It's an obvious question: Why don't our leaders tell the people the truth? When they're going to destroy Iraq, say, why don't they announce: "Look, we want to control the international oil system. We want to establish the principle that the world is ruled by force, because that's the only thing that we're good at. We want to prevent any independent nationalism. We've got nothing against Saddam Hussein. He's a friend of ours. He's tortured and gassed people. That was fine. But then he disobeyed orders. Therefore, he must be destroyed as a lesson to other people: Don't disobey orders." Why don't they just say that? It has the advantage of being true. It's much easier to tell the truth than to concoct all sorts of crazy lies. Much less work. Why don't they say that? Because they know that people are basically decent. In fact, that's the only reason for all the fabrication. Our leaders believe that people are decent and that there is hope.
--Noam Chomsky, 1992
You're probably wondering why we've called you here today. Unlike with the almost daily bombing of Iraq since the completion of "Operation: Desert Fox" which has received scant attention from the media, the current bombing campaign (AKA "war") being carried out by NATO (aka "The United States") upon Yugoslavia is very big news. Unfortunately, we're being fed mostly lies, obfuscations, and half-truths. While polls suggest that a majority of Americans favor the current war, we're of the opinion that this would not be the case were some basic facts concerning the situation readily available. We agree with Professor Chomsky, in other words: most people are basically decent, and would be thoroughly scandalised by this war, if only they knew what was really going on. Particularly frustrating this time 'round has been the jumping-on to the pro-bombing bandwagon by constituencies that have historically opposed the use of U.S. military force overseas. These folks seem to have been duped by the undeniable brutality of the Milosevic regime into supporting the bombing. While we hesitate to put words in other people's mouths, perhaps they fear being labeled "soft on ethnic cleansing", much as ordinarily sensible people once took unprincipled stands for fear of being labeled "soft on Communism". Thus our motivation in calling this assembly: we'd like to cut through the bullshit and offer some very basic facts, hopefully thereby convincing people that it's okay, nay, imperative, to oppose this war.
The current campaign is a major violation of International Law
It's none of the United States' business what goes on inside Yugoslavia, a sovereign nation. Now, it is the business of the United Nations to ensure that basic human rights (as defined by the UN charter) are practised within sovereign countries, but the United States has flatly rejected the UN as a vehicle for helping to defuse the situation in Kosovo, even though only the UN Security Council may authorise the use of force, except in cases of self-defence. The French, in fact, specifically proposed a Security Council debate of the matter, but the United States told them to get lost. Incidentally, Article 53 of the UN charter explicitly forbids the use of force by regional agglomerations such as NATO: "...no enforcement action shall be taken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies without the authorization of the Security Council."
There is nothing new here, as we know. The United States has always spurned international law when it has seemed to cross its "interests". Madeleine Albright actually summed up the phenomenon rather baldly a while back: "We will act multilaterally where we can, and unilaterally where we must." But the simple fact that we've always been, in the words of Mike Lowry (in one of his more sane moments), "the foreign policy outlaw of the world", surely isn't justification for continuing to be so.
The United States bears quite a bit of culpability for the deterioration of civility in Kosovo
Throughout the 1980s, the U.S.-led International Monetary Fund implemented punishing austerity programmes (as it has been doing throughout the world for quite some time) which had a disastrous effect on the Yugoslav economy. One of the uglier concomitants of economic deprivation (and not just in the Balkans, of course) has always been chauvinism. It's not the only factor, natch. But its role should not be underestimated. In 1989, Serbia revoked Kosovo's autonomy (which had been granted by Tito in 1974 after years of lobbying), instituting an Apartheid-like regime in the province. It might be worth noting, too, that this action wasn't as Manichean as the U.S. media would have you believe. It was a reaction to Albanian attempts throughout most of the '80s to "cleanse" the province of the minority Serb population. All of the Lexis-Nexis database references to "ethnically clean" or "ethnic cleansing" up until 1989 attribute the phrase to Albanian nationalists. At any rate, the U.S. raised not one word of disagreement, and consistently pooh-poohed (or worse yet, flat-out ignored) the plight of the Kosovar Albanians through even much of 1998. In fact, mucky-mucks in the U.S. establishment have continually praised Milosevic as "a man we can work with", or otherwise showered him with beneficence.
In 1995, the U.S. refused to allow the nonviolent Kosovar Albanian protest movement to be seated at Dayton, choosing instead to deal solely with Milosevic. The refusal of the "great" powers to recognise this movement -- which was active for nearly ten years, and as late as March of '98 had marched 100,000 people through the streets of Pristina –- certainly contributed to its bubbling under and to the subsequent rise of the KLA.
