14 June 2003
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How the battle lies were drawn
The WMDs havent turned up. In 1999 there was no genocide in Kosovo. But, says Neil Clark, Tony Blair has never allowed the facts to get in the way of a good war If you ever get to Belgrade Zoo, dont miss the snake house. There, in nicely heated tanks, you will see two rather fearsome-looking pythons, one named Warren and the other Madeleine. The names of Bill Clintons secretaries of state Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright will not be forgotten quickly in the capital of the former Yugoslavia. Seeing the two pythons slithering in their tanks reminded me of the murderous foreign policy of the Clinton administration and the enthusiastic support it received from New Labour.

Why cant we have normal arguments like other couples, Frank?

For amid the present furore over the no-show of Iraqi WMDs, let us remember that in Kosovo our humanitarian Prime Minister dragged this country into an illegal, US-sponsored war on grounds which later proved to be fraudulent. In 2003 Tonys Big Whopper was that Saddams WMDs could be activated within 45 minutes. In 1999 it was that Slobodan Milosevics Yugoslavia was set on a Hitler-style genocide equivalent to the extermination of the Jews during World War Two.

Clare Short now complains that the Prime Minister duped the public over the non-existent Iraqi threat. But four years ago, Short and her fellow Cabinet resigner Robin Cook were enthusiastic collaborators in Blairs equally squalid campaign to dupe the British public over Kosovo. Cooks role in the war on Yugoslavia was described by the late Auberon Waugh as a national disgrace. A closer examination of the part played by the former foreign secretary in the military conflict makes you wonder why he too did not end up commemorated in a Belgrade snake house.

Consider his role in the farcical peace negotiations at Rambouillet the successful conclusion of which Washington and London desired as much as they wanted Hans Blixs weapons inspectors to be able to complete their mission in Iraq.

Cook claimed that the reason they [the Serbs] refused to agree to the peace process was that they were not willing to agree to the autonomy of Kosovo, or for that autonomy to be guaranteed by an international military presence at all. In fact, the Yugoslavs had by February 1999 already agreed to most of the autonomy proposals and had assented to a UN (but not Nato) peacekeeping team entering Kosovo.

It was the unwelcome prospect of Milosevic signing up to a peace deal and thereby depriving the US of its casus belli that caused Secretary of State Albright, with the connivance of Cook, to insert new terms into the Rambouillet accord purposely designed to be rejected by Belgrade. Appendix B to chapter seven of the document provided not only for the Nato occupation of Kosovo, but also for unrestricted access for Nato aircraft, tanks and troops throughout Yugoslavia. The full text of the Rambouillet document was kept secret from the public and came to light only when published in Le Monde Diplomatique on 17 April. By this time, the war was almost a month old and the casting of Milosevic as the aggressor had already successfully been achieved.

The Kosovan war was, we were repeatedly told, fought to stop a humanitarian catastrophe. It is no exaggeration to say that what is happening is racial genocide claimed the British Prime Minister something we had hoped we would never again experience in Europe. Thousands have been murdered, 100,000 men are missing and hundreds forced to flee their homes and the country. The Serbs were, according to the US State Department, conducting a campaign of forced population movement not seen in Europe since WW2. One US Information Agency fact sheet claimed that the number of Albanians massacred could be as high as 400,000. Undeterred by the complete lack of evidence to back up the claims of Washington and London, political pundits, from Lady Thatcher to Ken Livingstone, weighed in with op-ed pieces comparing Slobodan Milosevic to Adolf Hitler.

But despite its overwhelming military superiority, Natos assault on Yugoslavia did not go according to plan. The second week of April was a particularly bad news week for the humanitarian interventionists. On 12 April Nato bombers hit a passenger train in southern Serbia, killing 10 civilians and injuring 16 others. It was also revealed that the alliance was, despite earlier denials, using depleted uranium. And, worst of all for the hawks in the US and Britain, EU leaders were due to meet to discuss a German peace plan which would involve a 24-hour suspension of bombing and UN peacekeepers entering Kosovo.

