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March 13, 2006

Was Serbia a Practice Run for Iraq?


by Paul Craig Roberts

Important Note: This article was incorrectly indexed under an old database system and indicated that the author was Jim Lobe. It has been corrected here. Our apologies.

On March 11, the former Serbian leader and president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, died in his prison cell at The Hague, where he had been on trial for four years and one month for war crimes and genocide. The Serbian Socialist Party leader Zoran Andjelkovic responded to the news of Milosevic's death with the following statement:

"Slobodan Milosevic, the president of the Socialist Party of Serbia and a former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia, was murdered today at the Tribunal in Hague. The decision of the Tribunal to disallow Milosevic's medical treatment at the Bakunin Institute in Moscow represents a prescribed death sentence against Milosevic. Truth and justice were on his side and this is why they have used a strategy of gradual killing of Slobodan Milosevic. The responsibility for his death is clearly with the Hague Tribunal."

A partisan accusation or the truth? Milosevic was known to be seriously ill. The Russian government promised to return Milosevic to the Tribunal after treatment. The Tribunal refused. It is easy to conclude that the case against Milosevic had collapsed and that an embarrassed U.S. government, NATO authorities, and Hague Tribunal decided to let him die in his cell rather than admit that his guilt could not be proven even after a trial lasting four years and one month.

Milosevic was caught up in the post-Soviet era breakup of Yugoslavia. Nationalist forces broke up the Yugoslav federation. During 1991-92, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina seceded from Yugoslavia. Large Serbian minorities in Croatia and in Bosnia objected and claimed the identical right of self-determination to remain in the federation as Croats and Muslims claimed to leave it. Croatian and Bosnian Serbs organized and a war against secession began.

Milosevic could hardly remain a Serbian leader and not support the Serbs. Abraham Lincoln was canonized for invading the South to prevent its secession, but Milosevic was damned for trying to protect Yugoslavia's territorial integrity. In the end, Milosevic accepted secession. In 1995, Milosevic negotiated the Dayton Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia. According to Wikipedia, "Milosevic was credited in the West with being one of the pillars of Balkan peace."

In 1998, Milosevic was confronted with a more severe problem. Armed actions by the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State, in the ancient Serbian province of Kosovo broke out into warfare. Milosevic was now trying to hold on to a province not of Yugoslavia but of Serbia itself, a province that had been colonized by ethnic Albanians. The Serbian population in Kosovo was outnumbered nine to one and suffered greatly at the hands of the KLA.

Milosevic, already damaged by the wars of secession that destroyed Yugoslavia, lost the media campaign waged by public relations firms hired by contending factions that spun the news that Americans received. Milosevic was demonized, and the Clinton administration had Serbia bombed by NATO forces for 78 days in the spring of 1999. Many Serbian civilians were killed by the air strikes, which hit passenger trains and destroyed the Chinese embassy. In effect, the U.S. interfered in Serbian affairs in behalf of the secession, with the result that Kosovo has been essentially ethnically cleansed of Serbs. Kosovo is apparently still considered to be a part of Serbia, but it is administered by the United Nations. Somehow, this has been presented as a great moral victory for humanity.

If the massive propaganda campaign against Milosevic had many facts behind it, he long ago would have been convicted at The Hague. What was the episode all about?

In my opinion, it was to establish the precedent, later to be employed in the Middle East, that the U.S. government could demonize a head of state geographically distant from any legitimate "sphere of influence" and use military force to remove him. This is precisely the fate of Saddam Hussein, and the Bush regime still hopes to repeat the strategy in Iran and Syria.

The unanswered question is, why does the "international community" go along with it? The numerous civilians killed by U.S. interventions are just as dead as the ones killed by heads of state attempting to hold on to their countries. Why are the latter deaths war crimes but not the former?

As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush criticized President Clinton's intervention in Serbia and disavowed the international policeman role for the U.S. But as soon as Bush got in office, he plotted to invade Iraq. Why?

Americans should be very concerned that Bush still has not come clean about why he invaded Iraq. Americans should be disturbed that despite the disastrous results in Iraq, Bush still intends "regime change" in Iran and Syria.


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    Paul Craig Roberts wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and was assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was associate editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and contributing editor of National Review. He is author or co-author of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon chair in political economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and senior research fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and testified before Congress on 30 occasions. He has been awarded the U.S. Treasury's Meritorious Service Award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a reviewer for the Journal of Political Economy under editor Robert Mundell.

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