- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

After "Pearl Harbor," will the next Hollywood epic be "Kosovo"? If some studio decided to do it, this movie would probably not be famous for the heroic action scenes. The Kosovo operation featured American and British bombers high in the sky so as to be out of reach of any Serbian anti-aircraft fire and to preclude any loss of pilots lives. On the ground, meanwhile, you would be seeing cursing Serbs in Belgrade shaking their hands at the invisible enemy above. There would be endless streams of desperate Albanian refugees trudging through mud and burned out villages in Kosovo, and there would be the awful evidence of the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign that precipitated it all. This could the stuff of a gut-wrenching East European existential drama, but hardly a Hollywood extravaganza.
In all, it was a strange war. As Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley K. Clark writes in "Waging Modern War," a fascinating first-hand account of the operation, "In fact, we were never allowed to call it a war. But it was of course. This was modern war, the first fought in Europe in half a century, and the first ever fought by NATO."
"The Alliance and its members nations werent under attack. This war wasnt about national survival, or the survival of democratic systems of government… .Modern war is different. Operation Allied Force was limited, carefully constrained in geography, scope, weaponry, and effects. Every measure of escalation was excruciatingly weighed… There was extraordinary concern for military losses, on all sides. Even accidental damage to civilian property was carefully considered. And 'victory was carefully defined."
In this definition of modern warfare, all lines are blurred. Civilians and combatants become indistinguishable, as do political and military measures. Conflict between politicians in Washington and Europe and military leaders on the ground is inevitable, and intrigue and old-fashioned personality conflict make for engaging reading. For Gen. Clark, Operation Allied Force in Kosovo clearly took on overtones of Vietnam, where political "signals" were considered more important than military victories.
It has been no secret that during the operation in the spring and summer of 1999, Gen. Clark was constantly at odds with his superiors at the Pentagon, who wanted to hold him back as best they could, and who hated the idea of further intervention in the Balkans. In the end, the Pentagon brass took revenge on the outspoken and publicity-seeking general, denying him the glory of victory (such as it was) and cutting his tour of duty short after less than three years. This sent him into premature retirement in Little Rock, Ark., of all places, so it is no wonder the man is miffed.
Particularly, Gen. Clark has scores to settle with then-Defense Secretary William Cohen, who was adamantly opposed to the use of ground troops. Mr. Cohen apparently went so far as to exclude his own top commander from Pentagon planning meetings. Another favorite target here is vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Ralston, who yelled back at Clark in the spring of 1998, "Look, Wes, weve got a lot on our plates here. We cant deal with any more problems." Well, just a year later, those same problems had spun completely out of hand and required intervention. Yet another score to be settled is the case of the famous Apache attack helicopters, which the Pentagon had promised Gen. Clark to fight Serbian troops in Kosovo, who were terrorizing the Albanian civilian population. The helicopters, as will be recalled, took weeks and weeks to travel the modest distance from Germany to Albania. In the end they never saw combat.
Among the books truly memorable scenes is the showdown with British Gen. Sir Michael Jackson over the airport in Pristina, capital of Kosovo, where Russian troops turned up most unexpectedly in June of 1999. The scene features the elegant and keen-eyed Gen. Clark vs. the craggy and growling Gen. Jackson, who refused to obey the NATO commanders orders to block the Russians on the airport runway. "Sir, I am not starting World War Three for you…," Gen. Jackson told him, and flat out refused to take orders from Washington. The spat could contain one of the lessons of modern warfare that when push comes to shove, the NATO command structure collapses and national governments still have the ultimate control over their soldiers.
"What I saw in the Kosovo conflict was the significant difficulty the U.S. armed forces and some of its leaders faced in adapting to the requirements of a new situation," writes Gen. Clark. "I think these difficulties were in part due to organizational factors, such as the Armed Forces effort to cling to the 1991 Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, as the model for future operations, rather than facing up to an ambiguous, tense, highly political coalition environment in which military actions would face tight restraints, constant high-level oversight, and continuing public scrutiny."
Now all of this way well be true. Does not the fact that we always fight the last war , however, suggest that if we prepare for another Kosovo in Europe we will be missing the point again? Where in Europe will the next Kosovo occur? Having posed that question to EU officials, who advocate a European rapid reaction force to deal with such contingencies, I have yet to receive an answer to that question. Kosovo may simply be Kosovo, a unique problem. In fact, this may not be the only shape of modern warfare, and we would to well to be prepared for more than ethnic conflicts and humanitarian interventions.
E-mail: [email protected]

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide