Jewish World Review March 25, 2003 / 21 Adar II, 5763

Jonathan Gurwitz

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Morality changes with the times | "For Peace. Against War. Who is not? But how can you stop those bent on genocide without making war?

Is it true that war never solved anything? Ask a black American if he or she thinks our Civil War didn't solve anything.

There is radical evil in the world, which is why there are just wars. And this is a just war. Even if it has been bungled."

Susan Sontag, The New York Times Magazine, May 2, 1999

In the final decade of the 20th century, a new term entered the lexicon of international conflict: ethnic cleansing. In places like Bosnia and Kosovo, Serbian forces loyal to former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic engaged in wholesale slaughter and forced evacuations of thousands of their opponents seeking autonomy and independence from Belgrade.

After sanctions failed to compel Milosevic to abide by peace agreements — brokered, in part, by France — only the use of military force was left to end the killing in Kosovo.

On March 24, 1999, NATO forces, led by the United States and Britain, began a 77-day air war against the Yugoslavian federation. The campaign, organized and directed by President Clinton, proceeded without authorization from either the United Nations Security Council — where Russia threatened a veto — or the U.S. Congress.

President Clinton was right to take action against Milosevic. The persecution of ethnic Albanians was the last in a series of human rights tragedies perpetrated by Serbian nationalists. Only military intervention, principally by the United States, would stop the slaughter and prevent the Kosovo conflict from spreading.

But on the way to a just war for just ends, some things went wrong. French President Jacques Chirac blocked a move that would have concentrated air strikes on Serbian centers of power. The French government demanded to be consulted in advance concerning the specific choice of targets. NATO warplanes were forced to hit secondary targets, putting pilots, mostly American, at risk and often incurring large civilians casualties.

As the scale of civilian damage in Yugoslavia rose, opposition to war mounted in the United States and abroad. Protesters took to the streets. Democrats and Republicans — some of whom played partisan politics with a humanitarian disaster — criticized President Clinton's military action.

Forty days into the bombing, the left-wing intellectual and writer Susan Sontag launched an impassioned defense of the war against Milosevic, quoted in part above. She was joined by others on the Left, including entertainers like Mike Farrell who said, "I think it's appropriate for the international community in situations like this to intervene."

Whatever evil could be said of Milosevic, whatever horrors his forces unleashed on the people of the former Yugoslavia, and however his aggression threatened the security of the Balkans and Europe — and great all of these were — they pale in comparison to the atrocities of Saddam Hussein and the threat he poses to international security.

It was the magnitude of Saddam's evil that last October compelled the Senate to vote 77-23 — including a majority of Democrats — to authorize President Bush to use military force against Iraq. It was the seriousness of his threat that in November led the U.N. Security Council to pass unanimously a resolution giving Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" or else "face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations."

Despite all these justifications, today Ms. Sontag says a war with Iraq is not just, but rather "a mandate for expanding the use of American power." Actor Farrell, echoing the sentiments of many in Hollywood, now believes "it is inappropriate for the Administration to trump up a case in which we are ballyhooed into war."

How does one explain the Sontags and Farrells, the Daschles and Carvilles who four short years ago ardently advocated bombing the Butcher of Belgrade, but today excoriate the policy of removing the Butcher of Baghdad?

Those who saw the mass graves in Bosnia and the tormented faces of Albanians knew President Clinton was right. Those who have seen the mottled bodies of gas victims strewn across Kurdish villages and the tormented faces of Iraqis today know that President Bush is right.

Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel observed that in recent history, only military intervention stopped the bloodshed in the Balkans and removed the repressive Taliban regime, and only military intervention might have stopped the murder of more than 800,000 Rwandans. "What it comes down to," Wiesel wrote, "is this: We have a moral obligation to intervene where evil is in control. Today, that place is Iraq."

JWR contributor Jonathan Gurwitz is a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. Comment by clicking here.


03/12/03: Will all of those, ahem, "sincere" peace activists remember the Iraqis tomorrow?
02/27/03: Blood already on UN inspectors' hands

© 2003, Jonathan Gurwitz