In a sign of mounting opposition to the Clinton Administration’s war policies, more than a thousand people participated in a five-hour teach-in on May 23 in Los Angeles. Co-sponsored by The Nation Institute, Southern California Americans for Democratic Action and KPFK Radio, the event brought together speakers ranging from the left to the right. Following are excerpts that have been edited and adapted.
Tom Hayden, California State Senator
The most evil aspect of the Clinton Administration’s moral position was described yesterday in a headline in the New York Times as its wish to keep the US voters content [“Clinton’s Aims: Win the War, Keep the U.S. Voters Content”]. The cynical assumption of this strategy is that Americans won’t care if our government drops antipersonnel bombs in our name, we won’t care if our government blows up hospitals in our name, if tens of thousands of people are killed and maimed and traumatized and displaced in our name, as long as we are kept content by spin doctors who demonize the Serbs, minimize the news of civilian casualties, sanitize the ground troops as only peacekeepers and hypnotize us into a ground war before we can get out of our armchairs to protest it.
The Clinton Administration is hoping that we won’t wake up and act like human beings whose values and tax dollars are being wasted in a war, to save those officials from having to be human enough to acknowledge a mistake.
If they keep bombing and sending in the troops we will meet them in the season of our discontent. No one should be content. No one should be manipulated into being content by the White House or NATO spin doctors. It is time to express discontent simply to prove that we are human beings. It is time for discontent to say human beings are not collateral damage. It’s time for discontent to say that admitting a mistake is more honorable than compounding it. It’s time for discontent among Democrats. It’s time for discontent to say de-escalate and negotiate. It’s time for discontent to save democracy.
Arianna Huffington, columnist
As for Wes Clark, I have to say something about the supreme commander, who is beginning to look a lot like Tony Perkins at the end of Psycho. He goes on saying we are winning. He keeps saying Milosevic is losing and we are winning, and I begin to think that basically the NATO commanders and our American leaders are in a kind of auto-erotic fantasy world where there is absolute detachment between reality and the world they live in. There are these completely amazing visions that they paint of escorting the Kosovars back to their homes. We can’t even get diapers to the refugees. Are we going to rebuild their homes in the next three months?
The American media have been completely compliant. They have not been asking any of the tough questions. Nobody asked Madeleine Albright or Sandy Berger or any of those dwarfs anything about the fact that we had indeed bombed the very people we were there to save.
America is supposed to be great because America is supposed to be good. Right now American goodness is being questioned all across the world. Anti-Americanism is on the rise. American greatness is being diminished and America’s enemies are being emboldened–and for what? Because of the so-called good intentions we had. We have to stop justifying foreign policy on good intentions.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr.
If it takes a village to raise a child, then well villages raise well children and sick villages raise sick children and violent villages raise violent children. There is a notion that warmongers are strong and macho and peacemakers are weak and less than whole. It was peacemakers who ended slavery, not warmongers; it was peacemakers who were involved when blacks and Jews formed the NAACP to break up legal fascism in the South of our country. It was peacemakers who made lynching illegal and a federal crime in our nation. It was peacemakers who made segregation illegal in our country.
If bombing were stopping the cleansing, we should keep bombing, but bombing is not stopping the cleansing.
You’ll get peace in the valley when the lion and lamb negotiate a peace pact. That seems irrational because lion and lamb don’t get along most days. What do lion and lamb have in common? Neither lion nor lamb want acid rain on their back. Neither lion nor lamb want the forest to catch on fire. Neither lion nor lamb want their water poisoned. If lion and lamb can find common ground, we can find common ground between America, NATO, Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe.
Let’s use our minds and our morality, not just our missiles. Keep hope alive.
George Kenney, former State Department Yugoslavia officer
I think it’s very clear by now that the US-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia is immoral and completely unconnected to the crisis of the Kosovar Albanians. Dropping cluster bombs on highly populated urban areas doesn’t result in accidental fatalities. It’s purposeful terror bombing. The US government can’t see its mistakes and doesn’t have any idea about how to stop the bombing. Once we’ve started, we fall prey to the sin of pride. Nobody wants to admit a mistake, so we keep going.
In terms of thinking about foreign policy decisions, it’s often heuristically useful to follow a number of simple steps. One, to identify the problem; two, to identify the issues at stake; three, to figure out your goals; four, to identify your options; and five, to design a strategy. With regard to the Balkans, the United States never seems to have gotten step one right.
What is going on in Kosovo is first of all a civil war and secondly a question of political repression. The issues at stake also get confused. In today’s New York Times, for example, President Clinton in an Op-Ed column lays out the argument that ethnic cleansing in the Balkans is the greatest remaining threat to a Europe that is peaceful, undivided and free. Substitute Communism for ethnic cleansing and you have the same mentality that worried about falling dominos in Southeast Asia.
