Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

May 17, 2000


The US Congress, at long last, is rising up in rebellion against our Kosovo policy; and, this time, it isn't just a few Republican back-benchers. A bipartisan coalition of congressional heavyweights is demanding to know: Is there no end to our commitment in the Balkans? The chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Service Committee, Sen. John A. Warner (R-Virginia) has teamed up with the ineffable Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Virginia) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) in attaching a resolution to a military appropriations bill requiring the withdrawal of all US troops from Kosovo by July 21, 2001, until and unless the next President decides that they need to stay where they are – in which case he will have to come crawling to Congress and get approval. The amendment also gives President Clinton until July 15 to certify that the European allies are fulfilling their pledges to contribute to what was supposed to be a joint effort. Regardless of how the vote goes on Tuesday – the vote has already been postponed once, to give the administration time to marshal opposition – this challenge to American policy in Kosovo is interesting on several levels, not the least of which is Senator Warner's 180-degree turnaround on this issue.


It was Warner, you'll remember, who introduced the Senate resolution approving military action against Yugoslavia, who now complains that "we are drifting into this endless commitment.'' But what did he think was going to happen – that we could bomb the Serbs from 15,000 ft. and get out of there without our boots touching the ground? Oh well, better late than never. But before we break out the champagne and start celebrating the return of constitutional government in America, there are several obstacles to be overcome – and a few questions to be asked . . .


While Kosovo has long since dropped off the front pages, and off the American public's radar screen, we have to ask: why now? Why has Senator Warner suddenly turned on a dime? Why has Senator Byrd enraged many of his fellow Democrats, who don't want this brought up in an election year? "We're fed up with the inability of this administration to be honest with us,'' said Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican. He remembers way back when the Clintonistas were reassuring Congress that US troops would be in Bosnia only for a year. That was six years ago. Our little expedition to Kosovo was slated to last six months, but "now they are talking about indefinitely," says Gregg. As if anybody believed the solemn pledges of this administration to begin with. As for Senator Warner, less than a year ago, as NATO was raining hellfire on Belgrade, he was singing a different tune in answer to a question from Jim Lehrer on the PBS News Hour:

JIM LEHRER: "In a general way, how do you feel about this mission, eight days after it began?"

SEN. JOHN WARNER: "Well, we had, I think, a basis to believe that Milosevic would not have subjected his own people in Belgrade and elsewhere to the type of very serious damage being inflicted by the air campaign. But he has not, for reasons, perhaps some day we will learn more fully. I think all the diplomatic efforts, including perhaps the futile one by Primakov have been made, and he only historically responds to military pressure. And we've got to stay the course. There are no other alternatives."


From "stay the course" to complaints about our "endless commitment" – in less than a year. Continuing his conversation with Lehrer, the Senator put his imprimatur not only on the military operation but also took responsibility for its aftermath:

"You have to ask your question [sic] – what if we had done nothing as a collection of 19 nations? Here in this most holy of weeks of Easter, and done nothing [sic], and watched these same pictures – how would you have reacted to that? So it seems to me that we had little choice but the 19 nations of mounting the actions [sic] they have taken today and to see them through to the finish."


But not quite to the finish: having been one of the biggest hawks at the height of the propaganda blitz, when images of Kosovars streaming across the border were inundating the airwaves, Warner is now running from the consequences of the policy he not only approved but authored. No, unfortunately, the Warner-Byrd legislation does not signal the resurgence of "isolationism" in the Republican and Democratic parties – instead, it signals a resurgence of real trouble in the Balkans. For if even the hawkish chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is suddenly getting nervous about Kosovo, and is seeking to cover his political posterior, and a whole lot of his colleagues – from both parties – are following suit, then something must be up. In the context of recent developments inside Serbia, as well as increasing incidents on the Kosovo border, there is a distinctly ominous aspect to the panicky stampede of politicians scrambling to get out of the way of the oncoming disaster. Do these guys know something we don't know?


Even as the first phase of the Kosovo war ground to a halt, Clinton was announcing phase two: in place of missiles, covert operations would be launched to bring down Slobodan Milosevic. The US gathered under its wing a few Serbians willing to serve as mouthpieces for the US State Department, such as Zoran Djindic and a few other fringe elements without any real influence: the real opposition to Milosevic, centered in the Serbian Renewal Movement, led by Vuk Draskovic, the charismatic novelist, and the very effective Otpor student organization – long hated by the Milosevic Commies – are far too nationalistic for the NATO-crats' taste. Milosevic, too, realizes who his real enemies are: not isolated collaborators in the pay of various Western intelligence agencies, but the soul of the Serbian people represented by the democratic and monarchist nationalists and the nation's youth. This growing movement, which rejects Milosevic and despises the NATO-crats, is under attack on two fronts: from Milosevic – and provocateurs within its own ranks.


