by Justin Raimondo
Years from now, when the history of this war is written, acres of print will be devoted to the question of the real cause (or causes) of the conflict: already, as we head into Day 37 of the crisis, the two big questions that loom in the minds of baffled Americans are: "Why Kosovo?" and "Why now?"
THE WASHINGTON FACTOR
NATO would naturally like us to believe that the Serbians, and specifically Slobodan Milosevic, started this war by cracking down on their Kosovar subjects; and that, furthermore, the Serbs are responsible for all the region's problems. Yet the complex history of the Balkans, with its Byzantine intrigues and unique intersections of politics, ethnicity, and religion, rules out this or any other mono-causal theory. Apart from a history rich with incident, in which the historical struggle of Serbs and Turkic invaders takes on the scale of an epic saga, outside factors have always played a decisive role in bring the Balkan cauldron to a boil. That is especially true this time around. In the era of American hegemony, what is happening in Washington, DC, the imperial capital, is at least as important to the peoples of the former Yugoslavia as what policies are being pursued in Belgrade and, I would argue, more so.
NO ORDINARY EVIL
Why are we at war with Serbia? The primary causes of the war have little to do with anything that is now occurring (or said to be occurring) in the Balkans; nor is it a conspiracy of war profiteers, bound and determined to wring mega-profits out of the agony of the Serbian nation (although surely there are war profiteers aplenty, who are profiting from a war they naturally support). Some have pointed to the valuable mineral rescues under this much-disputed patch of territory; the war, they say, is motivated by greed. But mobilizing the military might of the nineteen NATO nations, not to mention the U.S., seems an awful lot of trouble to go through in order to acquire a few mines. Least credible of all is the theory of the "humanitarian" origins of this war: before the U.S. intervened, less than 2,000 people had been killed in Kosovo, not all of them Kosovars but also many Serbs who died at the hands of a terroristic "Kosovo Liberation Army." American intervention has led to the exact opposite of its announced intent: instead of "saving" the Kosovars, U.S. meddling has worsened their pitiable condition, a result that was entirely predictable. No, none of these rather prosaic reasons really explain such a monstrous evil: such ordinary human motivations as greed, pride, compassion, and national feeling seem entirely too prosaic to explain why a six-year-old Serbian girl was killed, yesterday, in a NATO bombing raid that killed twenty people in her village and wiped out her entire family.
What killed her was ideology. Not the familiar ideological bogeymen said to haunt the Balkan landscape which, as we all know, are xenophobia, racism, nationalism, and other extreme forms of political incorrectness but a militant and deadly dangerous globalism that has entranced American elites in the post-Cold War world and hypnotized certain powerful politicians. With the death of Communism, the end of the conservative crusade against the masters of the Kremlin has caused many old Cold Warriors to cast about for new enemies to confront, new conspiracies to counter. Likewise on the Left, a new spirit of internationalism has revived an otherwise moribund domestic agenda, revitalizing such tired old bromides as "national purpose" and bringing back into vogue such phrases as "standing should-to shoulder" that have not been heard in liberal circles since the great antifascist struggle of the thirties and forties. The end of the Cold War, far from giving us a respite from international tensions, has infused these ideological warriors with a new martial spirit: in the absence of any competition, any great power to stand in our way, the world is ours to supervise and shape, and both the Left and the Right have their own global agendas, which in substance if not in style have much in common. They have come together over the issue of Kosovo: the Weekly Standard and the New Republic; internationalist conservatives and their liberal counterparts, each with their own distinct (but similar) views of how and why the U.S. must shoulder its sacred and indisputable responsibility as the Last Superpower.
