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Jewish World Review May 7, 1999 /21 Iyar 5759

Tony Snow

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Why Kosovo is unique

(JWR) ---- (

THREE FEATURES DISTINGUISH the war in Kosovo from every other in American history. This is the first in which we have been the unambiguous aggressor; the first in which we've had no discernible national interest at stake; and the first in which we have let others serve as our sovereign.

The conflict, which has been described as the crucible for NATO's future, could become the cauldron of its destruction. The president unintentionally provided the cautionary note during a pep rally Wednesday at Spandahlem Air Force Base in Germany. He vowed to fight for the "freedom and unity of Europe" and to "stand against ... the bigotry and death brought on by religious hatred."

These are noble aims, but not necessarily war aims. Even a cursory reading of military history indicates that nations take up arms less often over ideologies than over more fundamental things, such as land and treasure. In this century, only the Soviet Union waged wars driven by the desire to create an empire united by political theory. It failed.

For some reason, however, we seem eager to copy the examples of Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, down to the ritual use of musty cant. The Kosovo action transforms war from an instrument of conquest into something far more intrusive -- a tactic for building more perfect societies. Lenin talked about creating the New Socialist Man. The Clinton-Blair duo rhapsodizes about the New Europe, as if bombing sorties will instruct the world in the fineries of Western etiquette.

NATO is edging toward becoming Europe's hegemon by mounting a secular version of the crusades. We bomb to signal our disapproval, even if the villains pose no direct threat to us. Slobodan Milosevic makes an inviting poster boy for this expansion because he's a bad-haired goon.

But his case illustrates the arbitrariness of unchecked power. The refugee crisis in the Balkans is awful, but not unprecedented. Croatians uprooted 1.5 million Serbs earlier this decade; a quarter-million over a long weekend in the Kraijina province. The difference between then and now is that we didn't like the Serbs, and so didn't intervene.

Kosovo thus is the war to make war easy -- and whimsical. We fight not to protect or defend, but to improve as we see fit. Furthermore, NATO has made shooting more convenient by insulating leaders from the political consequences of combat. Not even presidents and prime ministers have direct control over military options. That power goes to the secretary-general of NATO -- the grandee chosen not by popular ballot, but by alliance decree.

And to make a perfect muddle of things, heads of state dodge responsibility for troop deployments by citing such abstractions as "the consensus of the international community" or "the need to ensure the viability of NATO."

This seems peculiar to Americans. We distrust concentrated and unaccountable power -- and we don't like to send loved ones into the jaws of death for fatuous causes. Yet our commander in chief has embraced the explicit goal of killing people so their leaders will behave and NATO may enjoy a modicum of self-esteem.

I don't want to downplay Milosevic's treachery, but it is important to remember that Kosovo was relatively peaceful until we decided to help.

According to one Senate leader, intelligence experts put the ethnic-cleansing death toll for the first three months of this year at about 65 -- not 6,500 or 65,000, but three score and five. We have killed more than that many Serbian civilians during Operation Allied Force.

Chances are, this fight will end with a whimper rather than a bang, producing something like a de facto partition of Kosovo. The end may come soon: We are running out of precision munitions and military targets, and thus may be forced to choose between blasting innocents into eternity and brokering a negotiated settlement.

In any event, the problem for NATO will be what to do as an encore once the shooting stops. If it resolves to become an aggressive enforcer of its principles, it will find plenty of reasons to remain busy. In time, however, its heads of state will become oligarchs rather than colleagues. Such arrangements always end abruptly and unhappily.

The Cold War taught us that multicultural harmony springs not from gun barrels, but from the promise of prosperity. If the president is serious about European peace and stability, he should demand that NATO obey its charter and function strictly as a mutual defense organization.

Every time the alliance drops a bomb or fires a missile, it not only increases the cost of cleaning up Kosovo, but also prolongs the Balkans' 600-year run as a clannish backwater.


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04/22/99: Snacking on life-splitting agony
04/15/99: Starr’s last stand?
04/12/99: Combining punishment and proselytism
04/05/99: Now that the ‘honorables’ have returned …
03/29/99: And the senators pressed on
03/25/99: Moronic meddling
03/22/99: Kangas, the Left’s ‘Foster’? More like a diligent nut
03/18/99: Does Forbes have a chance?
03/15/99: Team Clinton aren’t treasonists ...
03/11/99: Blackmun’s burden
03/08/99: The Lewinsky Principle
03/05/99: Buchanan & Ventura’s lure
03/01/99: Open season on women
02/25/99: The birth of political wisdom
02/22/99: Children of optimism
02/18/99: Wake up, Republicans!
02/16/99: Why we feel so good
02/11/99: What exactly does George W. stand for?
02/08/99: Run, GOPers, run?
02/04/99: The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore
02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate