Allied Farce:
A Wartime Diary

Past Diaries

by Justin Raimondo



PBS performed a true public service Tuesday night: Frontline featured "Give War A Chance," a documentary showing how a generation of peaceniks, personified by Bill Clinton and his foreign policy advisor for the Balkans, Richard Holbrooke, evolved into "moral imperialists," also known as "compassion warriors." The most fascinating (and politically explosive) segment was a fascinating interview with Admiral Leighton "Snuffy" Smith, commander of the southern European zone until his forced retirement; for the first time, the Pentagon's consistent opposition to our mad adventure in the Balkans is made public, and the results are informative in the extreme – and instructive for those of us in the antiwar movement. For it turns out that the U.S. military high command has been the biggest domestic obstacle to the administration's war plans. The outright and at times vocal opposition of the Pentagon to the increasingly Napoleonic fantasies of the Washington policy wonks, and the tension between the two culturally, politically, and psychologically disparate groups, made for a spellbinding study in contrasts. Burned by Vietnam, and by politicians who turned tail and ran when they stood face-to-face with the consequences of their own policies, Smith and his fellow officers come across as direct, honest, steadfast and brave beyond measure. Holbrooke, and, by implication, the Clintonians, come across as oily opportunists whose insatiable appetite for power and capacity for self-delusion appear to be limitless. The choice of Holbrooke as the chief chickenhawk provides continuity between the two stories, with the thread of Vietnam as the constant theme: while Snuffy Smith was flying missions over North Vietnam and was beginning to have doubts about a war that seemed to have no end, no goal, and no hope of victory, a twenty-something Holbrooke had already attached himself to the lower rungs of power, and was avidly working his way up. "I hope the war doesn't end too soon," Holbrooke remembers thinking; he dreamed of being "like Hemingway" and other great literary figures who went away to war and came back transformed as if by magic into men of the world. War, as Holbrooke put it, was seen "a necessary part of every young man's experience." Vietnam, in short, was thought of as something that would look impressive on his resume.


Many of us old geezers who remember the Vietnam war as vividly as if it were yesterday are struck by an overwhelming sense of deja vu at the sight of the escalating war in the Balkans. How could it be, we wonder, as we watch it unfold, how could it possibly be happening again? "Give War A Chance" explains this apparent anomaly by pointing out that Holbrooke was weaned, diplomatically and politically, on that war: a mere boy of twenty-two, he was sent to Vietnam to win the battle for "hearts and minds," and at the age of twenty-four he was in the White House advising President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Originally supportive of the war, Holbrooke began to turn with the rest of the nation, and in listening to him recall what he calls the "evolution" of his views a cold shudder passes through me, as if someone had stepped on my grave. "I felt that the bombing ... increasingly didn't make much sense," said Holbrooke, with a self-consciously ironical smile. "It wasn't achieving a tactical objective, of significant interdiction of North Vietnamese supply. It was creating an international crisis for us, without producing an on the ground result." That this same scenario is being played out today in the Balkans seems to be a matter of only passing interest to Holbrooke, who seems to revel in the irony and absurdity of his position. When the history of this ill-starred conflict is written, and the culprits identified, Richard Holbrooke's name will figure prominently.


In 1995, when American bombs first fell on Belgrade, Holbrooke was the prime mover: when Strobe Talbott, then acting Secretary of State, called him for his recommendation, Holbrooke replied: 'You put us down as unanimously asking for bombing. Put us down as people who want bombing for peace." As a junior member of the Cold War liberal set that dragged us into the Vietnamese quagmire, Holbrooke is now instrumental in pushing American soldiers into an even deeper abyss. "I was completely aware of the irony," – of such a phrase as "bombing for peace," that is – he recalls, "and I even mentioned to Strobe Talbott at the time, I said "I know this sounds strange." Strange indeed, and yet the word does not quite pinpoint the full feeling of horror that grips me as I listen to this gnomish-looking man with the tired cynical face recite his Balkan epiphany: "I said, 'Strobe, this is very important. This is a critical moment for us personally. A responsibility of the nation. And the right thing to do. If the negotiations fail because of the bombing, so be it. Bombing is the right thing to do." Aside from the fatuous self-importance of seeing the outbreak of war as a crisis for him personally, what is striking about this interview is that it reveals the fault-lines in the U.S. government, with the civilian hawks, Holbrooke, Talbott, and Albright, demanding military action, and the Pentagon resisting the drive to war.