The KLA itself was initially decreed a "terrorist" organisation by the Clinton Administration, an analysis which appears to be accurate, though they've now become "our" terrorists, so it's hunky-dory to arm them. And, as seems to be the case more often than not with insurgency groups favoured by the U.S., the KLA looks to be up to its eyeballs in narcotics. This from the March 24 Times of London: "Police forces in three Western European countries, together with Europol, the European police authority, are separately investigating growing evidence that drug money is funding the KLA's leap from obscurity to power."
The Rambouillet agreement signed in February of this year does not recognize Kosovar self-determination, and as such, the KLA was reluctant to sign on, though it eventually did.
Whether or not the world community should recognise Kosovo as a sovereign nation is not a black-and-white issue by any means. But the implication here couldn't be any clearer: the United States alone shall decide the good. The United States alone shall determine the fate of nations. Those that don't side with us -- even if they’ve recently been in the employ of the CIA -- are destroyed. Those that do side with us -- be they "freedom fighter", "narcoterrorists", both, or something in between -- are utilised.
Further, the agreement essentially calls for a NATO force to occupy the entirety of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, not just Kosovo. Just to give one example, Appendix B, item number 8 states: "NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support, training, and operations." You can read the text of the agreement online. Is it lengthy and filled with legalese? Yes, but not overly so on either count. It's worth a look. Note especially the implementation obligations of Chapter 7, explicitly objected to by the Serbs, and the whole of Appendix B.
On March 23, the Serbian parliament offered that agreement concerning autonomy for Kosovo should be reached among the participants, adding that it would allow an agreement to be ensured by UN peacekeepers, but not NATO forces. Serbia also enacted a unilateral cease-fire during the early stages of the shooting, in another attempt to negotiate. These offers were immediately rejected by the Clinton Administration. Were they genuine offers? We'll never know. But it's obvious that the Clinton Administration isn't serious about allowing a negotiated settlement, much as it was obvious that the Bush Administration, with its repeated rejection of Iraqi negotiation offers leading up to the Gulf War, desired naught but fisticuffs, in imposition of the principle that, "what we say goes" (in the charming words of Geo. Bush himself).
Meaning? Well, simply that the United States is not in any position of moral high ground. It has demonstrated time and again that it is neither a disinterested observer, nor a principled mediator. It is at best a wolf in sheep's clothing, and it's high time that it butted out.
The United States has never based its foreign policy on principle
It's a big subject, so we'll have to largely limit our discussion to the issue at hand. One way to gauge the veracity of the assertion is to examine U.S. reaction to similar situations in other parts of the world today.
The United States has a poor track record, in other words. This, combined with its history in the region itself, as well as its clear disregard for the ethnic Albanians themselves (about which see more below), ought to be more than convincing enough that the U.S. has no humanitarian aims in Kosovo.
The War is yet another military boondoggle
Phyllis Bennis notes that, "...the Pentagon's $270 Billion budget contains virtually no budget lines to actually fight a war." Where then, is the $11.8 Billion recently approved by Congress to prosecute the war for the next six months to come from? Ahem. The bulk of it will be taken from the Social Security surplus! Ya, and, as the Washington Post reports, negotiators agreed to "offset" (whatever in fuck that's supposed to mean) a portion of the total with, "cuts in food stamps, low-income housing and certain foreign programs." Military contractors are lining up at the trough already. "War may be hell, but it's also a lobbying opportunity", the Washington Post recently announced. (See The Seattle Times web archive for the article, which appeared on the front page of the Times' Business section April 17.)
The Bombing has greatly exacerbated the humanitarian disaster inside Yugoslavia
One might at this point ask, "Regardless of our motives, if we're helping a people under siege, is this not a good thing?" First off, it's a strikingly specious position, considering that, as noted above, the United States has created many of the problems it's supposedly trying to solve, and that it has again and again shown that it doesn't give a rat's ass about the ethnic Albanians inside Kosovo, or any other people living under the gun anywhere in the world. But more importantly, the bombing has created a catastrophic nightmare in Kosovo. In anticipation of the bombing, 1,400 OSCE monitors, as well as relief workers inside Kosovo, were evacuated, thus leaving Yugoslavia free to crack down on the ethnic Albanians with impunity. Which is exactly what they have done, and which, according to no less than NATO's big cheese, General Wesley Clark, was "entirely predictable". Or, to quote Pentagon Spokesman Kenneth Bacon: "In the Pentagon, we were not surprised by what Milosevic has done." Even more Orwellian, Peter Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia intoned that, "One has to consider that the air campaign may be a terrific military operation, but that the patient may die."