PORTRAITS OF THE WAR PARTY: THE NEOCONS
On the Right, Kosovo is the latest cause of the neoconservatives, a sect that is small in numbers but hugely influential in the media and in Washington. The neoconservatives, or "neocons," have never amounted to more than a few dozen intellectuals and publicists, nearly all of whom seem to be newspaper columnists, magazine editors, and foundation officials. A high-powered bunch, many of them started out as militant anti-Stalinists who yet retained their socialist credentials (e.g. Sidney Hook) and wound up, twenty years later, in the camp of Ronald Reagan cheering on the Nicaraguan "contras." The domestic agenda of these political chameleons has changed with the circumstances of the moment: when liberalism was fashionable, they were liberals; when free-market shibboleths replaced liberal bromides as the conventional wisdom, these seekers after the main chance were suddenly "converted" to capitalism (as least enough to give it "two cheers"). From being advisors to Hubert Humphrey and "Scoop" Jackson, they went on to become the intellectual vanguard of the "Reagan Revolution." But none of these domestic issues really moved them, or occupied a central place in their political affections. What really got them going, however, was the issue of Communism, i.e., foreign policy, which was their ruling passion. Their views were shaped by an overwhelming desire to destroy their old enemies, the Stalinists, and evolved over the years into a reflexive bellicosity. The death of Communism did not even break their stride: they were on the job warmongering full-time weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, looking alternately at Islamic fundamentalism and the Chinese as potential stand-ins for the Kremlin. While most conservatives in Congress reacted to the intervention in Bosnia with something considerably less than enthusiasm, the Weekly Standard, house organ of the neocons, scolded and mocked the Republicans for their skepticism, accusing them of turning "isolationist." While disdaining any ostensibly humanitarian motives, for the neocons American intervention was and is a question of maintaining hegemony, not only in Europe but over the whole globe. Editor Bill Kristol has called for the United States to impose a "benevolent world hegemony" on the peoples of the earth, and urges America to drop the republican pretense and adopt a frankly imperial foreign policy. The globalism of the neocons is the old liberal internationalism dressed up in the self-consciously "tough" rhetoric of hard-nosed power politics: instead of the "We-are-the-World-we-are-the-children" internationalism of Ted Turner and the Clinton administration, editor Kristol defended the 1995 bombing of the Serbs in typically Cro-Magnon terms: "The Serbs do not put down their guns because they trust America will treat them fairly." wrote the Weekly Standard editors. "They do so because they know we sympathize with Bosnia, and they trust only that we will kick their skulls in if they break the peace."
A MOTLEY COLLECTION
For years, Kristol and his fellow neocons have been ceaselessly agitating for war against Serbia. Now that they have it, they are devoting entire issues of their subsidized magazines to justifying it and arguing for its escalation and expansion. The war, they admit, is "going badly," but this is due to Clinton's mismanagement, not to any inherent flaws in his policy. The problem is his irresoluteness, his character, which prevents him from doing the brave thing, and that is starting the ground war immediately. And if Clinton will not start the war on the ground in Kosovo quite yet, then the neocons have wasted no time in waging a war of words against those conservative Republicans who have become the antiwar opposition of the new millennium. They are, as the Weekly Standard put it, "a rather motley collection of neoisolationists who simply don't believe the United States should much concern itself with overseas matters not directly threatening the American homeland; of Clinton despisers who don't trust the administration to do any serious thing seriously . . . and of ultra-sophisticated 'realist' intellectuals who have divined that America has no interests in the Balkans and who claim that to combat Milosevic's aggression and brutality is merely to indulge in soft-headed liberal internationalism." The editors then roll out a long list of conservative stalwarts, all safely within the neocon orbit. How could crusty old Jean Kirkpatrick be described as "soft-headed"?
REALISM VERSUS SURREALISM
For the Weekly Standard to denounce "Clinton-despisers" is hypocrisy on such a scale that it defies quantification or even comprehension: after calling for his impeachment, week after week, and salivating over the dreary details of the President's peccadilloes, both personal and political, relentlessly and with mind-deadening monotony, to now hear from these very same people that we must follow our Commander-in-chief into battle without question or hesitation, would be funny if it weren't so monstrous. What kind of robots do they think conservatives are, that they can be turned on and off with the flick of a switch? As for these "ultra-sophisticated" intellectuals who champion "realism" how "sophisticated" does one have to be to question the value of intervening in a Godforsaken backwater like the Balkans? And why not inject a note of realism into the fancy formulations of foreign policy theoreticians, who ceaselessly invent "new architectures" and enunciate grandiose policies that their sons and daughters will never be asked to die for? It is high time somebody did.
