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Jewish World Review April 13, 1999 /27 Nissan 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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A photo-op foreign policy

(JWR) ---- (
NOW THAT THE BOMBS HAVE STARTED FALLING, many people in high places will decide that it is time to close ranks behind our government and our troops in the war zone. That is a very decent instinct. Yet it might well be a higher form of loyalty to step back and ask where all this is leading -- before it is too late.

Already our military actions are being justified by the argument that we are in there now and cannot pull out without a devastating loss of credibility and influence in NATO and around the world. In other words, we can't get out because we have gotten in. That kind of argument will be heard more and more if we get in deeper.

Is the Vietnam war so long ago that no one remembers?

We eventually pulled out of Vietnam under humiliating conditions, with a tarnished reputation around the world and with internal divisiveness and bitterness that took years to heal. Bad as this was, we could have pulled out earlier with no worse consequences, and with thousands more Americans coming back alive.

Why are we in the Balkans in the first place? There seems to be no clear-cut answer, though there are many talking points and much political spin.

To the question of what American national interest is involved in the Balkans, the answer is that we are "interested" in seeing things turn out better there. This is just playing with words. We can be "interested" in anything from astronomy to zebras, but that has nothing to do with whether we have a "national interest" in the plain and obvious sense that Americans will be better off or worse off if one side wins in the Balkans rather than the other.

If we are such dummies that we are ready to let this administration shed American blood in something that is none of our business because of a play on words, then we are truly in big trouble -- and headed for bigger trouble. If that kind of "interest" is enough for us to intervene militarily in the Balkans, then we have indeed become the world's policeman.

The humanitarian argument may be the strongest argument for intervention, but it is by no means clear what humanitarian goal has been served by our bombs.

Before the bombs, the Serbs were killing Kosovars and driving them from their homes. After the bombs, the Serbs were still killing at least as many Kosovars and driving them from their homes -- but now we were also killing Serbs. That may be more symmetrical, but not more humanitarian.

Far too many people are ignoring or down-playing the prospect of an American-Russian confrontation in the Balkans. Already Russia has been arming the Serbs, so that they have more and better weapons to use against American and other NATO warplanes than the Iraqis have. More important, Russian leaders are already making noises about escalating their support of the Serbs.

Maybe it is just a bluff. But what if it isn't? It is not Bill Clinton's style to think beyond the moment and beyond his own immediate political situation. But that makes it all the more important for the rest of us to do so before it is too late.

Many people in high places seem confident that Russia will not escalate its military challenge to American-led NATO forces in the Balkans. They point out how impractical it would be for Russia, with all its economic and internal political problems, to become embroiled militarily against the only country with the financial resources to help them.

All of history would be different if countries did only practical things. Admiral Yamamoto thought it was impractical for Japan to bomb Pearl Harbor. German generals were plotting to overthrow Hitler in 1938, in order to prevent him from getting Germany into a ruinous war. But these impractical -- and ultimately catastrophic -- things happened anyway.

Wars are even less likely than other human endeavors to go according to plan. Worse yet, this administration shows no sign of even having any real plan. Its foreign policy, like so many of its other policies and actions, is little more than a series of photo-ops and slick rhetoric geared to the moment.

What matters to the Clinton administration is how things will look tonight on the 6 o'clock news. The long run is left to take care of itself. If the political situation creates a need to "do something," then this administration will do something.

How that something will ultimately turn out is not an issue on their political radar screen.


04/09/99: Russia and the Serbs
04/06/99: Random thoughts
03/31/99: Irresponsible "experts"
03/29/99: Another Doleful prospect?
03/23/99: Random thoughts
03/22/99: Loving enemies
03/19/99: Naming names
03/15/99: Undermining the military
03/10/99: Joe DiMaggio -- icon of an era
03/02/99: Facts versus dogma on guns
03/01/99: Losing the cultural wars
02/22/99: "Saving" social security
02/18/99: Too many Ph.Ds?
02/8/99: A national disaster
02/8/99: Economic fallacies in the media: Part II
02/5/99: Why economists visit dentists so often
02/2/99: Warning: Good news
01/29/99: What is at stake?
01/26/99:Moral bankruptcy in the schools
01/22/99: Who is going to convict Santa Claus?
01/19/99: Seeing through the spin
01/13/99: A trial is a trial is a trial
01/11/99:Trials and tribulations
01/08/99: Rays of hope
01/04/99: Random thoughts
12/31/98: The President versus the presidency
12/29/98: The time is now!
12/23/98: World-class hypocrisy
12/21/98: The spreading corruption
12/17/98: Politically "contrite"
12/16/98: Polls and partisanship
12/14/98: The "non-profit" halo
12/11/98: Corruption and confusion
12/03/98: The health care "crisis"
11/30/98: Knowing what you are talking about
11/23/98: The impeachment legacy
11/23/98: Random thoughts
11/19/98: Tales out of bureaucracies
11/16/98: Scholarships based on scholarship
11/12/98: Forward march
11/09/98: Moral outrage
11/05/98: Will the Republicans ever learn?
11/02/98: A voter's duty
10/30/98: The poverty pimp's poem
10/29/98: Random thoughts on the election
10/27/98: "Partisan" and "unfair"
10/23/98: Ed-u-kai-tchun
10/21/98: McGwire, Maris and the Babe
10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
10/14/98: A strange word
10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1999, Creators Syndicate