of Allied Farce
On the morning of March 29, 1999, the sixth day of NATO's bombing campaign against the Serbs, American diplomats throughout the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina received an unusual message from their colleague in Tuzla. It was Foreign Service officer Thomas R. Hutson's last official e-mail to his associates.
Hutson's message was a bombshell. He was openly attacking Clinton's Kosovo policy.
"My personal reasons for retiring now have only been strengthened by the ill-conceived decision of NATO to bomb the Serbs," Hutson wrote. "This decision has unified the Serbs as no other event I have witnessed in my observation of the area for nearly three decades."
"As for its impact on Bosnia and Herzegovina," he warned, "I fear that it has driven a stake into the heart of the Dayton accords."
His e-mail closed with a quote from Abba Eban: "Diplomacy should be judged by what it prevents, not only by what it initiates and creates...Much of it is a holding action designed to avoid explosion until the unifying forces of history take humanity into their embrace."
Hutson is a Balkan expert. Fluent in Russian and Serbo-Croatian, over the course of a three-decade long foreign service career Hutson specialized in the Soviet Union and its Slavic satellite. His first Balkan posting was to Belgrade in the heyday of Marshall Tito's Yugoslavia. Over time, he has lived a total of eight years in the region.
Hutson was in the Balkans when Bosnia and Croatia, with dominant ethnic minority populations, exploded into a savage war of secession from predominantly-Serbian Yugoslavia. He returned to the Balkans after the Dayton peace accords were signed by the Western powers and leaders of former Yugoslavia in December 1995.
Hutson's first digs in Tuzla were dismal; he and his staff of three were housed in an old salt factory. Yet under his energetic leadership the OHR mission grew to almost thirty people. They moved into a building renovated by a local soccer star who had prospered in Turkey (according to rumor, as a gun-running war profiteer).
From his office, Hutson could see a nearby square, the site of a May 1995 artillery attack that killed 71 people. It was a reminder of the stakes of war in the Balkans. So were the difficulties he encountered in trying to resettle people displaced by the war. Although protected by military forces from 42 countries, including the Russians and the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division, villagers were extremely hesitant to go home. Serbs, victims of savage ethnic cleansing in Krajina, feared their Bosnian Muslim and Croat neighbors, who in turn feared one another and the Serbs.
Hutson foretold the current conflict in the fall of 1997, when I asked him to identify unresolved Balkan hot spots. "Although it is not yet in the center of the screen," he wrote me in reply from Sarajevo, "the dilemma over Kosovo (the U.S. commitment to its being part of Serbia vs. aspirations of the 90 percent Kosovar Albanian majority for independence or union with Albania). It could also spill over into Macedonia, with inevitable consequences for Serbia and the rest of the Balkans."
Hutson tried first to shape policy from the inside. During a briefing on resettlement of Bosnian war refugees, Hutson alerted NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark to the difficulties of dealing with the Serbs. Using a Turkish word, inat, to describe the Serb temperament, Hutson told Clark the Serbs could not be bombed into submission. Inat, Hutson says, means irrational. The Serbs' attachment to Kosovo as a symbol of national inde- pendence is like a Texan's view of the Alamo. NATO would not easily force the Serbs to allow Kosovo to secede from Yugoslavia and join with Albania, the goal of the Kosovar liberation movement since the early nineties.
At his initiative, Hutson met separately with White House aide Leon
Fuerth, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and presidential envoy
Richard Holbrooke to urge U.S. support for reinstating exiled Crown
Prince Alexander Karadjordjevic as a creative solution to the search
for a successor to Milosevic. (There was a precedent for U.S. meddling
in Yugoslavia's royal affairs. In 1941, U.S. military attach, Louis
J. Fortier plotted with General Simovic, head of Yugoslavia's air force,
to depose a pro-Axis King and replace him with his pro-U.S. brother.
This palace coup set the stage for the Yugoslavs' fierce resistance
to German troops. )
When he met with Albright, Holbrooke, and Fuerth in 1995 Hutson may have thought they were simply uninterested in his political solution to preserve the Yugoslav Federation and prevent war. He didn't realize the three were leading advocates of a new and radical use of military intervention around the globe. In the early nineties, when Clinton was still governor of Arkansas, they formed part of a small foreign policy elite convened by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to change U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War. Reports signed by all three recommended a dramatic escalation of the use of military force to settle other countries' domestic conflicts. Ironically, an institution dedicated to "International Peace" set the stage for Clinton's interventionist policies in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo, triggering the most widespread deployment of U.S. troops since the Second World War.
Ambassador Milton Abramowitz, former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, was president of the Carnegie Endowment between 1991 and 1997. During his tenure he established blue-ribbon commissions of policy experts to create a new U.S. foreign policy framework.
In February 1992 I was asked to design a publicity campaign to gain public support for the commission's recommendations. I was invited to attend closed-door commission meetings, and later I met with Abramowitz, who made clear he wanted the commission's views to play a part in the upcoming presidential elections. Some commissioners had been appointed to brief Democratic presidential candidates. The release of the final report was to coincide with the Democratic National Convention.
