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Jewish World ReviewMay 3, 1999 /17 Iyar 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Exit strategies

(JWR) ---- (
INCREASINGLY, PEOPLE ARE ASKING: How are we going to get out of the Balkans? What is our exit strategy?

The time to think about exit strategies is before you enter. The Venus fly trap catches insects because the insects don't think about how they are going to get out. But, supposedly, people are smarter than that.

Unfortunately, some people think that they are so smart that they can just play things by ear from day to day. Even more unfortunately, one of those people is in the White House, playing with human life from day to day, with an eye on the polls and an ear to the evening talk shows.

Kosovo is a human tragedy and a political farce. The strongest argument for going in is humanitarian -- but only if you have some realistic chance of making the people there better off, at a price in American blood that you are willing to pay.

There is not the slightest evidence that the Clinton administration has faced up to that trade-off. Instead, there is the classic liberal response to "do something" -- no matter what, no matter how and no matter with what end results.

The tragedy of the human condition is just not part of the liberal vision. Liberals must act -- for their own self-image, even if it does nothing for the ostensible beneficiaries, and even if it makes them worse off. We have seen this again and again with domestic social programs. It should be no surprise to see it yet again in our foreign policy.

While it is hard to see any coherent plan coming out of Washington for getting us out of the Balkans, what we can do is consider what the limited possibilities are.

The best case scenario is that Milosevic relents, surrenders or is killed. It is also the least likely scenario but, even if it happens, it is hard to see even a reasonably happy ending.

Let us suppose that Milosevic or his successor throws in the towel and agrees to let the Kosovars come back home. How secure can the Kosovars feel after the slaughters and outrages they have suffered at the hands of the Serbs? Would you go back and trust your life and your children's lives to the mercy of people who have committed the most sadistic and unspeakable atrocities?

Maybe if you had military protection from NATO. But for how long? Five years? Ten years? A generation?

That's the optimistic scenario.

What if Milosevic is not about to agree to anything more than something that will enable NATO to save face, without really changing anything? Ethnic cleansing will be over, with most of the Kosovars gone and unlikely to come back.

This is an intermediate scenario, with a thinly-disguised defeat for NATO and a correspondingly reduced reliance on American commitments in other parts of the world.

What we seem to be heading toward, however, is a worst-case scenario. That is, unending military action to no real purpose, other than a political unwillingness to publicly admit defeat. Anyone old enough to remember Vietnam does not need to see that history repeat itself.

Vietnam sacrificed tens of thousands of American lives abroad and tore this country apart at home. That is the high price of a "do something" attitude.

The longer we continue military operations in the Balkans -- and that could be years, as it has been in Iraq -- the greater the uncertainty as to the role of the Russians. The smart money tells us that Yeltsin is not going to intervene militarily in the Balkans. But the smart money cannot tell us who Yeltsin's immediate successor will be, much less who will be sitting in Yeltsin's place five or ten years from now.

Russian military intervention -- which can take many forms, from weapons to "volunteer" troops -- could turn a local tragedy into an earth-shaking confrontation. Such intervention is not on our horizon today, but history is full of strange and catastrophic things that came over the horizon.

Precisely because our president is not someone who looks ahead -- certainly not to whatever mess he may leave for his successors -- it is all the more important for the rest of us to ask the tough questions that he evades.

Otherwise American babies sleeping in their cribs today can end up in the Balkans 20 years from now. American military forces have already been in Haiti 5 years, in the Persian Gulf 8 years and in Korea more than 40 years.


04/28/99: Tragedy and farce
04/26/99: Guilt and cop-outs
04/21/99: Choosing a college
04/16/99: When success fails
04/13/99: A photo-op foreign policy
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