- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2000

LONDON.With the passing of time, the Kosovo War that was started by U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and NATO as a great humanitarian achievement, is becoming a Vietnamlike quagmire.

According to a senior Pentagon official, as reported in The Washington Post on March 16, the U.S. troops in Kosovo this spring, "might have to fight their former allies, the ethnic Albanian guerillas, who are rearming themselves and threatening cross-border attacks against Serbia." The British press and TV are not as sanguine or as timid as some of their American counterparts when it comes to telling the truth about NATO's failure in Kosovo. This is not true with all Americans, but in Britain the sensitivity concerning another eruption of war in the Balkans is taken more seriously than in Washington, as it is close to home.

An outstanding documentary on BBC 2, March 12, "Moral combat: NATO at war," gives an account of the miscalculations and manipulations that preceded NATO's 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. The documentary highlights the serious disagreements and divisions among the members of the European Union, NATO and the United States. The documentary subtitle should have been "Mrs. Albright's fiasco." It clearly demonstrate the determination of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to destroy Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic at any cost. Here she and her chief diplomat in the Balkans, Ambassador Robert Walker, demonstrated diplomatic inflexibility and the absence of strategic understanding of how to deal with the villain of Belgrade.

Driven by her neo-Munich trauma, Mrs. Albright's diplomacy actually led to the unfortunate NATO war in Kosovo. The documentary interviewed European, American and Serb generals, who gave accounts that contradicted one another in most areas, but in various ways all three pointed out Mrs. Albright's pathetic failure.

Ambassador Walker, representing the peace mission of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), was supposed to bring an end to the bloody warfare between the Serbs and the Albanians. Instead, he and his unarmed pacification force left. The Albanians know how to exploit the media and have resorted to their traditional policy of aggression. As soon as the OSCE mission had left, the Albanians massacred several Serb villagers, hoping the Serbs would retaliate which they did. Once the Serbs retaliated, the Albanians correctly predicted that the U.S. and NATO would call for a cease-fire, which was politically advantageous to the Albanians. Aware of Mrs. Albright's hatred for Mr. Milosevic, the Albanians played their role as victim successfully. Albanians, aware of Mr. Milosevic's reputation as a thug, perceived that the international community will support the atrocities as a natural raaction to Serb agression. This led to the decision to meet in Rambouillet and to bring an end to the atrocities.

From the beginning, Mrs. Albright was determined to target only the Serbs, and not the Albanians. It was no surprise that the Serbs rejected Rambouillet. The Serbs were willing to accept only international supervision, in which the Russians would play an important role. Secretary Albright was insisting on NATO supervision, which meant violation of Kosovo's Yugoslav sovereignty. Then her Albanian KLA allies astonished her when they refused to accept the Rambouillet arrangement at the outset because they realized it would not endorse Kosovo's independence.

Hashim Thaci, the chief KLA political officer, adamantly refused, but was finally persuaded by his allies to accept the deal. In the end, Rambouillet was an anti-Serb, pro-Albanian conference. The Serb's defiance of Rambouillet triggered the NATO air war. The rest is history.

The program highlighted the failure of NATO cohesion. The Kosovo war will be earmarked in history as the beginning of the end of historical NATO. From the start, the Greeks, French and Italians did not support the American commanders.

NATO Commander Gen. Wesley Clark and U.S. Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Michael Short advocated an immediate air strike over Belgrade's strategic and economic infrastructure. In the BBC documentary, the two generals appeared to be frustrated by the political micromanagement of the air campaign by the Europeans. Their target was the juvenile Gaullist Jacques Chirac and his foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, who rejected the wise and necessary strategic advice of the American generals. Reading between the lines, it was quite clear that the American generals were furious at the European political intervention.

According to editorialist Peter Ridell in the March 13 London Times, "Serious strains have developed within the Western Alliance since the Kosovo war last spring, which have exacerbated the post-Cold War divergence of security interests between America and Europe." Another Times editorialist, Michael Gove on March 14 wrote, "The Western effort to police Kosovo is a tragic failure on every level." Mr. Vedrine's jibes at the American "hyperpower" indicate the deepening division between the United States and, certainly, France. Mr. Ridell paraphrases Secretary William Cohen "warning that Europe may be creating a new bureaucracy but not any more deployable troops, especially given planned cuts in spending. The underlying worry is that NATO and the American commitment to the defense of Europe will be weakened."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that the purpose of the war in Kosovo was to get "Serb troops out, our troops in, the refugees back home." This was one of the prime minister s greatest spins, surpassing his buddy Bill Clinton in the mastery of Orwellian double-speak. As we know very well by now, the Serb troops await the Albanians in the northeastern corner of Kosovo, the NATO troops were and are unable to stabilize and pacify the area, and the great majority of refugees are afraid to come back home. As Mr. Gove writes, "The bitterest irony of this juvenile Gaullism is that where European forces are supposed to be acting in concert, in Kosovo itself, they are paralyzed by ethnic strife."

Agim Ceku, the KLA chief, has been described by Madeline Albright as "a Balkan Gerry Adams," which makes his Belfast counterpart look like Madeleine Albright. Unfortunately, Secretary Albright learned this lesson a bit late.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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