Juxtaposed to the interview with Holbrooke, snippets of a parallel interview with Admiral Smith provide a refreshing counterpoint. In contrast to the sleekly self-important Holbrooke, who never looks his interviewer in the eye but always seems to be staring off into space, lost in contemplation of his own glory, Smith is a gruff old sailor whose blunt critique of the Bosnian intervention just about sums up the whole Balkan misadventure: "It's the biggest damn mess in the world. Absolutely, completely unworkable." The Admiral's discussion of his battle with Holbrooke over the resumption of the '95 bombing is particularly revealing: according to Smith, Holbrooke and Warren Christopher both accused him of lying in asserting that they had run out of Level I targets to bomb; the President had ruled out ratcheting it up to Level II, with more intensive bombing raids and a more inclusive target list. As the commander of American forces in Europe and NATO's southern commander reporting to NATO Supreme Commander General George Joulwan, Smith stubbornly resisted demands by Holbrooke that he resume the bombing, declaring that he did not take orders from Wesley Clark, then Holbrooke's military aide, but directly from NATO headquarters – or the White House. Holbrooke was lobbying desperately to get an okay from the President for bombs over Belgrade. In answer to the accusation that he lied about running out of targets, Smith is incredulous and visibly outraged: "If we can't say precisely what we think to the political people," he says, his face reddening with anger, "that give us the orders, and say, 'Look, this is not a good idea,' if we can't tell them what it's going to cost in terms of commitment and time, commitment and resources, lives; if we can't be honest with the politicians and have them accept it as a professional military judgment, we are in a sorry state of affairs."


Naturally the politicians don't want the military experts to start talking about the real costs of war. While they are preening on the international stage, posing as great statesmen – and even the avatars of a new world order – the Holbrookes and the Albrights would rather not have the public disturbed by such disquieting thoughts. To these aspiring world-savers and empire-builders, such candor is seditious – and the Admiral paid the price for it in hearing about his own involuntary retirement from the news media. Such is the fate of those military men of honor who dare to speak truth to power: "I'm not always right," says the Admiral, pounding the table, "but, by God, as far as I can determine, I'm honest about it." But honesty is the last thing the NATO-crats want in a military commander: General Wesley Clark was more to their liking, more a politician than a military man, who shared the interventionist vision of the "Bomb for Peace" crowd in Washington. Smith and others in the Pentagon opposed going after those Serb leaders designated "war criminals" because he saw the dangers of turning the U.S. and European military into a police force; this is a job they are not trained for and because, he was certain, the high casualties would doom the operation in advance. As in Vietnam, the proposal to go in on the ground in Bosnia was not sustainable – and for the same reasons. But such details as casualties are of little consequence to the "compassion warriors."


The nightmare of being a military commander answerable to the likes of Holbrooke and his fellow "moral imperialists" is captured in the Smith interview when he talks about how Holbrooke denounced him as having stood by and watched while Sarajevo burned. This was during the Muslim ethnic cleansing of Serbs from the capital city of Bosnia, and the Serbs were setting fire to their homes in protest as they fled, so as to leave nothing behind for the Saracens to loot, and Holbrooke demanded that the troops under Smith's command put a stop to it. But exactly how were they supposed to do that? "First of all," relates Smith, "we need to understand that we didn't have a capability to fight fires. There was no IFOR fire department." With access to only a single fire truck, they went to the Bosnian government for help: "They railed at me because we didn't bring fire trucks as part of IFOR. I said 'we didn't come here to fight fires, we came here to establish an environment in which you guys can make peace. Help us. Give us your fire trucks." Shamed into it, the Bosnians went out there for one day, but soon deserted when "the Serbs took a couple of shots at them." While the Washington poseurs mugged for the cameras, Smith had to deal with the complexities of an impossible policy on the ground. The conundrum of how to fulfill the role of policeman and nursemaid to the world is dramatically illustrated by the Admiral's furious response to Holbrooke: "Holbrooke said we stood by, as they burned their houses down. This is how they burned their houses down," he said, the bitterness in his voice a palpable thing: "They would turn the gas on in the house, light a candle, close the windows, and leave. Tell me how you're gong to prevent that from happening. How do you stop somebody from being an arsonist in his own home? I mean, there are all kinds of way to start a fire, and if you don't have a way to put the fires out, how in the living hell are you going to stop them?" They don't call it "the tinderbox of Europe" for nothing. What is happening in the Balkans is a case of self-inflicted arson, on a scale that is only exacerbated by our intervention.


