Poscript to The Choice In Kosovo

When I wrote "The Choice In Kosovo" in early May, the failure of
the United States and NATO to make a credible threat of a ground
invasion seemed likely to result in a diplomatic settlement that
fell far short of the legitimate aims of the war. A month later,
these concerns have only partially been borne out. Milosevic has
accepted the terms presented by NATO (and negotiated with
Russia), calling for the withdrawal of Serbian forces, entry of
an international peacekeeping force including NATO, repatriation
of the refugees, disarming of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA),
and apparently indefinite Yugoslavian sovereignty over Kosovo.
The exact terms of the agreement and their practical
implementation remain murky; in particular, it is unclear what
control, if any, the Serbs will retain over Kosovo. Perhaps most
unfortunate, Milosevic will stay in power unless the Serbs
themselves depose him. In this regard, we are left with an
outcome similar to the Gulf War; just as Saddam survived to vex
us again, so Milosevic now survives to create more trouble for
his neighbors -- and for us.

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Nonetheless, if Milosevic has genuinely given in to NATO's
demands, the outcome of the war must be counted as a victory for
NATO and the United States -- and for the Clinton administration,
which as usual faced down an enormous amount of intemperate
criticism. The comparisons of Clinton with Neville Chamberlain
are ridiculous. Milosevic isn't Hitler, his ambitions for a
greater Serbia have been thwarted, and his country and
specifically his military have been devastated. Moreover, by
avoiding casualties, Clinton and NATO were able to maintain
sufficient public support for the war to persuade Milosevic that
we could continue the bombing indefinitely. Contrary to the
critics who lambasted Clinton for cowardice, it is legitimate for
the President of the United States to take into account the will
of the people. There was no will for a ground war in the Balkans,
and I am skeptical that real support could have been drummed up.
Clinton's strategy effectively conserved support for the war by
not asking Americans for more of a sacrifice than they could be
expected to make in a part of the world where the United States
has neither strategic interests nor strong cultural attachments.

As the story is now being reported, Milosevic yielded as the
stepped-up air war, combined with KLA ground action, exposed the
Serb forces to increasing losses in the field. The last few weeks
also saw renewed discussion of a full-scale ground invasion. All
this may have tipped the balance, without the loss of a single
American in combat. That ought to count as a significant
achievement. It's just a pity the balance wasn't tipped earlier -
- before 1,500 Serb civilians, 5,000 Serb soldiers, and uncounted
Kosovars had died. But the burden of guilt for those deaths
should rest on those who are genuinely responsible: Milosevic and
his government. We did the right thing in this war, and we ought
to be proud of the role that America played. Kosovo is a long way
from Vietnam.

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