May 10, 2000
mainstream catches up
well, well. The mainstream press is catching on to the tissue of
lies woven by Pentagon and NATO spokesmen to justify the late, lamentable
war on Kosovo and Yugoslavia. The question is whether the skepticism
they are able to display now, more than a year after the war was
begun with near-universal cheerleading from most of the "mainstream"
media, will come to the fore the next time our leaders want to sell
us on a splendid little war perhaps in Sierra Leone?
in the current (May 15) issue of Newsweek magazine on
a damage assessment done after the Kosovo war suggests that the
old saw, "In war, the first casualty is truth" retains
all too much validity. According to "a suppressed Air Force
report obtained by Newsweek," John Barry and Evan Thomas
reported, "the number of targets verifiably destroyed was a
tiny fraction of those claimed."
Pentagon and Air Force, as of Monday, not surprisingly denied
that the Newsweek report was accurate and came close to denying
that the report Newsweek said it had obtained even existed.)
the jubilant news conference held after victory was declared last
June, by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and joint chiefs Chairman
Gen. Henry Shelton? Of course you do if you could keep your dinner
down. "We severely crippled the [Serb] military forces in Kosovo
by destroying more than 50 percent of the artillery and one third
of the armored vehicles," crowed Mr. Cohen. Gen. Shelton put
numbers on the boast, saying NATO's high-altitude bombing campaign
had destroyed "around 120 tanks," along with "about
220 armored personnel carriers" and "up to 450 artillery
and mortar pieces."
actual numbers, as reported by a Munitions Effectiveness Assessment
Team (MEAT) (some members afterward described themselves as "dead
meat") sent to inspect bombing sites in helicopters and on
foot? According to Newsweek they were: "14 tanks, not 120;
17 armored personnel carriers, not 220; 20 artillery pieces, not
450. Out of 744 'confirmed' strikes by NATO pilots, the Air Force
investigators, who spent weeks combing Kosovo by helicopter and
by foot, found evidence of just 58."
Serbs turned out to have been rather skillful at "spoofing"
bomber pilots by creating "targets" that looked like something
else from the lofty altitude of 15,000 feet, the altitude chosen
by NATO strategic geniuses to ensure no NATO captives or casualties.
Serbs protected one bridge," Barry and Thomas wrote, "from
the high-flying NATO bombers by constructing, 300 yards upstream,
a fake bridge made of polyethylene sheeting stretched over the river.
NATO 'destroyed' the phony bridge many times. Artillery pieces were
faked out of long black logs stuck on old truck wheels. A two-thirds
scale SA-9 antiaircraft missile launcher was fabricated from the
metal-lined paper used to make European milk cartons. 'It would
have looked perfect from three miles up, said a MEAT analyst."
most disturbing aspect of the Newsweek story was the assessment
that "Air power was effective in the Kosovo war not against
military targets but against civilian ones. Military planners do
not like to talk frankly about terror-bombing civilians ('strategic
targeting' is the preferred euphemism), but what got Milosevic's
attention was turning out the lights in downtown Belgrade. Making
the Serb populace suffer by striking power stations not 'plinking'
tanks in the Kosovo countryside threatened his hold on power.
The Serb dictator was not so much defeated as pushed back into his
lair for a time. The surgical strike remains a mirage. Even
with the best technology, pilots can destroy mobile targets on the
ground only by flying low and slow, exposed to ground fire. But
NATO didn't want to see pilots killed or captured."
be sure we understand clearly just what is being said here. NATO
sold this war as immaculate bombing, a campaign that would destroy
Yugoslavian military capability with no threat to NATO pilots or
other personnel. Early on, when the credulous still believed the
"optimistic" estimates, military historian John Keegan
crowed that this war proved that "a war can be won by airpower
alone." For a western alliance eager to impose its will on
the backward, wayward and intransigent of the rest of the world
without alienating or endangering its own populations, this was
intoxicating news. A war with no costs except big money to the taxpayers,
and they have more then they need anyway looked to be the perfect
paradigm for a squeaky-clean 21st Century Empire.
it turned out, as even NATO strategists began to figure when Milosevic
refused to yield in a few days, that even if the optimistic (assuming
that believing you have done mass quantities of wanton destruction
is the working definition of optimism) assessments of military damage
were correct, that wasn't enough. So NATO turned to what it had
said at the outset it wouldn't have to do, the kind of terror-bombing
of strictly civilian targets that even veteran warmongers tend to
condemn (or at least to feel mildly discomfited about) in hindsight.
bombed civilian power plants. It bombed TV and radio stations. It
bombed civilian neighborhoods. It bombed bridges, trains and other
elements of the civilian infrastructure. It rained terror on Yugoslavia
in particularly wanton ways enough to get Milosevic to agree to
a settlement so NATO could declare victory, and not get out but
exaggeration about destruction of military targets provides a bookend
that set the stage for the war. Before the bombing began, US
and NATO spokesmen insisted that "ethnic cleansing" of
Kosovo Albanians was occurring on a massive scale. Estimates of
10,000 to as many as 100,000 civilians murdered by the Serbs were
bandied about to justify starting the bombers on their way. After
the war, NATO investigators uncovered evidence of about 3,000 Kosovars
killed by Serbs, with much of the slaughter occurring after the
bombing had begun. By comparison, between 3,000 and 5,000 Serbs,
most of them civilians, were killed by NATO bombing attacks.
"after-action" reports should reinforce our natural skepticism
next time our leaders want to involve us in a splendid little war.
It is hardly unique to the United States or to NATO that once the
wartime propaganda drums start beating, there is a strong tendency
for anything resembling truth to fly out the window.