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 Posted Sunday, May 9, 1999

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Sacramento Bee
California, May 6, 1999


Sales pitch for a Balkan farce

by George Will

WASHINGTON--The answer is "Madonna." Formulate the question.

The question is: What is the name of the discotheque, located in Slobodan Milosevic's hometown of Pozarevac, and owned by Milosevic's son, Marko, that Nato might bomb as a "signal" of seriousness?

Last week, after Nato bombed Pozarevac, The Washington Post reported:

"Nato military sources said the attack on Pozarevac was designed to send a chilling signal to the inner circle of the Yugoslav leadership, which includes several members of Milosevic's extended family. ... "We are going to draw the noose around them until it starts to hurt,' said a senior U.S. policy-maker. "When people like Marko start to feel the pain of this air campaign, then Milosevic might wake up and come to his senses."'

Milosevic is frightening. So is the thinking of that "senior U.S. policy-maker."

Nowadays no diplomatic farce is complete without a cameo appearance by Jesse Jackson. Media raptures about his brokering of the release of the three U.S. soldiers has underscored for Milosevic America's aversion to even the mildest costs of combat. But, then, surely Milosevic noticed when President Clinton visited with the family of one of the captured soldiers. A nation serious about military objectives would not advertise its distress about three prisoners.

"I think," says Yale's Donald Kagan, author of "On the Origins of War," speaking of the United States today, "you have to go all the way back, nearly 2000 years, to the Roman Empire, to find a single power so pre-eminent compared to all others." True, but neither economic nor military pre-eminence necessarily translates into effective power, absent a certain hardness that could be called Roman.

Perhaps somewhere near Brussels there is a warehouse stuffed with ballpoint pens, stationery, ash trays and other things emblazoned with Nato's logo. Perhaps Nato intends to stay in business until all that stuff is used up. Or until the bombing campaign achieves the objectives about which Nato says it will not compromise. Whichever comes first.

Clinton says the bombing may continue into the summer. It probably will not, for two reasons.

First, before Milosevic is toppled by his supposedly disgruntled military (Nato's hope du jour), Nato's determination to continue punishing Serbia may be sapped by television pictures of the wretchedness Nato is trying to produce in Serbia, as when the power goes off in pediatric and geriatric hospital wards. Second, Clinton surely shares the high estimate of himself that "a senior administration official" recently expressed to The New York Times.

The official explained that Clinton, although he has ruled out compromise with Milosevic, will be able to compromise: "Once Clinton decides that's what he's going to do, he'll sell it. If Nixon could sell the fall of Saigon as peace with honor, Clinton can sell this."

More farce: Gerald Ford was president when Saigon fell. But when there is no penalty for failure, failures proliferate--like these senior administration officials who are saying these astonishing things about the debacle they have produced.

Unless the emptying of Kosovo becomes the first Balkan diaspora to be reversed, what Clinton will try to sell as a Nato success will be Milosevic's success in radically and permanently altering the demographics of that province. Even if the Kosovars had homes to return to, they know that sooner or later--years, perhaps decades hence--whatever compromise "peacekeeping" force is cobbled together to make Kosovo safe will leave. Serbia will still be what and where it is--fierce and next door. Kosovars know that a synonym for "safe area" is Sebrenica.

Nato's minuet of capitulation has begun, accompanied by the U.S. media's celebration of Jesse Jackson's "success." How likely is it that Milosevic, Jackson's partner in prayer, is going to be deposed and put on trial?

It is deeply demoralizing, and perhaps even de-moralizing, for civilized people to watch justice traduced. In recent years Americans have been mesmerized by the extremely public spectacles of O.J. Simpson essentially getting away with murder and Bill Clinton essentially getting away with perjury and obstruction of justice. Now Milosevic may be getting away with war crimes on a scale not seen in Europe since the Third Reich collapsed 54 years ago this week.

It collapsed as Soviet soldiers reached the center of Berlin after that city had been bombed for several years and pounded by artillery for weeks. And some of the city's trams were still running, a fact that may not be known by those who are conducting today's war, 30 years after they militantly sang, in the words of an old spiritual, "Ain't gonna study war no more."

Our opinion
  THIS was written and published before Nato's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade--raising what George Will calls Nato's "diplomatic farce" in the Balkans to a whole new level.

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