I didn't know it at the time, but these meetings were my introduction to Clinton's Cabinet-in-waiting. During the spring and summer of 1992, Madeleine Albright, Henry Cisneros, John Deutch, Richard Holbrooke, Alice Rivlin, David Gergen, Admiral William Crowe, and numerous lesser luminaries who would nonetheless get sub-cabinet appointments debated defense and foreign policy for hours. Richard Perle and James Schlesinger were the token conservatives. I listened intently, offering opinions only when asked.
Shortly before I began attending the commission's meetings, Bosnians voted in a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia. All-out war erupted in Sarajevo one week later. So the Balkans were a hot topic of commission discussions. Richard Holbrooke, who three years later became Clinton's architect of the Dayton peace accords, argued passionately for American military intervention there.
Bosnia was then the most critical trouble spot in the region, but hardly the only one. On April 28, 1992, Albanian president Sali Berisha welcomed visiting Kosovar leader Bujar Bukoshi to Tirana with fateful words. "We must demand," he said, "the right for self-determination of the Albanians in ex-Yugoslavia."
Albania knew the Kosovars' ultimate goals. In a series of New York Times interviews in 1992, Kosovar political leaders said they planned autonomy or independence as intermediate steps. Some of the Kosovars said there was no point negotiating with Serbs. Due to higher birthrates, they said they were now Kosovo's ethnic majority. They alone would control Kosovo's future. They planned to secede from Yugoslavia and join Albania.
By mid-summer, the Carnegie Endowment's final report was ready. "Changing Our Ways: America's Role in the New World" was a dramatic departure from the bipartisan foreign policy consensus of the Cold War period. Richard Perle and James Schlesinger resigned rather than endorse the report's conclusions.
The report urged "a new principle of international relations: the destruction or displacement of groups of people within states can justify international intervention." It said the U.S. should "realign NATO and OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] to deal with new security problems in Europe" and urged military intervention under humanitarian guises.
I had taken Dmitro Markov, a Ukrainian friend who was press counselor for his newly independent country's embassy, with me to the Carnegie report unveiling at the National Press Club. He wondered how the new principle might apply to Ukraine's sizable Russian minority. Across the former USSR and its Eastern European satellites, few issues are so explosive as that of national minorities. The Russians had already announced their ground rules--any maltreatment of ethnic Russians in the "near abroad" or new republics was grounds for military intervention.
If the U.S. endorsed this new foreign policy principle the potential for international chaos was immense. Real or trumped up incidents of destruction or displacement would be grounds for Russian or American military intervention in dozens of countries where nothing like a melting pot has ever existed.
Ambassador Abramowitz's blue-ribbon commission had planted the policy seedlings for the Kosovo war. "Changing Our Ways" provided both the rationale for U.S. interventionism and a policy recommendation about the best means--NATO--for waging that war.
This was an entirely new concept for NATO, which was born as a purely
defensive alliance against the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact. I was part
of the White House team in Spain in 1985 when Reagan urged President
Felipe Gonzalez to hold a referendum on NATO membership. Would Spain
have voted to join NATO knowing that their Basque minority, spread across
four provinces in Spain and three in France, might someday use terrorism
to provoke NATO intervention on their behalf? Would Gonzalez, whose
government has since been accused of using death squads to exterminate
Basque militants, have even allowed such a NATO referendum?
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was girding for war. All it needed was a president eager to do battle.
Shortly after the report's release, presidential candidate Bill Clinton took up the Carnegie Endowment's cudgel. In a July 25, 1992 speech he said Milosevic needed to be brought to justice for his "crimes against humanity" and criticized George Bush's lack of "real leadership." By August 10, Clinton advocated the use of military force against the Serbs. Abramowitz's tactic of having commission members hand-feed key Democrats even before the report's release was paying off. The Carnegie Endowment's new foreign policy principles were front-and-center in the presidential debate.
Sixty days later, the first violence in Kosovo began. Education was the point of conflict. The Serbs wanted students taught in Serbo-Croatian, Yugoslavia's primary language. Someone supplied weapons to the Kosovar separatists, who wanted all-Albanian schools and teachers. Armed clashes broke out.
Another 1992 Carnegie publication, "Self-Determination in the New World Order," brings the new military doctrine into sharp focus. Co-authored by Carnegie staffers David Scheffer (now U.S. ambassador for war crimes) and Morton Halperin, the book set criteria for officials to use in deciding when to support separatist ethnic groups seeking independence, and advocated military force for that purpose. The 120-page book resulted from a Carnegie study group created by Ambassador Abramowitz. Leon Fuerth, then a Senate staffer for Al Gore, and Greg Craig, who would later be on Clinton's Senate impeachment trial defense team, were members of the group.
The book endorsed U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's concept of "preventive deployment." It meant international military coalitions, preferably U.N.-led, could send armed force not as peacekeepers but peacemakers--to prevent conflict from breaking out and stay in place indefinitely. Scheffer and Halperin endorsed Clinton's call for military intervention in Bosnia. They also said military intervention was called for "when a self-determination claim triggers an armed conflict that becomes a humanitarian crisis...redefining the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states."
