution, already wobbly, is further weakened.
The Pentagon, which has pleaded for years for the capacity to fight full-scale war on two fronts simultaneously, finally has a two-front war (remember, we’re still bombing Iraq) to call its own. Expect military expenditures to increase, even though the U.S. already spends more on defense than do its top ten potential enemies combined.
Abroad, U.S. credibility among NATO countries for future operations — one of which may actually be necessary someday — is weakened. Greece and Turkey have never fully supported the bombings, and France and Germany are more reluctant every day.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Charter, a treaty signed by the United States, prohibits the use of force except in cases of self-defense or as authorized by the U.N. Security Council. Neither condition applies here. So once again, international law is revealed as completely meaningless to the United States, which bombs any country it wishes to with complete impunity. U.S. credibility in Third World nations is badly shaken.
And a dangerous precedent has been set: if international law means nothing to the sole remaining superpower, then international law means nothing.
So what now?
The bombing must stop. It is not meeting and cannot meet the campaign’s stated objectives. It has, in fact, made things vastly worse for all concerned, especially the Albanian Kosovars.
Where we go from there should be determined not by Bill Clinton, the Pentagon, or NATO — none of whom have legal standing in the matter, as it happens — but by the U.N. General Assembly, which is where the issue of humanitarian intervention — if that was ever truly the issue — belonged in the first place.
The U.S. has already done everything it could.
Bob Harris is a radio commentator, political writer, and humorist who has spoken at almost 300 colleges nationwide.