[NYT] Clinton on Kosovo, for the record

Rohit Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Sun, 23 May 1999 21:33:02 -0700

[Now, if only he had the communication skills with the American
People to convince them on TV, rather than stashing his words away in
the NYT op-ed. He's doing the right thing in Kosovo, but it's
stunning in retrospect how little of a case he has made with the
public, and that Congressional embarassment... RK]

[PS. I think that it's sad that in this day and age we assume
*everything* a President says is vetted by speechwriters -- one can
never know, really, when a politician is speaking from the heart, in
his own grammar]

May 23, 1999
A Just and Necessary War

WASHINGTON -- We are in Kosovo with our allies to stand for a Europe,
within our reach for the first time, that is peaceful, undivided and
free. And we are there to stand against the greatest remaining threat
to that vision: instability in the Balkans, fueled by a vicious
campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The problem is not simply ethnic hatred, or even ethnic conflict. The
people of the former Yugoslavia have lived together for centuries
with greater and lesser degrees of conflict, but not the constant
"cleansing" of peoples from their land. Had they experienced nothing
but that, their nations would be homogenous today, not endlessly

The intolerable conditions the region finds itself in today are the
result of a decadelong campaign by Slobodan Milosevic to build a
greater Serbia by singling out whole peoples for destruction because
of their ethnicity and faith. The brutal methods are familiar now.
Spreading hate in the media. Killing moderate leaders. Arming
paramilitaries and ordering soldiers to conduct planned campaigns of
murder and expulsion. Eradicating the culture, the heritage, the very
record of the presence of his victims. Refugees are not a byproduct
of the fighting he has initiated; the fighting is designed to create
refugees. We are haunted by the images of people driven from their
homes, pushing the elderly in wheelbarrows, telling stories of
relatives murdered.

We saw this for the first time in Croatia and in Bosnia. The
international community responded at first with a studied neutrality
that equated victims with aggressors; it followed with diplomacy and
the deployment of unarmed peacekeepers with the mandate, but not the
means, to protect civilians. By the time NATO acted, 250,000 people
were dead, more than two million displaced, and many have still not
returned. People will look back on Kosovo and say that this time,
because we acted soon and forcefully enough, more lives were saved
and the refugees all came home. The Balkan conflict that began 10
years ago in Kosovo will have ended in Kosovo.

We cannot respond to such tragedies everywhere, but when ethnic
conflict turns into ethnic cleansing where we can make a difference,
we must try, and that is clearly the case in Kosovo. Had we faltered,
the result would have been a moral and strategic disaster. The
Kosovars would have become a people without a homeland, living in
difficult conditions in some of the poorest countries in Europe,
overwhelming new democracies. The Balkan conflict would have
continued indefinitely, posing a risk of a wider war and of
continuing tensions with Russia. NATO itself would have been
discredited for failing to defend the very values that give it
meaning. Those who say Kosovo is too small to be of great importance
forget these simple facts.

When the violence in Kosovo began in early 1998, we exhausted every
diplomatic avenue for a settlement. Last October, we convinced Mr.
Milosevic that he should withdraw some forces from Kosovo and allow
an unarmed international presence. That is the solution advocates of
compromise propose today. But it failed last fall. Mr. Milosevic
broke his promises, poured more troops into Kosovo, poised for an
offensive he had been planning for months. When it began, we had to

Mr. Milosevic's strategy has been to outlast us by dividing the
alliance. He has failed. Instead of disunity in Brussels, there are
growing signs of disaffection in Belgrade: Serbian soldiers
abandoning their posts, Serbian civilians protesting the policies of
their leader, young men avoiding conscription, prominent Serbs
calling on Mr. Milosevic to accept NATO's conditions. Meanwhile, our
air campaign has destroyed or damaged one-third of Serbia's armored
vehicles in Kosovo, half its artillery, most of its ability to
produce ammunition, all its capacity to refine fuel and done enormous
damage to other sectors of its economy. Though he has driven hundreds
of thousands of Kosovar Albanians from their homes, Mr. Milosevic has
not eliminated the Kosovar Liberation Army. Indeed, its ranks are
swelling, and it has begun to go on the offensive against Serb forces
hunkered down to hide from air strikes.

Now Mr. Milosevic faces the certainty of continuing air strikes, the
persistence of the K.L.A. and the prospect of having to answer to his
people for starting an unwinnable conflict that is bringing military
failure and economic ruin. The question now is not whether his ethnic
cleansing will be reversed, but when, and how much of his military he
is willing to see destroyed along the way.

While I do not rule out other military options, we are pursuing our
present strategy for three reasons. First, and most important, it is
working and will succeed in meeting NATO's basic conditions of
restoring the Kosovars to their homes, with Serb forces out of Kosovo
and the deployment of an international security force. This force
must have NATO at its core, which means it must have NATO command and
control and NATO rules of engagement, with special arrangements for
non-NATO countries, just like our force in Bosnia. Our military
campaign will continue until these conditions are met, not because we
are stubborn or arbitrary, but because these are the only conditions
under which the refugees will go home in safety and under which the
K.L.A. have any incentive to disarm -- the basic requirements of a
resolution that will work.

Second, this strategy has broad and deep support in the alliance, and
allows us to meet our objectives. While there may be differences in
domestic circumstances, cultural ties to the Balkans and ideas on
tactics, there is no question about our unity on goals and our will
to prevail. I have worked hard to shape our present consensus; 60
days into the air campaign, NATO is more unified on Kosovo than it
was at the beginning.

Third, this strategy gives us the best opportunity to meet our goals
in a way that strengthens, not weakens, our fundamental interest in a
long-term, positive relationship with Russia. Russia is now helping
to work out a way for Belgrade to meet our conditions. Russian troops
should participate in the force that will keep the peace in Kosovo,
turning a source of tension into an opportunity for cooperation, like
our joint effort in Bosnia.

Finally, we must remember that the reversal of ethnic cleansing in
Kosovo is not sufficient to end ethnic conflict in the Balkans and
establish lasting stability. The European Union and the United States
must do for southeastern Europe what we did for Western Europe after
World War II and for Central Europe after the cold war. Freedom,
respect for minority rights, and prosperity are powerful forces for
progress. They give people goals to work for; they elevate hope over
fear and tomorrow over yesterday.

We can do that by rebuilding struggling economies, encouraging trade
and investment and helping the nations of the region join NATO and
the European Union.

Already, the region's democracies are responding to the pull of
integration by sticking with their reforms, taking in refugees and
supporting NATO's campaign. A democratic Serbia that respects the
rights of its people and its neighbors can and should join them.

If it does, we will help to restore it to its rightful place as a
European state in the Balkans, not a balkanized state at the
periphery of Europe.

The Balkans are not fated to be the heart of European darkness, a
region of bombed mosques, men and boys shot in the back, young women
raped, all traces of group and individual history rewritten or
erased. Just as leaders took their people down that road, leaders
must take them back to a better tomorrow. Ultimately, we and our
allies can help make this happen, if we stick with NATO's campaign
and follow through with a strategy to insure that the forces pulling
southeastern Europe together are stronger than the forces tearing it

William Jefferson Clinton is the 42d President.