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Jewish World Review June 10, 1999/ 26 Sivan 5759

David Limbaugh

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Victory in Kosovo? Now What? -- LET'S ASSUME that in the next few days the Kosovo peace negotiations ripen into a settlement and hostilities cease. Where does that leave us?

Already, pundits are proclaiming this a major victory for Clinton. As such, it will no doubt benefit those in his wake, namely: Al Gore and Hillary. But the political dividends to Bill, Al and Hillary should not divert our primary focus. The more important question is what will this mean for the United States and its future role in international affairs?

Will NATO's war aims have been realized? Its goals were to end the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians and re-establish autonomy for Kosovo.

Well, ethnic cleansing will have been stopped only after it was accelerated and multiplied beyond our greatest fears. Kosovo's autonomy, for now, will be achieved. But this autonomy will wholly depend upon the perpetual presence in the province a 50,000-man international peacekeeping force, including 7,000 Americans.

Whether or not these facts support the conclusion that victory was achieved, the perception will be that it was.

There are two at least two problems with assuming that air power alone prevailed.

First, it is not clear that it's true. Secretary of Defense William Cohen cautioned against such a conclusion, saying that Milosevic's capitulation was attributable to a combination of factors, including the cohesiveness of the NATO alliance, Slobo's political isolation and air power. Don't forget that just a few weeks ago even the most hawkish of liberals were criticizing Clinton for recklessly promising not to deploy ground troops and for believing that air power alone would be sufficient.

A more important factor (and one that Cohen failed to mention) is that there was a ground war going on in Kosovo that contributed mightily to Slobo's submission. The KLA, whose strength increased during the war to 17,000 troops, was an indispensable partner to NATO warplanes. In their absence, Slobo would not have surrendered.

Our generals admit that the KLA's engagement of Serbian forces caused them to emerge from their hiding places and mass together, making them easy targets for our warplanes. The KLA ground forces were a factor in Slobo's quitting just as the advancing Croation ground forces were in forcing him to the table in Bosnia.

In addition, NATO preparations to bring in ground forces unquestionably persuaded Slobo of the inevitability of his defeat. He was aware that our military had recently requisitioned 9,000 purple hearts and other war casualty paraphernalia.

The second problem in assuming that air power alone won the war is that it could lead to disastrous consequences. Our decision to use military force should always be made in a climate of grave sobriety. War must forever remain our last option. But there is now a danger that we will be deluded into believing that we are invincible and that we can intervene in any global conflict and prevail through air power alone without any casualties.

This mindset could whet the war appetite of Third Way internationalists for future mischief and make them even more trigger-happy. Clinton, Blair, Schroeder, et al. will feel vindicated in their conviction that the military exists to make warring peoples love each other.

We must be careful not to allow the intoxication of our perceived victory to obscure our judgment concerning the propriety of this intervention or future decisions to employ military force. Victory does not retroactively justify either NATO's or the United States' decision to intervene. Might does not make right!

We should not be basking in the afterglow of this dubious military enterprise. Instead, we should be asking ourselves some very hard questions: -- What is the purpose of NATO in the post Cold War world?

-- Should the United States remain a member and, if so, to what extent should it exert a leadership role?

-- Should our strategic national interests guide our decision to use military force in the future or should we allow those interests to be subordinated to those of an international alliance whose interests may be quite different from ours?

Before you assume this last question is facetious you should review U.S. military history during the last six and a half years and specifically the last two and a half months.

Isolationism is certainly not the prudent or proper course for America. But neither is knee-jerk globalism. World history is strewn with the carcasses of great empires that recklessly overextended themselves.

David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.