Jewish World Review July 7, 1999 /23 Tamuz, 5759
A quagmire and a vision
THE HEADLINE ON THE FRONT PAGE of the San Francisco Chronicle told the whole ugly story: "Kosovo Albanians Pillage Serb Town." The subtitle said: "Mentally Ill Woman Allegedly Raped, Killed." Another aspect of our Balkan involvement was told
by a headline on the front page of the New York Times: "Damage to Serb Military Less Than Expected."
Despite the political spin coming out of Washington, this Balkan war is not about the good guys versus the bad guys, and
our intervention has done less damage to Milosevic's military forces than to a lot of innocent people, including Kosovar refugees,
the Chinese embassy and Serbian civilians.
Even the NATO officials now in Kosovo admit that the damage done to the Yugoslav military, and especially its tanks, is
less than they expected or claimed. These claims are now being described as "exaggerated" and the officials who know the
facts as "very subdued." This of course will not stop the White House spin or the hoopla of the editorial office heroes who have
been gung-ho for this military intervention from the beginning.
The fact that Slobodan Milosevic is a vile man does not make his Kosovar enemies saints. Throughout history, the Balkans
have been a very unlikely place to go looking for saints. The very geography of the region has separated peoples and contributed
to the seething hatreds and unspeakable atrocities that have been part of its legacy.
While there have been periods of peace, friendship and even intermarriage among the peoples of the Balkans, there have
also been times when the smoldering embers of ethnic identity have been fanned into flames of savage attack. Milosevic has
been a key figure in the latest resurgence of lethal hatreds, but his success required an environment in which demagoguery
In light of the long history of ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, and especially the history of the West's previous intervention
there after the First World War to create Yugoslavia, any idea that we can today come in from the outside to impose a
"solution" is childish arrogance.
Why was Yugoslavia created in the first place? Because Woodrow Wilson's doctrine of "the self-determination of
peoples" was used to re-draw the map of Europe in the wake of the Allied victory. A young man named Walter Lippmann --
destined later to become America's premier journalist -- was given maps and ethnic census data on which to base his drawing of
borders for new countries to be created out of thin air.
As a distinguished historian put it, drawing political boundaries "through this ethnic confusion, with fragmented peoples and
uncertain loyalties, would have been a matter of the gravest difficulty even if there had been goodwill on all sides"-- which, he
added, "there never was." The mess in what is now the former Yugoslavia is a legacy and a monument to the shallow arrogance
that marked so much of what Woodrow Wilson did.
More tragically, that same shallow arrogance has remained the hallmark of those who consider themselves "progressives"
at home and abroad. Like Wilson, many of them regard academic credentials as a license to impose their superior wisdom and
virtue on others. Ivy League degrees and Rhodes scholarships can be found on the resumes of all too many of those who have
presided over American debacles from Vietnam to Somalia to Kosovo.
At home, let us never forget that crime rates soared when the ideas of these "progressives" were put into effect by the
courts in the 1960s. So did teenage pregnancies and venereal diseases when their ideas on sex education spread through our
school systems during the 1960s and 1970s. So did welfare dependency when their ideas went into the "war on poverty."
Utterly undaunted by repeated failures and fiascoes, the progressives tried to take over the whole medical system of the
United States almost immediately after the Clinton administration took office. The fact that none of those who made this attempt
had any medical training or any experience in pharmaceutical drugs or hospital administration -- or had even run a drugstore --
did not make them hesitate for a moment.
What they have that is more important to them than specific knowledge of what they are doing is a vision of the world and
a vision of themselves. Their test of a belief is not how it fits the facts but how it fits their vision. That is what makes them so
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©1999, Creators Syndicate