Christopher Layne, visiting scholar at the Center for International Studies at USC.
Last month, we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of NATO. The alliance’s first fifty years can be captured very simply–from containment to Kosovo.
NATO, an instrument of the cold war, was created to contain the Soviet Union, which presumably threatened the security of Western Europe after World War II. The task of defending Western Europe was accomplished without NATO’s ever firing a shot. Today, however, we see a new NATO–expanded, both geographically and in terms of its mission; at war for the first time in its history not to save Europe from a great power threat but in an internal war that does not pose presumably any wider threat to Europe’s security.
It is a war taking place in an obscure area of the world for Americans, and one where there is no security threat to American interests. Now, Kosovo should force Americans to ask two questions. First, why is it that a decade after the cold war’s end NATO is still in business? And second, what is the rationale that leads us to conclude that a continuing American security presence in Europe is still necessary, now that the cold war is over?
Robert Scheer, writer
There really is no justification for NATO, and while I would not support NATO policing the entire continent, if they are going to do so, they should do it on their own nickel and not expect US support either in the form of US troops or equipment.
There is an argument for intervention: It’s intervening in an area where you know something, where you’re prepared to stick around for a while and where you’re prepared to pay the price and accept the consequences. If there is a case for Europe being policed, it should not be by NATO as it is now constituted but by an expanded NATO that includes the largest nation in Europe, which is Russia. As far as I can see, the most severe repercussion of this whole thing has been the alienation of Russia and China and the restoration of a cold war mentality at a time when one hoped peace would be breaking out.
Language has been used in a very arrogant way to describe what is going on. The analogy between Milosevic and Hitler is an insult to the people who suffered so much in World War II.
Benjamin Schwarz, correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly
We have to put this in a much broader perspective. If you had a time traveler who left the world in 1965 and re-entered today, she’d be struck by how familiar things are even though the cold war has ended. She would find the same globalist rhetoric. We have a President and Secretary of State still talking about the imperative of continued US world leadership and insisting that the United States is the “indispensable” nation. Rather than cutting the cold war-sized military budget, American strategists are actually calling for a substantial increase in military spending.
To assume that the cold war’s end allows for sweeping reinvention of US foreign policy is to misunderstand the broader purposes of that policy. Since the late forties US foreign policy has attempted to reconcile the inherent contradiction between international capitalism and international politics. Policy-makers envisioned a world economy in which trade and capital would flow across national boundaries in response to laws of supply and demand, an economy in which production and finance would be integrated on a global scale. But this vision was really unattainable in a world of independent states jockeying for power and advantage. Allowed to run its natural course, then, a world of independent nations will never arrive at an independent global economy.
Although the continuity and fundamental goals of America’s global role have been obscured by focusing on the containment of its enemy, they are in many ways illuminated by examining the containment of its allies. So the real story of American foreign policy since the start of the cold war is not the thwarting of and triumph over the Soviet threat but the successful effort to impose an ambitious vision on a recalcitrant world. Even though the cold war is over, then, American domination of the international system is still necessary to prevent the emergence of a dangerous world of independent great powers.
Ian Williams, UN correspondent
I’m appalled. I’m here in a synagogue and it’s like being in a time warp. It’s as though I were at a meeting in 1939 with assorted pacifists and socialists shouting about the war with not one single Jew on the platform or one single Pole. Where are the Albanians here? Sure the speakers have made courtesy references: “I’m against the war. I’m against the genocidal war that Slobodan Milosevic has been carrying on for nine years now.”
What about the United Nations? Ask the million people in Sarajevo who sat there under siege for several years as the UN counted how many shells hit them. They monitored it. That’s what they did. They monitored the shells. They had people with clipboards standing there counting how many shells were being fired into a city filled with civilians, innocent civilians whose only shame, whose only crime, was that as Serbs, Croats and Bosnians they did not accept the racist bile coming from Milosevic and his Serb nationalist colleagues. So I am in favor of intervention.
In 1939 Britain declared war on Germany. They broke the law, by the way. They didn’t go to the League of Nations first. Accept my apologies. In 1941, rather belatedly, Roosevelt came into the war. He didn’t come in because my father’s house was bombed in Liverpool. He didn’t come because people were going to concentration camps. He came because of naked American self-interest. Let’s remember the forces that defeated Hitler. There was Stalin, who killed millions. There was Winston Churchill, who wanted to preserve the British Empire. And there was Roosevelt, who set up all those banana republics in Latin America. You know what the Jews should have said: “Oh, no, we can’t accept help from these people. Their hands aren’t clean.” I’m sorry, when you’re desperate you take help from everyone.