A Progressive Legacy: Bill Clinton's Long War in Serbia Rages On

(UPDATED BELOW.)

Progresso-Americans are of course united in their rightful condemnation of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. Those on the milder, "centrist" side will boldly aver that the invasion was a "mistake," was "done badly," or was "the wrong war at the wrong time." A much smaller number -- those not seeking jobs with the Obama administration or sinecures in "serious" media outlets and think tanks -- will denounce it forthrightly as an act of evil, a war crime of monstrous, murderous proportions. But all the groovy great and good agree that the Iraq War has been a major harsher of America's buzz.

But when it comes to an earlier instance of a young president from a Southern state waging a unilateral, undeclared, unsanctioned war against a nation that had not attacked the United States and posed no threat to it, progressive unity falls by the wayside -- although the "serious" vs. "shrill" dynamic still holds. There are still a small number of Progresso-Americans who will condemn Bill Clinton's war on Serbia as a war crime; but most P-As are perfectly happy to laud this precusor to Bush's Iraq atrocity as one of America's many "good wars."

Noam Chomsky, arguably the most "unserious" analyst of American policy out there, has, along with many others, thoroughly demolished the alleged case for Clinton's civilian-murdering assault on Serbia: i.e., that the Serbs were carrying out vast atrocities and mass displacements in Kosovo that could only be stopped by NATO bombs. Chomsky followed the radical course of actually consulting the abundance of official documentation on the run-up to the war. (Consulting documents! You can tell he's no journalist.).There he found something curious:

The documentary record is treated with what anthropologists call “ritual avoidance.” And there is a good reason. The evidence, which is unequivocal, leaves the Party Line in tatters. The standard claim that “Serbia’s atrocities had of course provoked NATO action” directly reverses the unequivocal facts: NATO’s action provoked Serbia’s atrocities, exactly as anticipated...

In brief, it was well understood by the NATO leadership that the bombing was not a response to the huge atrocities in Kosovo, but was their cause, exactly as anticipated. Furthermore, at the time the bombing was initiated, there were two diplomatic options on the table: the proposal of NATO, and the proposal of the [Serbians] (suppressed in the West, virtually without exception). After 78 days of bombing, a compromise was reached between them, suggesting that a peaceful settlement might have been possible, avoiding the terrible crimes that were the anticipated reaction to the NATO bombing.

Chomsky's September 2008 article, "Humanitarian Imperialism," in Monthly Review, will give you chapter and verse of this case, which he has also spelled out at book length. But what is perhaps most interesting is the new confirmation he has found for the real casus belli behind the mass bombing operation dubbed, with truly macabre cynicism, "Merciful Angel":

Without running through the rest of the dismal record, it is hard to think of a case where the justification for the resort to criminal violence is so weak. But the pure justice and nobility of the actions has become a doctrine of religious faith, understandably: What else can justify the chorus of self-glorification that brought the millennium to an end? What else can be adduced to support the “emerging norms” that authorize the idealistic New World and its allies to use force where their leaders “believe it to be just”?

Some have speculated on the actual reasons for the NATO bombing. The highly regarded military historian Andrew Bacevich dismisses humanitarian claims and alleges that along with the Bosnia intervention, the bombing of Serbia was undertaken to ensure “the cohesion of NATO and the credibility of American power” and “to sustain American primacy” in Europe. Another respected analyst, Michael Lind, writes that “a major strategic goal of the Kosovo war was reassuring Germany so it would not develop a defense policy independent of the U.S.-dominated NATO alliance.” Neither author presents any basis for the conclusions.

Evidence does exist however, from the highest level of the Clinton administration. Strobe Talbott, who was responsible for diplomacy during the war, wrote the foreword to a book on the warby his associate John Norris. Talbott writes that those who want to know “how events looked and felt at the time to those of us who were involved” in the war should turn to Norris’s account, written with the “immediacy that can be provided only by someone who was an eyewitness to much of the action, who interviewed at length and in depth many of the participants while their memories were still fresh, and who has had access to much of the diplomatic record.” Norris states that “it was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform—not the plight of Kosovar Albanians—that best explains NATO’s war.” That the motive for the NATO bombing could not have been “the plight of Kosovar Albanians” was already clear from the extensive Western documentary record. But it is interesting to hear from the highest level that the real reason for the bombing was that Yugoslavia was a lone holdout in Europe to the political and economic programs of the Clinton administration and its allies. Needless to say, this important revelation also is excluded from the canon.

