…When did Congress authorize Bill Clinton to go to war against
a Yugoslav army that has never attacked Americans?…
This week, NATO conducted air exercises over Albania as a warning to Belgrade that its crackdown in Kosovo must end now.
NATO’s demands? Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic must call off his offensive by June 16, allow monitors unimpeded access to the rebellious province, let the refugees return home, and resume talks with the Kosovan resistance. If Milosevic balks, NATO is preparing attacks on his forces and, says The New York Times, “possible air strikes against strategic military targets in Serbia.”
France contends that NATO needs a new U.N. Security Council resolution before it can attack, but the United States say earlier resolutions will do.
Am I missing something? Air strikes are an act of war. When did Congress authorize Bill Clinton to go to war against a Yugoslav army that has never attacked Americans and is operating entirely within Yugoslavia’s own borders?
“We know that in a clash with NATO … we don’t stand a chance,” said Belgrade’s deputy prime minister. But the minister insists his army has a duty is “to defend the territory against anybody who tries to enter by force.” Does he not have a point?
When Biafra broke from Nigeria, the United States sided with Lagos as it crushed the rebellion at the cost of a million lives. When Chechnya tried to break from Russia, we sided with Russia. How would Abraham Lincoln have reacted if warned by Britain and France that attacks on Union ships and ports would commence, unless he got firm control of Gen. Sherman and began negotiating with Jefferson Davis?
Kosovo is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, and Milosevic’s treatment of its majority has indeed been repressive and cruel. Yet Kosovo is also the cradle of the Serb nation. Serbs are no more willing to let it go than Israelis would be willing to let Jerusalem go. Serbs who were glad to be rid of Slovenians, Croatians and Bosnian Muslims will fight to hold onto their ancestral homeland.
But where is the vital U.S. interest in this ethnic quarrel that we should send American pilots and F-16s to kill Serbian soldiers, rather than let them recapture their rebellious province?
Where is the Republican Congress? Many in that body are today whining that Clinton moved unilaterally into Bosnia and they had no choice but to back him. Well, now, they do have a choice. Congress should vote this week to instruct the president that he has no authority to wage war against Yugoslavia unless Congress votes its approval. Before the United States gets embroiled in another nasty Balkan war, every member should have to vote on it — and be held accountable.
The United States bears a measure of responsibility for this unfolding tragedy. In 1992, President Bush warned Belgrade that a crackdown in Kosovo would risk confrontation with America. Bush had no authority to threaten military action, but that warning from the leader of a nation that had just smashed Iraq gave encouragement to Kosovan rebels that, if they arose for independence, the world’s last superpower would be at their side.
Now the Kosovo Liberation Army may control a large area of the countryside, but perhaps 85,000 people are refugees from homes and villages destroyed by Yugoslavian security forces.
Before Clinton launches air strikes or Congress approves any act of war, America should think through the end game. What outcome is it that we desire to this rebellion?
The Bosnian armistice was produced not by air strikes alone but by the intervention of a Croatian army of 100,000 that had the Bosnian Serbs on the run. The peace that exists in Bosnia exists because tens of thousands of NATO troops are patrolling the ethnic frontiers of that country, which has been de facto partitioned. Are we willing to send American ground troops into Kosovo?
The United States opposes independence in Kosovo, as it would prove a lure to Albania and perhaps lead to a breakup of Macedonia with its Albanian minority. And if Macedonia comes apart, a general Balkan war could ensue, with nations scrambling to pick up the loose pieces. Even Greece might come in. Then, the balloon would really go up.
The same NATO strikes that rain death on the Yugoslav Army could also convince the Kosovo Liberation Army to go all out for independence. Why not, with U.S. air power supporting them? Would we then launch strikes on the KLA for going too far?
America should stay out. Kosovo is not our quarrel; it is not our war. The United States has no vital interest in whose flag flies over its capital, Pristina. But Serbs and Albanians do see something worth dying for. If they wish to settle it with arms, they will do so one day. We have no right to kill Serbs or Albanians to postpone that day.
Author: Patrick J. Buchanan
Originally published on June 16, 1998
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