RE: Bombs Away. (fwd)

Robert S. Thau (
Thu, 25 Mar 1999 12:00:18 -0500 (EST)

Jim Whitehead writes:
> Complete the sentence:
> "Some damn fool thing in the Balkans..."
> Otto von Bismark.

You know, up till the point when this actually started to play out, I
was believing the line that the NATO had to act on its threats at some
point, simply to maintain credibility.

Still, this was the second recent case (third, if you count the Wag
the Dog episode in Somalia and Afghanistan) where American diplomacy
has landed us in a situation where we are dumping bombs on people not
because we think it stands a likely chance of improving things in the
short term, but because we seem to have run out of other things to

Well, in the last 24 hours:

*) The Russian government has abandoned its cooperative programs
with NATO (and *forget* the START treaty now)

*) Russian politicians are talking seriously about sending arms
to Serbia.

*) The Chinese have also expressed deep displeasure, and there
may be consequences for our relations them as well.

*) Albanian reporters are describing roundups and killings
on the streets of Pristina, at a pace exceeding even that
after the pullout of the observers. ("They had the list ready").

A little more news like this, and the whole thing may start to look
like a mistake.

So, how did we get here? The sad thing is that in this case, at
least, I'm not sure diplomacy was ever seriously tried; the
Rambouillet "accord" was presented to both sides as a fait accompli.
The standard question of the punditocracy is why Milosevic didn't cut
a deal, but there was no deal to cut, just a nonnegotiable ultimatum
demanding that he give the secessionists almost everything they were
asking for. (I'm certainly not trying to defend Milosevic here ---
he's the closest thing to Hitler that Europe has seen for quite a
while, and that comes from the son of a Holocaust survivor. But
again, in practical terms, the withdrawal of the observers has made
the situation of Kosovar Albanians a whole lot worse).

Which brings us back to the line that NATO had to intervene to
preserve its credibility. I've been believing it for a while, but
something has been making me uneasy about it. I've finally figured
out what --- it's that I've heard the line before. The country heard
it from Henry Kissinger, who explained that we shouldn't pull out of
Vietnam, not because we stood a reasonable chance to achieve something
by staying in, but simply that to pull out would make the U.S. look
like a "pitiful, helpless giant".

Well, Kissinger was wrong. We did, finally pull out. And you know
what? Getting kicked out by the Vietnamese was not the end of
U.S. power and influence --- not for us, any more than it was for the
Mongols. (The Vietnamese kicked *them* out, too. Not many people
managed that. Helpful Hint --- if you want your record as an imperial
conqueror to remain unblemished, just stay the hell out of Vietnam).

We were wrong then. We're wrong now. And this bombing thing is way
out of hand.