Tony Blair, in his capacity as a postmodern Spiro Agnew – inexplicably Anglicized – to Clinton's Nixon, has taken to castigating the media, those "nattering nabobs of negativity" who insist on reporting the facts instead of NATO propaganda. Blair wants them to revert to the endless loop of refugees streaming across the Kosovo border. He attacked both CNN and the BBC for falling victim to "refugee fatigue" and of having an unhealthy preoccupation with NATO's foibles rather than its victories. That the former are numerous, and the latter completely nonexistent does not impress the imperious Blair, whose hectoring tone gets shriller as the failure of his policy becomes more apparent. "In other words," he declaims, "once you've reported one mass rape, the next one's not so newsworthy. Seen one mass grave, you've seen the lot. This is a dangerous path, and it is one that benefits the Serbs." To begin with, there has been much talk of rape and mass graves, but no verification of either. Secondly, we have nonetheless had endless reports of Serb atrocities, and as for refugees – has a single hour gone by in the past forty days when we have not heard and seen them? Endless stories and pictures of despair and tears falling freely. Families separated (of course, the average Kosovar family is two adults and ten kids, and so the incidence of separations is not surprising), the women raped (so they say), the men carted off to an unknown fate – in reality conscripted by the KLA, or simply in hiding from both the KLA and the Serbs – the epic saga of their tragedy has been playing as a mini-series on virtually every news program right up until the present moment. What I am personally suffering from is Tony Blair fatigue, and in this I know I am not alone.


Blair to the contrary, the barrage of footage chronicling the plight of the Kosovars has snowed us under, and the result is that there is hardly a person within the reach of CNN who is not suffering from "refugee fatigue." – a phenomenon which is sure to increase when the tens of thousands of Kosovars now being shipped abroad reach their destinations. While there have been many articles on the potential problems posed by the KLA, notably by Jamie Dettmer, most Americans have had no real access to what we are letting ourselves in for. But the virtual embargo on this subject has been broken in the mainstream press by San Francisco Chronicle foreign correspondent Frank Viviano, whose frank portrait of the Kosovar Albanian culture of criminality is sure to provoke the ire of the War Party. While allegations that the KLA is financed largely through drug trafficking are not new, the Albanian crime network is now challenging the hegemony of the Italian Mafia for control of narcotics, prostitution, and clandestine immigration. While the Albanian "criminal mentality" predated the war, says Michael Koutouzis, the leading expert on organized crime in the Balkans, "what the Balkan crisis and the war have done is to elevate that mentality enormously, to push it to a much higher level." Viviano comes up with some pretty eye-popping statistics: according to the Associated Press, he writes, "`almost every journalist' who has gone to the refugee camp at Bajram Curri in northern Albania has been robbed." In Germany, over 800 Albanian citizens have been imprisoned for dealing heroin, a number way out of proportion to the total population of Albanians currently living in Germany. Only their brother Turks – who reside in Germany in the millions – rival their numbers in German jails. In Italy, the floodtide of Albanian immigrants has unleashed a tidal wave of crime: Viviano reports that "of 447 men and women arrested in Italy in 1997 for 'exploitation of prostitutes,' according to that country's ministry of interior, 204 were Albanian nationals." Do you want to hear about the 20 Albanian men indicted for forcing children under 16 to beg in the streets under threat of torture? I thought not. "In Chronicle interviews three months ago," writes Viviano, "clan leaders in Vlore openly boasted that two-thirds of all automobiles in the country are stolen." And I cannot depart without relating this most delicious tidbit: the story of the president of Albania's central bank who "made the mistake of taking one of the vehicles on a vacation to Italy – where he was promptly arrested by the Guarda di Finanza and charged with car theft." The trash of Europe, washing up on American shores, is yet another cost of the Balkan war – the long-term consequences of which will contribute to the Balkanization and corruption of our own culture. In Mount Holly, New Jersey, a Kosovo refugee gave birth to a baby boy, which she named "Amerikan." Photographers snapped the baby's picture as he dozed in his mother's arms, gripping an American flag in his tight little fist. Will we have a generation of little "Amerikans" running errands for the Albanian Mafia: do we need more drug peddlers in the schools, more violent crime, and more cultural balkanization? The parents claim they are going to be returning to Kosovo, and let us hope that the rest of the Kosovars follow their example – or else we are clearly headed for trouble.


I am told that the number of "hits" does not equal the number of "visitors" to a website, and that I had the terminology all wrong in yesterday's column. Not being a techno-geek – or, rather, being a techno-geek of fairly recent vintage – I am not yet attuned to the lingo, and so I hasten to correct myself: last week we had 37,000 visitors, not hits, which I am told is not bad. This also gives me the chance to mention that this week we had 55,000. While this is far short of the massive numbers we need in order to have a significant and immediate effect on the climate of opinion – and nothing less than that is our goal – it is a milestone of sorts, and as such is worth mentioning. Also worth mentioning is the article by Eric Garris on the campaign to drive, the private Yugoslav informational website on the war, off the Internet. The effort by anonymous – but fairly obvious – pressure groups to "persuade" the Ad Club (an Internet advertising agency) to drop as a client, is a shameful and shameless tactic typical of the intimidation tactics employed by the Albanian Mafia. It requires nothing less than an unequivocal and overwhelming rejection by the Internet community. Come on, you guys – get busy! We need to inundate these bozos with so many complaints from so many different people that they simply throw up their hands and surrender. (No spamming, please).

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of 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).

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