July 8, 1999


Many of the Kosovo war's most active cheerleaders are having second thoughts now that the bombing phase of the war has ended, the "rebuilding" phase has begun and the general uselessness of the campaign has become increasingly apparent. Some of the second thoughts are thoroughly reprehensible, of the "we didn't do enough damage" ilk. But some might contain germs that could spring into serious doubts the next time our leaders call on us to win one for the New World Order.

Alan Bock is Senior Essayist at the Orange County Register and a weekly columnist for WorldNetDaily. He is the author of Ambush at Ruby Ridge (Putnam-Berkley, 1995). His exclusive column now appears every Thursday on Antiwar.com.

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The most common complaint, of course, is that the doggone war simply didn't do enough damage to the Yugoslav infrastructure and that NATO lied about the amount of damage it was doing while the bombing war was underway. The bombing apparently didn't destroy 122 tanks, as NATO spokesmen had claimed, but perhaps 13. The Serbian troops seemed to withdraw from Kosovo in good order, with their morale in relatively good order. And Slobodan Milosevic, clearly identified in a Leon Wieseltier piece in the June 28 issue of the New Republic as the primary villain, still rules in Belgrade, even as Saddam Hussein still rules in Baghdad, thanks to wimpy western tactics.

Jacob Heilbrunn, in the same issue of the New Republic, laments that "the Kosovo conflict has raised a fundamental question that the Clinton administration has not yet squarely confronted: namely, whether the United States should champion sovereignty or self-determination in dealing with foreign nations and their internal national minorities and national liberation movements." After making a few concessions to strategic realities and acknowledging that the United States can't intervene everywhere or in every instance, Heilbrunn concludes that "the problem with American foreign policy is not that it challenges national sovereignty but that it does not challenge it often enough."

The notion that the United States should be, as John Quincy Adams put it, the friend of freedom everywhere but the guarantor only of its own, is apparently not even worthy of consideration.

Perhaps the most noxious comment on the war's aftermath came from John Judis, writing a TRB column in the same issue of the New Republic. Noting that the debate over Kosovo was distressingly abstract, he put it down to "the detached relationship that Americans have to the military and, by extension, the national government." The cure for this fraying of the communitarian bond, he says is some kind of universal military training. He laments the failure of the Truman administration to enact UMT in 1948, heaping scorn on opponents like former Senate Majority Leader Robert Taft, who viewed universal military training as "contrary of the whole concept of American liberty."

Judis sees the Clinton administration's Americorps as a nice try in theory but flawed in practice because it is a small, purely civilian pilot program. He would prefer the grandiose National Service ambitions of Northwestern University sociologist Charles Moskos, who wanted virtually every high school graduate enrolled in some kind of government service program, "intended to attract an overwhelming majority of 18-year-olds and to affirm the universality of national obligation."

He has hope, however. "Kosovo demonstrates once again the urgency of such a plan – not in order to fill the ranks of the military but in order to repair the frayed links among American citizens, their nation, and their nation's foreign policy."

Should you or I be surprised that modern "liberals," social democrats and quasi-socialists are so enamored of the idea of enforced service to the state that they can uproot their temporary Vietnam-era aversion to the military and become advocates of universal military training? No, we shouldn't be. The earliest 19th-century socialists explicitly admired the military as a model of order, discipline and service to a higher state-ordained purpose and a great leveler as well. Many thought the entire society should be organized just like the military, with a clear hierarchy and those at the bottom well trained to follow orders.

How you create a loving and humanitarian order by teaching people to kill other people – which is what the military is about – is apparently not a question worthy of consideration, let alone skeptical analysis.

Some imperial skeptics might be worth courting, however. Steven Rosenfeld, writing in the Washington Post and quoted with approval by Elliott Abrams in National Review, acknowledged that "it turned out that the principal shortage ... was of viable military and economic targets. Serbia being a small, middle-level country, the number of these began to run short. The gap was made up by verging into targets that could be hit only by putting civilians at extra risk." Abrams believes this is the "fundamental humanitarian problem of the Kosovo war," and worries that the shift from being the arsenal of democracy to being the purveyor of relentless bombing campaign could be "an honor we may wish to refuse."

Henry Kissinger, who supported the bombing campaign once it had begun, albeit with apparent reluctance and reservations, was even more explicit in Newsweek: "No issue is more in need of rethinking than the concept of humanitarian intervention put forward as the administration's contribution to a new approach to foreign policy. ... Moral principles are expressed in absolutes. But foreign policy must forever be concerned with reconciling ends and means. At every stage of the Kosovo tragedy, other mixes of diplomacy and force were available." The final result, he believes was "more refugees and casualties than any conceivable alternative," meaning the Kosovo war "deserves to be questioned on both political and moral grounds."

And Andrew Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University, writing again in National Review, seems genuinely troubled, not only at the cost of the uncertain victory and its $2 to 3.5 billion a year in ongoing peacekeeping operations, but by the precedents it set, including the degrading of the concept of sovereignty. "Contemplating the implications of Kosovo," he writes, "Todd Gitlin, reformed antiwar activist turned crusader, observes that 'just wars are not only possible but legion.' Certain that their intentions are righteous, Americans can look forward to one, two, many Kosovos."

Bacevich also notes that "a new warrior emerges from this conflict: the highly skilled pilot of a B-2 Stealth bomber, flying from his base deep in the American heartland, entering the Balkan war zone without being detected, delivering satellite-guided ordnance to demolish an unseen target, and then returning safely home in time to take the kids to Little League or Burger King. The pilot is anonymous and is unaware of the effects achieved at the target area. Let us not burden him – or ourselves – with worrying about such things. For our cause is just and our intentions honorable. Surely others will respect that, and the bombs that turn bridges, factories, and apartment blocks into rubble will bring us the peace we seek.

"Don't bet on it."

In very few of these second thoughts do we find an acknowledgment that the actions of the United States resemble not so much those of a humanitarian rescuer but of an imperial ruler, determined to punish those who veer from the path of order and willing to establish protectorates around the world to be ruled – de facto – by the United States, NATO, the United Nations or whatever instrument is most conveniently to hand. Nor is there much consideration of the implications of such an imperial policy here at home for the freedoms and rights Americans are supposed to cherish. The domestic populace is still expected to continue working and being taxed – and to kill and die when called upon – to keep the empire running smoothly. It's just that the imperial elite should be smarter and more prudent in deploying its resources.

But while American elites in all areas of the political spectrum seem comfortable with the idea of an American imperium empowered to intervene whenever a conflict in some foreign nation displeases them, I still don't think the American people relish the idea of an American world empire. President Clinton's public opinion ratings, which had seemed utterly impervious to any scandal, actually declined somewhat during the Kosovo war. I don't think that's because most Americans had detailed doubts about the military strategy in Kosovo. I suspect it's because an increasing number of Americans started asking what the hell we were doing intervening in this fight and couldn't find a satisfactory answer.

That's something to build on.

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