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Local Editorial, Hanford Sentinel, 12 April 99

Kosovo: What's next?


The Germans have a word - WOLKENKUCKUCKSHEIN - which literally means "cloud cuckoo land."

It is one of the most descriptive words in any language and aptly fits the mishmash of rhetoric and action that has marked NATO's three-week-old aerial assault upon Yugoslavia.

Indeed, thus far all Operation Allied force - as this stumbles towards total war has been dubbed - seems to have accomplished is to become a front rank embarrassment to the United States and the other 18 NATO members and an epic making disaster for the Kosovar Albanians whom the air campaign was launched to protect in the first place.

Now, amid the chest-thumping about how successful our missiles and "smart"bombs have been, amid all the push for ground troops, amid the Pentagon leaks on the need to call up U.S. Reserves, Congress returns from spring break this week to debate President Clinton's Kosovo policy.

But our lawmakers are so divided on weather to declare war, ban the use of ground troops or sound a good old-fashioned cavalry charge that Congress will probably end up doing what it does best: diddle, twiddle and resolve.

In the meantime, Mr., Clinton's chief advisers - Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen, and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger - more and more resemble a circular firing squad.

And therein lies the problem: Our leaders in the name of humanitarian aid have managed to create a humanitarian crisis in the Balkans that has not been seen in Europe since the dark days of World War II.

And make no mistake, it is all our doing. Oh, it may have the NATO's nameplate on it, but America runs NATO.

Mr. Clinton told the world we launched our air assault to stop Serbain President Slobodan Milosevic's policy of ethnic cleansing. And the Serbian treatment of the Albanian Kosovars has been atrocious. But what have we accomplished by all our high-tech bombing?

Well, we managed to unite the Serbs behind an unpopular leader in a fierce nationalism which allow Mr. Milosevic to do anything in the name of protecting the fatherland, including making refugees of nearly a million ethnic Albanians.

And that leads us to this question: What were the NATO campaign strategists thinking about before starting this whole air campaign? Why was there no contingency plan in place to handle the massive flood of forcibly removed non-Serbs from Kosovo? It should have been at the top of their list. But, obviously no such plan exists even at this stage.

Meanwhile, the White House spin is going in two irreconcilable directions: The flood of refugees either caught it flat-footed, or it was fully prepared for just such a mass cleansing and that is why the bombing began in the first place.

But then direction has been the problem with our entire plunge into the abyss that is the Balkans. Everyone agrees there is no substitute for victory, but no one seems to be able to decide on what victory is.

However, a lack of defining goal is understandable since no one at NATO is even calling the bombing of Yugoslavia a war.

And in the meantime, no one - not Mr. Clinton, nor the Congress, not the American people or our NATO allies - has dared answered the question: Are we ready to lose as much as the Serbians are ready to lose?

Despite the spin from the White House and NATO, we had all better acknowledge that the Serbs are ready to loose everything in that poisonous stew of Balkan violence which has been concocted out of centuries old historical ingredients of ethnic and religious hatreds.

Kosovo is the Serb's Jerusalem where their army was annihilated in 1389 by the Ottoman Turks for whom they became vassals for 500 years. And what Mr Clinton failed to realize is that the Serbs defining myth as a people is defeat - inspired, uncompromising, but nonetheless, total defeat. To the Serbs, NATO's warplanes are just a modern day Turkish cavalry.

Thus NATO has a difficult decision: It can either stop bombing Yugoslavia back to the Stone Age and enter into negotiations, or it can invade Kosovo with up to 200,000 ground troops - three-quarters of them Americans - and establish a protectorate for the ethnic Albanians.

In the short term, a ground invasion might seem a better idea than a political settlement. Admittedly, negotiating with a thug like Mr. Milosevic could be seen as surrendering to a tyrant.

But it is insanity to commit ground troops into one of history's most volatile and violent chasms without a clear mission. Moreover, any occupation of Kosovo would transform the region into something akin to the border between South and North Korea. But the Balkans are infinitely more dangerous that the Korean Peninsula with the sheer complexity of the religious, historical and ethnic ties and animosities that define the region.

Therefore, before we decide to add yet another U.S. military cemetery to the European landscape, Americans must be willing to move from the abstract answering: "Yes" to a poll on whether ground troops should be committed to a life and death answer: Are we ready to send thousands of American soldiers to their deaths in the mountains and valleys of Kosovo?

In answering that question, we must move from the micro to the macro in that each of us must in our conscience be willing to look into the eyes of the parents or spouse of an American soldier, airman or sailor and say: Kosovo is a cause worth your loved one dying for.

If we as individuals can not do that, then we are not ready as a nation to order tens of thousands of young Americans into the horrors of combat.

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