Actually, the Kosovo intervention appears only partially to meet Scheffer and Halperin's criteria. In setting out pre-conditions for the introduction of military force, the authors say that in addition to all peaceful avenues being foreclosed, "the use of military force to create a new state would require conduct by the parent government so egregious that it has forfeited any right to govern the minority claiming self-determination." Before NATO began its late-March bombing campaign, Serbian repression in Kosovo did not meet this test. Nor did the Kosovo Liberation Army meet the requirements set by the authors for adherence to international norms. In fact, "self-determination" doesn't really apply to the Kosovar Albanians, where the ultimate goal is annexation of Kosovo into Albania.
As a measure of its influence, Scheffer and Halperin's prescription for U.S. military intervention became the third-best selling publication in the history of the Carnegie Endowment's publishing program. Others in the foreign policy elite soon took up the issue. In 1994, the Council on Foreign Relations published Richard Haass's book Intervention: The Use of American Military Force in the Post-Cold War World, voicing similar themes.
But by then the glow of multilateral military interventionism had temporarily faded. The ill-fated Somalian adventure in peacemaking and nation-building soured the public's appetite for U.N. command of U.S. troops, and the 1994 GOP sweep of the House and Senate struck fear of a one-term presidency in the heart of the Clinton White House.
The Dayton accords were born from this new political reality. Clinton dispatched Richard Holbrooke to end the Balkan hostilities before the presidential re-election campaign began. In the haste to declare peace, Holbrooke made a fatal misstep. Insiders say Holbrooke missed his chance to resolve the Kosovo dilemma without a bloody war. The final language of the Dayton accords supports the Yugoslav Federation's territorial integrity, which binds Kosovo as a province of Yugoslavia.
"I can understand why and I'm not blaming anybody," Abramowitz told me in late April, "but that was the time Milosevic was at the table and he wanted the war to end....That was the point of maximum leverage. We wanted to end the war. And so did he."
Kosovo was not taken up at Dayton. Milosevic was left with the understanding that the U.S. respected Yugoslavia's sovereignty over its errant province. Holbrooke delivered Clinton a clean foreign policy slate for his re-election campaign. The Balkans were less of an issue in the 1996 presidential election than they had been in 1992.
But the reckoning over Kosovo was merely postponed, not prevented. In addition to Dayton, Abramowitz says the U.S. missed a second turning point to prevent war. As the Kosovo Liberation Army's militancy increased between the months of November 1997 and February 1998, Abramowitz thinks diplomacy might have defused the crisis.
"Once the Serbs began to beat up on the KLA in the villages," he says, "it was too late."
After six years as the Carnegie Endowment's president, Abramowitz in 1997 moved on to the Council on Foreign Relations. In January of this year he published a column in the Wall Street Journal urging a drastic shift in U.S policy toward Kosovo. It was time, Abramowitz counseled, to support full independence for Kosovo. He outlined options including bombing Serbia, ousting Milosevic, arming and training the KLA, and turning Kosovo into a NATO protectorate through the use of ground forces. Yet like so many others, Abramowitz seems not to have anticipated the refugee exodus resulting from the war. "Kosovo has ceased to exist," he said, clearly distraught, three weeks into the war.
It is a bitter irony that NATO's intervention in Kosovo compounded the very evil it was intended to prevent. Instead of helping the ethnic Albanians establish their own independent political entity, the Clinton administration accelerated their purge.
Unlike Ambassador Abramowitz, who seems distraught that the strategies he advocated brought about Kosovo's obliteration instead of its salvation, Tom Hutson is just plain angry.
In 1995, two years before the escalation of violence between the KLA and the Serbs, Hutson wanted the U.S. to take the lead by organizing an international body to work out a peaceful resolution for Kosovo. Nobody heeded him. He urged Albright to work with Prince Alexander, as a unifying force who might help move Yugoslavia past Milosevic. When he briefed her at the U.N. in June of 1995, Albright listened intently. Hutson was encouraged when he left her office. But afterwards her staff spread the word that Albright was unenthusiastic and Hutson's proposal was not to be taken seriously.
Hutson is angry that the U.S. has broken its commitment to Milosevic. He says Richard Holbrooke committed the U.S. on Kosovo at Dayton, and now has broken his word.
He is angry about NATO's new role as military aggressor. "We're America!" he says. "We don't do things like this!"
Hutson thinks we need a U.N. mandate or declaration of war from Congress to carry on fighting. He still trusts that a diplomatic resolution is possible, but that it will take a unilateral NATO cease-fire. Hutson thinks the Russians and the U.N. could then mediate a Kosovo truce. He believes diplomacy is infinitely preferable to a ground war in Yugoslavia.
"Don't count on the Serbs doing anything other than fighting to hang on to it," he warned General Clark before the war began. He is convinced a ground assault means we will fight Serbs behind every rock and tree, just as the British faced American colonists during the Revolution.
Finally, Hutson is bothered that Clinton is holding out false hope to the Kosovar refugees. "This lie...this pipe dream that these people are going to go back. There's no way in hell they're going to go back," Hutson says. "We have the responsibility for these two million people in perpetuity."
This article also appears in the June 1999 issue of The American Spectator. John B. Roberts II is a writer and television producer.