The idea that conservatives are opposed to jumping into the Yugoslav quagmire because they cannot abide Bill Clinton is wishful thinking on the part of Bill Kristol and his neocon clique: this war has really isolated them from what they hoped was going to be their mass base in the GOP, and cut them off from the rank-and-file of the conservative movement, perhaps permanently and irrevocably. The rightist response to the new internationalism has been so violent and so intransigent that even National Review, that old war-horse of Cold War militarism and Anglophilic Atlanticism has been forced to acknowledge it. The current issue [May 3, 1999] contains two apologias for Clinton's war: Zbigniew Brzezinski and Andrew J. Bacevich bemoan Clinton's apparent unwillingness to kill enough civilians in the bombing campaign and urge the immediate dispatch of the 82nd Airborne into the streets of Belgrade. Michael Lind has taken time off from attacking the Christian Coalition and conservatives in general and is readmitted to the right-wing fold in time to add his endorsement to the need to unleash the Marines on Belgrade. But this issue also features two significant dissents, by Owen Harries (editor of The National Interest) and Mark Helperin (a novelist and a contributing editor of the Wall Street Journal), whose eloquence and passion far outshines the pedestrian war-whoops that fill the rest of NR's pages. Harries is, one supposes, one of those "ultra-sophisticates" denounced by the Weekly Standard for the vulgarity of their nouveau realism. But Harries' elegant piece is not so easily dismissed. In terms of foreign policy, American ends, he argues, have always been contradicted by the means employed: the former are grandiose, the latter inadequate to the task. We got away with it for a while, because no one dared to challenge us: now, we have to put up or shut up. Although he never says so directly, one gets the distinct impression that Harries would rather have us shut up. His logic is impeccable: people never fight unless it is in their interest to do so, that is, unless they have to defend their homes and their way of life against some actual or perceived aggression. No such aggression or threat now exists: ergo, the Americans will not fight, and probably should not fight, for wider and more "idealistic" ends. Ripping aside the facade of "fakery," Harries makes the trenchant point that the Balkans, "properly considered . . . should be an insignificant backwater, and it has taken a good deal of determined, sustained political stupidity to make it otherwise." Harries also deconstructs the absurd propaganda device that equates Milosevic with Hitler: "The . . . characterization was nonsense, and, in typical Clinton fashion, we have heard no more about it since its initial trial run." We are not up against a militant totalitarianism, but Serbian nationalism, which, like the Vietnamese nationalism we fought unsuccessfully two and a half decades ago, has all the advantages: "We are militarily much stronger than our adversary, but he has much more at stake than we have." Aside from the political unsustainability of a high-casualty ground war, "the second argument against going in deeper is that in the end it may succeed and that this may be even more daunting than defeat. Because what does one do then?" The answer: occupy Belgrade and the whole region for the next fifty years.
THAT SERBONIAN BOG
After touching on the problem of our client, the KLA do we really want to back a Marxist-oriented guerrilla group with ties to the Albanian mafia and the international drug trade? and warning of "an unstable, truculent Russia that still possesses 20,000 nuclear warheads (which can be sold as well as used)" Harries quotes John Milton's "Paradise Lost":
While Milton's geography may be dubious, his sense of Balkan history is sound; Harries exhorts us to reflect long and hard before we sink much deeper into the Serbonian bog.
In Helprin's piece ["A Fog That Descends From Above,"] the new internationalism faces an even more withering scorn: as the instrument of Albanian separatism, U.S. policy in the Balkans is a standing invitation to disaster. As for the broader policy implications of our sudden championing of the Kosovar cause, Helprin asks: "Shall we join with the Basques in their struggle, or the Catalans, the Chechens, the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis?" And that is just the beginning: "If these do not suffice, Germanophones of the Alto-Adige would like very much to reattach themselves to Austria." The original purpose of NATO, to preserve the sovereignty of European nations against the centrifugal forces of secessionism and irredentism, has been not only nullified but inverted. In both the terrain and those will be defending it against an American assault, the difficulties are inherent and obvious: one has only to familiarize oneself with the Serbian national literature, replete with such titles as Into the Battle, South to Destiny, Reach to Eternity, and A Time of Death, and to remember that Tito's Partisans tied down 33 Axis divisions, to realize what we are up against in Serbia. "There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that an invasion to cover our miscalculations and elemental failings, and as an ally of radical ethnic Albanian separatism, and after a humanitarian crisis that we provoked has passed, is not worth the life of a single American." As for those who believe it is, they are "unduly generous with other people's sons."
