Jewish World ReviewMay 3, 1999 /17 Iyar 5759
(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
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
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
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
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
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
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11/23/98: Random thoughts
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11/12/98: Forward march
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7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
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7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
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4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa
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4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr
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3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
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3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
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