The latest in a series of mysterious assassinations has Belgrade in turmoil: Bosko Perosevic, head of Milosevic's Socialist Party in the city of Novi Sad and regional governor of Vojvodina province, was shot at an agricultural exhibition by one Milivoj Gutovic, a 50-year-old security guard and longtime employee of the fair. According to reports from Serbian sources, Perosevic was well-known to his attacker: they were both born and raised in the same town. First an automobile "accident" nearly puts Vuk Draskovic out of action; then Arkan, along with several other shady characters, are gunned down in the streets of Belgrade in broad daylight: now this. Somebody is sure stirring the pot, and, without definitively identifying whose hand is guiding the spoon, we have only to ask: who benefits?


The Serbian opposition surely doesn't, as terror spreads and Milosevic tightens his grip. His government has already announced that Perosevic's death was the result of a plot hatched by the Serbian Renewal Movement and Otpor: the police announced that several arrests in connection with the assassination had already been made. Government officials declined to give further details but for the fact that the involvement of the Renewal Movement and Otpor was "beyond doubt." Independent Serbian media report that the killing was not political, but based on personal jealousy: Gutovic, it is said, was never a member of the Serbian Renewal Movement or Otpor, and is known to have given a speech praising "our commander, Slobodan Milosevic." You don't have to belong to the black helicopter school of conspiracy theorizing to wonder aloud at the role of NATO-crats in all this: it is no great stretch to imagine that the same crew responsible for inflicting a campaign of terror by air would resort to a terrorist campaign of a different sort. By giving Milosevic an excuse to crack down on the nationalist opposition, they will have rid themselves of a troublesome opposition – and polarized Serbian politics to the point of civil war.


Naturally, the biggest warmonger in the Senate – who else but John McCain? – thinks the Warner-Byrd amendment is "a disgrace." "There is no objective observer who doesn't believe it will be destabilizing," he averred – but of course the biggest "destabilizing" factor in the region was the war he and his Senate buddies approved and unleashed, the consequences of which are yet unfolding. McCain moans that inclusion of the Warner-Byrd language in the bill will lead to the development of an independent European defense force capable of policing the Balkans – as if this is something to be feared instead of welcomed. But why shouldn't the Europeans start providing for – and paying for – their own security arrangements, now that the cold war is long over? Indeed, the House of Representatives, where a measure similar to the Warner-Byrd amendment now percolates, is beginning to ask the same question.


The approval of the Warner-Byrd rider to the military construction bill by the Senate Appropriations Committee, on a smashing 23-3 vote, put the War Party in a panic; the administration and its congressional allies immediately launched a bipartisan counterattack. A group of ten Senators, from both parties, announced that passage of the Warner-Byrd Amendment would forever brand the US as an "irresolute ally." Secretary of Defense William Cohen declared that approval of the measure would effectively put an end to the NATO alliance – an exaggeration, to be sure, but we can always hope. In a letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, General Wesley Clark opined: "These measures would invalidate the policies, commitments and trust of our allies in NATO, undercut U.S. leadership worldwide, and encourage renewed ethnic tension, fighting and instability in the Balkans." The hypocrisy of this would-be Napoleon, forced into early retirement on account of his imperious penchant for creating policy rather than implementing it, is breathtaking. Stated US policy is to provoke social and political disruption through covert operations to overthrow the Milosevic regime by force and create the conditions for a Serbian civil war – if that isn't instability, then what is?


It is unclear, at this point, whether the administration can muster the votes to prevent the Senate from overriding President Clinton's threatened veto. But in reality this is less meaningful than it appears. For a lot can happen between now and next summer in Kosovo – and it will, if present trends continue. Who knows what "emergency" will come up before July 2001? We cannot foresee exactly what the NATO-crats have in mind, or where they will strike – Montenegro, Vojvodina, the Serbian-Kosovo border – but their response to political pressure may well be to up the ante, and create a provocation. If and when Kosovo blows, you can be sure that the Senator Warners of this world will back off fast.


This is not to oppose the Warner-Byrd amendment, but merely to understand that its impact is primarily on domestic politics here at home rather than on the ground in the Balkans. Its passage sets up the next President for a decision on the Kosovo question: it also represents an attempt (however belated) to recapture congressional authority over the war-making power. This will require the presidential candidates to take a stand: I don't think the word "Kosovo" has passed Dubya's lips since the war's end – not that he had that much to say about it in any case (except that he supported US intervention: "we have to have one objective in mind," he burbled, "and that is to achieve the goals and do so ferociously"). Gore is naturally a firm supporter of our failed and immoral policy, while this leaves Pat Buchanan as the only major candidate daring to speak truth to power, demanding the unconditional withdrawal of US troops from Kosovo, and asking of our elites:

"How does forcing the people of Serbia to endure a brutal winter without fuel or heat advance our goal? What happened to the moral idea of proportionality, even in wartime, between means and ends?"


Having jumped head first into the quagmire, it is going to be a long and difficult struggle pulling us out. The Warner-Byrd amendment would get us out of Kosovo – maybe – in a year or so: and while that isn't soon enough, it's a start. What's needed is not legislation, but new leadership and a revived anti-war coalition: a new movement that goes beyond Left and Right with the vision to put the national interest above the "humanitarian" whims of our arrogant elites – and the courage to fight for a foreign policy that puts America First.

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