With public support for war faltering, and a Downing Street spokesman talking of a public-relations meltdown, it was time for the Lie Machine to go into overdrive. Dr Johnson believed patriotism to be the last refuge of the scoundrel. He clearly hadnt considered the invention of enemy rape camps. On 13 April an ashen-faced Robin Cook told journalists of fresh evidence that young women are being separated from the refugee columns and forced to undergo systematic rape in an army camp at Djakovica near the Albanian border. In fact, Cooks evidence (which was founded solely on uncorroborated claims by Albanian refugees) was not fresh at all, but had first been presented by US defense spokesman Kenneth Bacon at a press conference the week before. Not to be outdone by her Cabinet colleague, Clare Short also joined in enthusiastically to add breaches of womens rights to the long litany of Serb sins. The actual rape reports are still in the hundreds claimed the International Development Secretary, but theyre deliberate and organised and designed to humiliate, often in front of fathers and husbands and children, you know, just to give anguish and humiliation to the whole family. For the record, the UNHCR found no evidence of a rape camp at Djakovica and even Human Rights Watch, the George Soros-financed NGO hardly known for its pro-Yugoslav stance, announced that it was concerned that Natos use of rape camps to bolster support for the war relied on unconfirmed accounts. The hysteria over Serb rape camps rallied support for the war, even though the next day an attack by a Nato plane on a convoy of Albanians killed 64 and wounded 20.

Apologists for the government now claim that we should not jump to hasty conclusions over the failure of coalition forces to find any Iraqi WMD. But as far as Kosovo is concerned, we have already had plenty of time to discover the truth. When John Laughland, writing in The Spectator in November 1999, claimed that the mass graves in Kosovo were a myth, he was loudly denounced by Francis Wheen, Noel Malcolm and a whole host of Nato apologists and lap-top bombardiers.

Four years on, it is Wheen and the supporters of intervention in Kosovo who have the explaining to do. At the Trepca mine, where Nato told us that up to 700 bodies had been dumped in acid and whose name the Daily Mirror predicted would live alongside those of Belsen, Auschwitz and Treblinka, UN investigators found absolutely nothing, a pattern repeated at one Nato mass-grave site after another. To date, the total body count of civilians killed in Kosovo in the period 199799 is still fewer than 3,000, a figure that includes not only those killed in open fighting and during Nato air strikes, but also an unidentified number of Serbs. Clearly it was an exaggeration of Munchausenian proportions for the Prime Minister to describe what happened in Kosovo as racial genocide.

In both Kosovo and Iraq, the governments war strategy seems to have been threefold: 1. In order to whip up public support for war, tell lies so outrageous that most people will believe that no one would have dared to make them up. 2. When the conflict is over, dismiss questions about the continued lack of evidence as irrelevant and stress alternative benefits from the military action, e.g., liberation of the people. 3. Much later on, when the truth is finally revealed, rely on the fact that most people have lost interest and are now concentrating on the threat posed by the next new Hitler. An admission of the governments culpability for the Kosovan war only slipped out in July 2000, when Lord Gilbert, the ex-defence minister, told the House of Commons that the Rambouillet terms offered to the Yugoslav delegation had been absolutely intolerable and expressly designed to provoke war. Gilberts bombshell warranted scarcely a line in the mainstream British media, which had been so keen to label the Yugoslavs the guilty party a year before.

Last week, to the partys eternal shame, only 11 Labour MPs voted for an independent judicial investigation into the way the British Prime Minister led us into war against Iraq. But, important as such an inquiry would be, it will not be enough. What is also needed is a similar, concurrent investigation into how the Blair government also deceived the nation over Kosovo. New Labour, of course, would rather we all forgot about non-existent mass graves, mythical rape camps and phantom WMDs. The interests of democracy and accountable government to say nothing of those killed in two shameful conflicts mean that we must never do so.

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2003 The Spectator.co.uk