Liberals in the Democratic Party should withdraw their support for the Kosovo war. So should the Democratic Party. Their dream of a war for human rights is descending into a nightmare of human despair. Their confident expectation of an early military victory is sinking in a Vietnam-style quagmire. Their political fortunes in 2000 are fast becoming collateral damage.
Vietnam was also a liberals’ war at the beginning. The liberal Democrats painted it with a coat of international altruism that blinded them to folly. It was not until the Tet Offensive and the Democratic primaries of 1968 that most Democratic liberals reconsidered their position. By then a million people were dead.
Now liberal war fever is back: 181 House Democrats voted for the air war, and only twenty-six opposed it. Fully 164 Democrats even voted to forfeit their most important political gain of the Vietnam era–the War Powers Act, which requires that Congress approve a US ground war. Only forty-five Democrats were willing to insist on being consulted.
There is no disagreement on the liberals’ assertion that the Kosovar Albanians are victims of a ruthless ethnic cleansing. But the meaning of and remedies for this horror must be filtered through two key questions: (1) If we are opposing ethnic cleansing, why only in Kosovo and not in Tibet, Turkey, Rwanda or, for that matter, Northern Ireland? (2) Are bombing and ground troops an effective and proportionate response to the crisis?
The answer to the first question is that this war is being conducted for reasons of state and not primarily for human rights. The White House has cultivated and toasted the Chinese oppressors of Tibet as it was bombing Belgrade, and NATO has ignored the ethnic cleansing of Kurds by NATO member Turkey. The reason of state appears to be the consolidation of Europeans and Americans for a global police role outside the United Nations. As a German political scientist crowed, the Balkan war can be a “military euro,” a unifying blood equivalent of the single European currency.
That the former colonial and imperial powers are consolidating an economic and military alliance is not necessarily welcome news to the wretched of the earth. Clinton has spent more on the Balkans this month than on the entire budget for Central American victims of Hurricane Mitch. In Africa alone, millions of people have been cleansed, killed, starved and uprooted in the former Western colonies of Rwanda, Sudan, Angola and Sierra Leone, without NATO or US intervention. The war in Kosovo widens the gap between the United States and all the nonwhite countries where dying is a way of life. Liberals should be speaking for the voiceless of Latin America, Asia and Africa and insisting on the UN as a multinational, multiracial vehicle for conflict resolution. But pro-war liberalism is reinforcing the very North-South global gap it should be healing.