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Jewish World Review April 21, 1999 /5 Iyar 5759

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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No time to go wobbly

(JWR) ---- (
FOR A WHILE the war seemed almost pristine: "stand-off" weapons, surgical strikes, no civilian casualties. But war is dirty business, both for combatants and for the people we want to help. Almost certainly there will be more tragic accidents like the bombing of the refugees on the Djakovica-Prizren road.

Time seems out of joint. The gradual nature of the air offensive allowed the Serbians to adjust psychologically and politically. Our military means failed to match our political ends. The timetable for the NATO air war ranged from 30 days to several months, while Serbia's time line for cleaning out Kosovo was only a few weeks.

Today the issue is whether the air campaign will succeed while there is still a Kosovo with Kosovars left to save. The political will and morale of our own alliance will be critical. Britain and France are solid, but Italy and Germany may waver. The average American doesn't think our interests in Serbia warrant the loss of American lives, bringing to mind Bismarck's epigram that the Balkans are not worth the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian musketeer. The public will support the war effort as long as the political leadership seems to have realistic objectives and a military strategy that seems capable of attaining them. But public support is fragile.

The Clinton administration did a poor job preparing the country for the conflict, a failure that has undermined confidence in the president's military stewardship. The public keeps tripping over the paradox that our efforts to avoid a humanitarian disaster have contributed to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Globo Cop. The public fears, to quote journalist Richard Reeves, that "something bad is going to happen, because men and women of power do not want to admit past mistakes and, thus, cannot explain current and future mistakes." The damage is not simply to Kosovo; it is also to America's broader commitment as Globo Cop, shaping the world order to reflect our values and aspirations.

The misgivings in the Congress and in the media are real and understandable. But this is no time to go wobbly, as Margaret Thatcher famously said to President George Bush when Saddam Hussein seized Kuwait. Bush, of course, brilliantly coordinated a diplomatic and military offensive. In Kosovo, political genius may be defined as lasting five minutes longer than the other side.

There is a strong temptation to send in ground forces. But we must not underestimate the complexity of deploying the 100,000 to 150,000 NATO troops–and possibly more–who would be needed to drive the Serbs from Kosovo. But even if we regard a land war as a last resort, we should be planning now while keeping a steady nerve. As former National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy once said, "Opportunities to escalate come along like streetcars. All that's required is patience." In Kosovo we will have to contend with a shortage of landing strips and ports, not to mention mountainous terrain that is ideally suited to the well-entrenched Serbs.

The horrific television pictures of brutalized refugees have shifted public opinion in favor of ground action. But the real test for the coalition will come when the body bags arrive.

Ironically, the growing drumbeat to declare Slobodan Milosevic a war criminal may be counterproductive. If he believes that he will be hunted down and held to account for his crimes, he will hardly be inclined to negotiate.

In the interest of decency and morality America has consistently done the right thing. But in this case, because of political concerns, we have often done the right thing at the wrong time, often acting too late to solve the problem. Now we have to steel ourselves for the shock of more civilian casualties–and, yes, American deaths. In the meantime, the country must refrain from political finger pointing and unite behind President Clinton so that Milosevic can see he cannot break our will.

Winston Churchill said something about Britain's failed invasion of Suez in 1956 that is relevant today. He was not sure whether he would have dared to go in. But had he done so he would never have dared to pull out. So, too, with NATO in the war with Serbia.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

©1999, Mortimer Zuckerman