It’s time to move from dissent to action: to quickly and vigorously protest the Kosovo war. Whether President Clinton and NATO escalate this disastrous military engagement or initiate sensible negotiation will depend in large part on the domestic political dynamic over the next several weeks. The White House knows public support ebbs with every “accidental” strike on a hospital or marketplace, and the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade further depletes NATO’s political currency worldwide.
An administration that once thought the Kosovo conflict would be over in a matter of days now finds its clock running down under the 1973 War Powers Act, which allows the President sixty days from starting hostilities to secure Congressional approval or begin extricating US forces. Congress has already refused to endorse the air war by its 213-to-213 vote on April 28. If by May 24 we’re still at war, the President will have to return to Congress in search of a new majority or risk having the war slapped down in court. So it’s crucial to solidify the current antiwar base in Congress and persuade liberals like Paul Wellstone and Bernie Sanders, who support the war’s early stages, to change their votes. The New York-based International Action Center plans a June 5 demonstration in Washington, but local pressure on elected representatives is just as critical.
The antiwar campaign has so far been smaller than in the early days of the Gulf War, owing to many constituencies’ revulsion at the Milosevic government’s atrocities. But with fifty days of NATO bombing increasing Balkan suffering, it is clear that a cease-fire and international peacekeeping efforts are the only realistic option.
Religious communities have shown significant leadership: The United Methodist Council of Bishops passed a resolution calling on NATO to halt the bombing, and the Rev. Joan Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, was a co-leader with Jesse Jackson of the delegation to Belgrade. An April teach-in at The New School in New York drew 1,000, and overflow crowds have been reported at similar forums from Santa Cruz to Syracuse. Rallies, town meetings and vigils have been held in at least thirty-three states (see www.iacenter.org). On May 23, KPFK radio in Los Angeles, Southern California Americans for Democratic Action and The Nation Institute will host a teach-in on the war, to be broadcast nationally over the public radio satellite system. Hillary Clinton was greeted by protesters in Ireland; there have been demonstrations in Italy, France and elsewhere; and the rank and file of the German Green party are rebelling against their leaders’ endorsement of the NATO campaign.
One beacon of clarity is UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who has forcefully denounced the Orwellian euphemism “collateral damage” and insisted that both Serbia and NATO be subject to investigation for war crimes. The first Washington resignation to protest the war came from Jeremy Brecher, an aide to Sanders. Brecher wrote that he had asked himself, “Is there a moral limit to the military violence you are willing to participate in or support? Where does that limit lie?”
The Kosovo war exceeds defensible limits daily. This is the time to write, to call, to march–to make our voices heard.