And needless to say, the malign effects of Bill Clinton's stern chastisement of Serbia for its failure to get with the globalization program -- i.e., the very program that has now brought the entire world to the brink of economic ruin -- are still going on. The BBC reports this week that thousands of unexploded cluster bombs still litter the Serbian landscape, still killing people or maiming them horribly -- and will keep on doing so for decades:

Every year the Maksic family like to visit the river near their home in southern Serbia. They go to remember 12-year-old Miroslav.

Miroslav had just been for a swim with his friend in Bujanovac, when he was killed by a cluster bomblet. His friend was seriously injured.

It was a hot August day, a few months after the end of the 11-week Nato bombing campaign, launched on 24 March 1999 in an effort to push Serb forces out of the province of Kosovo.

The unexploded ordnance had been lying discarded in a field, it had been dropped as part of a cluster bomb....

A decade on from the Nato bombing campaign, more than 90,000 Serbs are still in danger from unexploded cluster munitions, according to a recent report funded by the Norwegian foreign ministry. The report says they face a daily threat and estimates that there are some 2,500 unexploded devices in 15 areas of Serbia.

In a bitter irony, the cluster bomb problem has been made worse by the fact that Serbia has indeed finally gotten with the program and is seeking to please the Potomac overlords. The Serbian government has joined the bipartisan elite in Washington in refusing to sign the international treaty banning cluster bombs -- a refusal which hinders efforts to cleanse the country of the overlord's leavings. As the BBC reports:

Sladjan Vuckovic says the anniversary is also difficult for him. The 43-year-old retired Serb military officer was clearing cluster munitions from Mount Kopaonik in central Serbia when one exploded. He lost both his hands and part of his right leg, and his face was disfigured.

"I can't forget how my life has changed since that day. I can't take my children for a walk, I can't hold their hands," he says. "It is especially hard when I think of Serbia, the country that I fought for, not signing the convention on banning cluster bombs."


Doesn't it make you feel good -- doesn't it make you feel humanitarian -- to know that little children are still being killed in your name, even ten years after Bill Clinton killed hundreds of innocent civilians to make the Serbs open up their markets and cut their social programs? And isn't it great that the Clintonistas are back in the saddle again, riding herd with Barack Obama? Doesn't that fill you with hope for the future? Why, there are probably thousands of 12-year-olds yet unborn who will die from cluster bombs yet undropped in humanitarian interventions yet unlaunched by the defenders of humanity.

NOTE: We would be remiss if we failed to note one of the most paradigmatic statements issued by a "public intellectual" in the United States during the bombing of civilians in Serbia. It was, as you might expect, our old friend (and a friend to all humankind), the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of the New York Times, Mr. Thomas Friedman, who in April 1999 called explicitly for the infliction of a war crime -- the targeting of civilian infrastructure -- on Serbia:

"Let's at least have a real war... It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted...Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too."


Here is the true face of the American elite: ignorant, arrogant and bloodthirsty. But serious; oh-so-serious.

(For more on this most worthy gentleman, see Hideous Kinky: The Genocidal Fury of Thomas Friedman. This piece is about a later genocidal fury, by the way, directed at the people of Iraq.)

UPDATE: In Spiked, Phillip Hammond provides a detailed look at one of the major accomplices of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in launching the war on Serbia: the "Laptop Bombadiers" of the "liberal" press. Here's just one sample of the diligent service our "free press" provided to states bent on the violent imposition of their political and economic agendas:

Working themselves up at the sight of Western ‘potency’, liberal broadsheets started baying for blood. Even before the bombing started, the Guardian decided that ‘air strikes are not enough’ and called for a ‘full-scale use of conventional force’ (19 March). And later, as NATO widened its targeting to take in civilian infrastructure, the paper demanded a ‘less conversational kind of war’, complaining that too few people were getting killed because: ‘We practically ring up the Serbs to tell them attacks are on the way so that they can get everybody out of the buildings.’ (5 April).