A SWAGGERING JUNKER
While Helprin bring passion and historical context to his argument, Brzezinski and Bacevitch are sorely lacking in both departments. The former constructs thought-patterns of alarming circularity: we must intervene to save NATO and prevent America's "global leadership" from being fatally undermined, but nowhere states why NATO is an end in itself, or why we have to expand its original mission. Rather, this is assumed, as is the "devastation" a withdrawal from the Balkans would wreak on "global stability." Brzezinski berates Clinton for not moving swiftly enough to save the Kosovars, but fails to say what course of action would have saved them. We must "shock and intimidate" the Serbs with our bombing campaign, he coldly states, but only succeeds in shocking rather than convincing. There is a kind of Bismarckian arrogance in his jeremiad, an imperious tone that any native-born American can only find repulsive. The same swaggering bullying tone, more appropriate to a German Junker of the last century than an American of any century, permeates Brzezinki's nine-point ultimatum to the Serbs: independence for Kosovo (how is this in our national interest? No answer) no negotiations and no more targeting restrictions: it's bombs away, and to hell with those Rembrandts! "Let's get serious" that's the title of this Machiavellian manifesto and we must make our commitment "unambiguous and enduring." How long? Five, ten, twenty years what about fifty? There is no mention of costs, nor is there any sense that this Great Statesman has any sense of the limits of American power. The theme of this essay, and of Bacevich's, is an insufferable hubris that virtually begs to be shot down. Here, for example, is Bacevich bloviating on the alleged incompetence of the Yugoslav military: "Indeed, to attribute to the Yugoslav armed forces more than a minimal ability to wage conventional war against modern, professional forces is to give them far more credit than they deserve. These are hooligans and gangsters, not trained and disciplined soldiers." I don't think a people fighting a defensive war on their own soil against overwhelming odds can be called hooligans and gangsters, no matter what their politics: and if I were Mr. Bacevich, I would not be so sure that such a people, with such a history, will crumble at the first sign of battle. At least they are fighting for something tangible their national sovereignty and identity as opposed to the pallid abstraction of NATO, or the even more nebulous "New World Order." The only Americans who believe that these are worth a single life are newspaper columnists, television talking heads, and thinktank policy wonks who wouldn't last very long on the battlefield.
THE NEOCONS: BACK TO THE LEFT?
Both National Review and the Weekly Standard invoke the names of the same Republican interventionists like a mantra: McCain, Lugar, Chuck Hagel, Bush and Dole II, etc. But they are clearly outnumbered, not only in the overwhelming opposition to this futile and destructive war among Republicans in Congress as shown in the recent vote disavowing the air war and restricting the use of ground troops but also among rank-and-file conservative Republicans, whose opposition is even more unequivocal. The recent convention of the California Republican Assembly, the conservative activist group within the state GOP, recently adopted a strong resolution against the war with virtually no debate. Opposition to this war is not even mildly controversial among conservatives, and Clinton has little to do with it: they would question it no matter who was leading us into this quagmire, and it is high time the War Party acknowledged it. In the post-Cold War world, conservatives instinctively look askance at military intervention; as the memory of Communism recedes, what Eliot Cohen calls the "ornithological miracle," the transformation of hawks into doves and vice versa, is inevitable and inexorable. Sooner or later, the militant interventionism and global do-goodism that attracted the neocons to the ranks of the Right will be totally expunged from the conservative movement, and they will be forced to go back back to the militant, do-gooding, global-crusading Left from which they first emerged.
Please Support Antiwar.com
A contribution of $20 or more gets you a copy of my Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans, a 60-page booklet packed with the kind of intellectual ammunition you need to fight the lies being put out by this administration and its allies in Congress. Send contributions to
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 U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He 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).