June 16, 1999


What's behind the Korean imbroglio? Food – or, rather, the lack of it. North Korea, the world's last stronghold of pure unadulterated Stalinism, is suffering from a terrible famine, one which threatens the stability of the ruling elite. So North Korea gunboats are guarding fishermen as they trawl the Yellow Sea in search of crab. These incursions are nothing new; what is new, however, is the fact that the North Koreans are not backing down, as they have in the past, when confronted by South Korean patrols. This is a measure of the severity of the famine: they'll risk war for the sake of a few more morsels of precious protein. None of this figures in the calculations of our government, which is sending additional aircraft to the area. But don't worry, war will not break out – because the first Korean war, which divided the country between the Communist North and the American-occupied Republic of South Korea, never officially ended. The fighting ceased with the signing of an armistice, but a peace treaty was never concluded.


Here is a situation where a "humanitarian" intervention by the U.S. would have to be on the North Korean side! For the sea frontier being defended by South Korean gunboats was arbitrarily and unilaterally demarcated by the UN military command in 1953: the armistice makes no mention of it. And so the question arises: is the United States prepared to go to war in order to prevent the starving North Koreans from fishing in the Yellow Sea?


The Korean crisis, in modern parlance, is an old problem seeking "closure." Are we never to be rid of the South Korean albatross hung 'round our necks by Harry Truman? This robust capitalist economy has twenty times the economic power, more than twice the population, and a huge military advantage over the Pyongyang regime. As Pat Buchanan put it: "We are not going to fight another land war in Asia; no vital interest justifies it; our people will not permit it. Why, then, keep 30,000 ground troops on the demilitarized zone? If Kim Il Sung attacks, why should Americans be the first to die?"


While Kim Il Sung, the longest-ruling Stalinist despot of them all, has since gone on to his just reward, the situation is no different with his son, Kim Jong Il, in the drivers' seat. As a Stalinist monarchy, which abjures all contact with the outside world, North Korea bears a remarkable resemblance to Enver Hoxha's Albania, in the heyday of the Communist era: both were scarred by grinding poverty and constant war, and ruled over by a megalomaniac dictator whose cult of personality was an exercise in self-parody. Left to themselves, the North Koreans would probably succeed only in starving themselves to death; martyred by the US, however, they wield an influence among student nationalists in the South, who would be provoked into outright insurrection by any US war moves.


Korea and Kosovo: twin quagmires with much in common. As in Korea, we will be mired in Kosovo for the next 50 years or more; as in Korea, we are dealing with intractable combatants locked in a civil war. In both cases, the cause of the conflict is rooted in the long and bloody history of the region. The Korean peninsula, like the Balkans, is not only remote and irrelevant to US national security concerns, it is also peopled by a particularly cranky and even belligerent people – all you New York City produce shoppers know what I mean. Given all this, it is only a matter of time before Clinton sends in the Marines.


At his press briefing yesterday, Lt. General Michael Jackson, the British warlord in command of Operation Joint Guardian, spoke of the "unfortunate" incidents of the past few days, including the killing of three German journalists by Serbs, but no mention was made of the victims of the KLA, whose numbers are fast rising. We don't read much about the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo in this country, but the London Telegraph has some pretty graphic descriptions of the results of our war for "racial tolerance." According to one story, "even those of mixed blood said they feared the wrath of the KLA, which has a record of summary execution to answer for in some zones."


But the KLA answers to no one but itself these days, as was made clear by Sali Mustafa, the KLA commander in Pristina, in an interview with the Telegraph: "'Demilitarise?' scoffed Mustafa, and one had the feeling that he has an Adams-McGuinness view of handing over weapons to the British." Asked if the administrators of the British zone "approves of them bearing arms against the remaining Serbs or not," the reply by Captain Andrew Reeds of the Army press office was: "We're not quite certain of what the policy is ourselves." So much for the Clintonian crusade against the alleged evils of ethnic nationalism. Having sold the war to his left-liberal constituency as a fight against racist ideology, the President is caught in yet another lie: fortunately for him, they aren't likely to notice. The ethnic cleansing of Kosovo's Serbs is being airbrushed right out of the American media, or else framed in a context of "revenge" that implicitly justifies it.


