In the very first days of Kosovo’s drama of the dispossessed–a calculated atrocity that Slobodan Milosevic probably thinks of as his “exodus strategy”–the most amazing mantra began to be emitted from Washington. No cause for alarm, ran this chant. We expected some such thing. We even allowed for it. They did? Say what? “In the Pentagon, in this building, we were not surprised by what Milosevic has done. I think there is historical amnesia if anyone is surprised by this campaign.” Thus Kenneth Bacon, the stolid spokesman of the Defense Department, on March 31. “If fighting escalates in the spring, as we expect, it will be bloodier than last year’s,” said George Tenet of the CIA, testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 2. He added that “heavier fighting also will result in another humanitarian crisis, possibly greater in scale than last year’s, which created 250,000 refugees.” The White House spokesman, Joe Lockhart, blandly observed, also on March 31, “I can’t say that anyone is surprised.” The Secretaries of State and Defense echoed this unshocked, affectless, in-control line, as did (a sure sign that a “line of the day” has been circulated) the pathetic bedraggled poodles who are kenneled at the British Foreign Office. Proving once again that the fish rots from the head, or that the head rots anyway, Clinton claimed that he, too, had always anticipated the forcible uprooting and deportation of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
So now we know. Now we know why the border posts at the Albanian and Macedonian frontiers were so well stocked with piles of food, bottled water, disposable diapers and plastic sheeting. Now we know why airlifts of emergency medicine were on call round the clock. Now we know why the US garrison, stationed on Macedonian soil for five years, was able to dissuade the Macedonian police from prodding the wretched refugees back into Kosovo. Now we know why Guantánamo Bay was so beautifully prepared to receive airlifted survivors, whisked by the world’s only superpower from one of its new protectorates to one of its oldest and most gorgeously tended ones.
The Clinton Administration had better be lying again, in other words, about its foreknowledge and about the extent of it. (It’s OK–there’ll be no domestic consequences. Everybody lies about ethnic cleansing. Or is it that everybody does it?) Because if this mass expulsion was anticipated and if the deliberate response was the bombing of urban targets well outside the borders of Kosovo, then our leaders belong in the dock also.
Addressing the British House of Commons on March 31, Tony Blair’s Minister for International Development, Clare Short, nervously answered a question she hadn’t quite been asked yet.
First I want to make one point clear. I reject absolutely suggestions that we should have been prepared in advance for a movement of population on this scale. It would have been an appalling act of complicity in ethnic cleansing to set up in advance a network of camps.
But, given the vast quantity of good intelligence that predicted the forced evacuation, is it not even more cynical–more complicitous–to have left these people on the hillsides? Meanwhile, at the time of writing, “The Allies” had killed several dozen Serbian civilians and–as far as we know–no members of the “special squads” involved in the Kosovo horror. Can such an imbalance be coincidental? Somewhere at the back of NATO’s mind there is a project for the partition and amputation of Kosovo, and nobody who has studied the partitions of Ireland, India, Cyprus, Palestine and Bosnia can believe for an instant that partition can be accomplished without ethnic cleansing.
This is the third sweep of massacre and displacement to have convulsed the region since 1992. During the first and nastiest–the rape and carnage that emptied much of Bosnia and Herzegovina of Muslims, and was conducted by Serbian and Croatian fascists acting in collusion–NATO played the role of non-neutral spectator by imposing an arms embargo on Bosnian self-defense. During the second–the 1995 removal of all Serbs from their ancestral places in the “Krajina,” or borderland, of Croatia–the muscle and training for the operation was actually supplied by a consortium of US military men with the full knowledge and consent of Washington. (The International Criminal Tribunal is now seeking the arrest of some of their Croatian underlings, who did the routine killing and burning.) I noticed at the time that Milosevic kept almost eerily quiet about this atrocity and that he deployed almost no force to try to prevent or reverse it. The reason, as I swiftly learned, was that he had a use for the Serb refugees. They were to be warehoused in various slums and camps until they could be moved–to Kosovo. If I could know that, so could NATO.
So now we are not just witnessing the third and perhaps decisive act of ethnic barbarism but, as before, abetting it. Once the Serbian presence in the northern part of Kosovo can be described as a fait accompli and the Kosovar refugees have been demoralized and dispersed, the acceptance of partition will be seen almost as a face-saver. Of course, all partitions lead to further wars and further partitions, but, by the time that happens, Clinton will be safely in his presidential library. I remember feeling a premonitory chill when I read, in Bob Woodward’s book The Choice, the following firsthand musings of our fearless Commander in Chief:
Part of him yearned for an obvious call to action or even a crisis. He was looking for that extraordinary challenge which he could define and then rally people to the cause. He wanted to find that galvanizing moment. “I would have much preferred being President during World War II,” he said one night in January 1995. “I’m a person out of my time.” [Emphasis in original.]
Out of time, out of mind…. Kosovo is now only one of the many reasons Clinton’s place in history is absolutely secure.