Before the bombing began, there were no refugees registered with the UNHCR, where there are now a couple hundred thousand. (It's estimated that 90% of the Kosovar Albanians have been displaced from their homes. In 1998, 400,000 people were displaced, 30,000 of them leaving Kosovo altogether; while between March 26 and April 13 of this year, 1,000,000 people were displaced, 400,000 of them leaving Kosovo altogether; and as of May 17, there were roughly 1.5 million displaced Albanians, 790,000 of them in exile.) In other words, the bombing has generated exactly the opposite result to its stated purpose, and most if not all observers expected that it should have done so. (Shhhh. Don't tell this to the media, which don't seem to have been paying very close attention. As late as April 21, the Associated Press made the unbelievable claim that, "The NATO airstrikes, which began March 24, aim to halt Milosevic’s campaign to drive ethnic Albanians from Kosovo." That's "aim", in the present tense. Almost as hilariously, the Washington Post on the same day declared that NATO had come "to the rescue of Kosovo Albanians." With "rescuers" like these, eh? (Although, to be fair, by May 11, the Seattle Times had got the nerve to run a headline stating that, "Yugoslav Forces Near Goals in Kosovo".)
Any possible justification for the war thus entirely evaporates. Some have argued that Serbia was getting ready to step up its repression to this level anyway. This contention has, of course, been handed down retroactively. Hindsight is 20/20, but no proof has been adduced to support this hypothesis. Really, the opposite appears to have been the case. The repression, however ugly, was, up until the bombing, rather slight by Balkan standards, and was a reaction to KLA violence. Also, as noted, it has been the Serbs, not the Americans, who have been calling all along for negotiations to continue -- without the two-ton NATO anvil hanging over their heads (and had already more less agreed to the Rambouillet provisions, save for the implementation process, before the bombing began). Carnes Lord, of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and a former Bush Administration national security adviser, asserts that, "though Western officials continue to deny it, there can be little doubt that the bombing campaign has provided both motive and opportunity for a wider and more savage Serbian operation than what was first envisioned."
But even if the claim were true, this would indicate that the last course of action that ought to have been taken was to eliminate independent observers already on the ground, and to stir up a hornet's nest by bombing the fuck out of both Serbia and Kosovo itself, delivering exactly the results that were expected by the Pentagon.
We’d like to at this point say a few words about the stunning hypocrisy of the United States regarding the Kosovar refugees (the people we're trying to "rescue", remember).
To make matters worse, the (systematic) bombing of civilian areas inside Serbia, as well as factories, oil refineries, bridges, roadways, maternity wards, railroads, office buildings, TV stations, etc., besides being massive war crimes, have served to destroy the once-vibrant democratic Serb resistance to Milosevic (which had, as late as the winter of '96-'97, when Milosevic had failed to recognise elections won by the opposition coalitionin Belgrade and a majority of the cities in Serbia, demonstrated for 87 days, one-and-a-half million Serbs non-violently taking to the streets, causing Milosevic to finally give in), and generally rally the citizens around Milosevic in opposition of the onslaught.
For a list of the civilian casualties of the war (provided by the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry), see the Counterpunch website. And here is one Serb's assessment: "Bombs and missiles have barely hit the Yugoslav Army on the ground in Kosovo. Quite to the contrary, this force has managed to increase from about 40,000 at the outset of the bombing to about 100,000 forty-seven days later. Instead, tons of high explosives have been deliberately dropped on office buildings in historic Belgrade, oil refineries, vacuum cleaner and automobile plants, a tobacco factory, TV studios during prime time, a heating plant for a half-million residents, bridges, power plants, post offices, water-purification plants, 13th century monasteries on the UNESCO World Heritage list, chemical factories full of toxic chemicals, radio, television and telephone relay stations, railroads, roads, civilian airport runways...The list goes on and on and on. In essence, the entire Yugoslav industrial potential and the essential services that define 20th century civilization are being purposefully and systematically destroyed."
As ever, Godzilla has made a bad situation several orders of magnitude worse, visiting unspeakable injuries upon the cause of justice in the process.
One person who didn't fear being labeled "soft on Communism" was Bertolt Brecht. He was one of the very few people to stand up to the HUAC (his testimony was described by one observer as akin to "a zoologist being cross-examined by apes.") We need more -- many more -- like him, to stand up and be counted now. This poem is as timely now, we think, as when he wrote it many years ago:
General, your tank is a powerful vehicle It smashes down forests, and crushes a hundred men But it has one defect: it needs a driver General, your bomber is powerful It flies faster than a storm, and carries much more than an elephant But it has one defect: it needs a mechanic General, man is very useful He can fly, and he can kill But he has one defect: he can think