The whitewash of the KLA continues, with the American media completely ignoring the real story of "postwar" Kosovo, which has become a killing field for the KLA. The Beta news agency, an independent Serbian news agency, reports that guerrilla fighters pulled three Serbs out of a column of refugees in Pristina and shot them on the spot, in the presence of their families. A Serb employee of Radio Pristina was shot outside his home, and three others were kidnapped – yet all we hear about is the death of three German journalists, allegedly by Serbian gunmen.


Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering is on his way to Beijing, heading up an official "apology delegation" to make amends for the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Pickering, a veteran diplomat, will arrive bearing an official explanation and apology from the US government. But apologies come cheaply to this administration, and the Chinese are not likely to be too impressed. What they want is a full investigation, publication of the results, and – least likely of all – punishment of those responsible. And they are absolutely right. Why waste Ken Starr's talents on yet another inquiry into presidential debauchery? Let's get to the bottom of this "mistake," which has done so much damage to the reputation and security of this country, if only for the sake of rooting out criminal incompetence within the ranks of our own leadership – and what better man for the job than the Special Prosecutor? While his report may not be as novelistic as his previous published work, this time he may get a conviction.


All around the world the Balkan intervention has had a ripple effect, stirring the waters and lapping at the outer edges of the Empire. Korea is about to explode, relations with China are at an all-time low, and the Russians – God bless them! – are in Pristina, thumbing their nose at the Brits and threatening to send in 10,000 more. If this is what "victory" looks like, imagine what a defeat would have to mean.


The possibilities of US intervention are endless, and yet another candidate is the oil-rich region bordering the Caspian Sea, where the same currents of ethnic and religious conflict are roiling the international waters. Azerbaijan and Armenia are going at it again, with Armenian troops making significant incursions into the Terter region of Azerbaijan. Here, as in Kosovo, the fight pits Orthodox Christian against Muslim in a case of interpenetrated peoples battling over rival claims to the same land. The prospect of US meddling – against the Christian Armenians, of course, who have the implicit backing of Holy Mother Russia – is quite high, considering the economic stakes involved. There is more oil trapped beneath those wild steppes than in all of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East combined. If you're sick unto death of hearing about the poor Kosovar refugees, then what about some Azeri refugees for a little change of pace? Would anybody really be all that surprised if we should find a pressing need to send a "humanitarian" "peace force" to "rescue" the poor downtrodden Azeris – as well as certain oil companies suffering from falling profits in a buyers' market?


Where will the Humanitarian Avengers strike next? Korea? The Caucasus? My own nomination in the category of Most Likely to be Saved is the Solomon Islands, where ethnic violence has flared leaving a number of people dead and thousands of refugees. What is lacking is the presence of CNN, but aside from the absence of Christiane Amanpour, the Solomons – a small Pacific island nation between Australia and New Zealand – have all the ingredients of a major humanitarian intervention: ethnicity (natives versus immigrants), refugees (over 10,000), and even a "liberation army," the Guadacanal Liberation Army. The militant Guadacanalistas, it seems, are shameless "nativists," who resent immigrants from the nearby island of Malaita who seem to have a monopoly on government jobs. They have gone so far as to set up roadblocks outside the capital city of Honiara, and thousands of Malaitians are being sent packing back to Malaitia. Now here is an easy one for the Clintonians, a kind of "humanitarian" left-liberal version of Grenada. Instead of dragging on like Kosovo, it will be over in a few days, if not hours, and this is sure to prove tempting to those in the administration who crave instant gratification.


After seventy-some days of the Wartime Diary, it was time for a new mission and a new look, and while the former is still developing, as they say, the latter is here, complete, in all its glory – thanks to our hotshot web artist Malcolm Garris. Malcolm's work has been sprucing up these pages from the very beginning, but this time he has really outdone himself. He has managed to convey the style and spirit of this column in graphic terms, and thus helped me to shape its content and made the writing of it all the easier. For this I want to thank him, in public and in print, for doing me a very big favor.

"Behind the Headlines" appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.

Past Columns

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).



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