Clinton Bombs Again

How the Air Strikes Destroyed Democratic Movements In Kosovo, Serbia, And Montenegro

Of course, Kosovan democracy hasn't been the only victim of the recent hostilities. Largely ignored has been the virtual collapse of the fledgling republican movement in Montenegro. Despite its technical status as part of the Yugoslav federation that includes Serbia, Montenegro elected a pro-Western, anti-Milosevic government in 1998, and its president, Milo Djukanovic, has made no secret of his contempt for Belgrade's actions in Kosovo. To date, Montenegro has enjoyed a tenuous autonomy from Belgrade. However, rather than leave the few Serb military installations in Montenegro alone, U.S.-led NATO forces have bombed them— an action that Zorica Maric of the Montenegrin Trade Mission in Washington says has put the Djukanovic government in serious jeopardy. "NATO is failing to distinguish between democratic Montenegro and Serbia with regard to Kosovo," she says, explaining that with each day the bombing continues, the likelihood grows that Milosevic will use it as an excuse to depose the government of Montenegro— or treat it as a "traitorous" province, much the way Serbia has Kosovo.

Perhaps far worse for Balkan democracy is the situation in Serbia, where the bombings have shattered that country's progressive movement. As Vojin Dimitrijevic, director of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, put it in an Internet dispatch, "In one night, the NATO air strikes have wiped out 10 years of hard work of groups of courageous people in the non-governmental sector and democratic opposition. We have not tried to overthrow anyone, but we have tried to develop the institutions of civil society, to promote liberal and civic values, to teach nonviolent conflict resolution. . . . In the prevailing atmosphere of war, anti-democratic forces are increasingly losing their inhibitions. Meanwhile, clumsy foreign attempts to 'assist' democracy and respect for human rights in Serbia with vague promises of money merely expose the non-governmental sector to accusations that it is a fifth column."

At a forum in Washington last week hosted by the Institute for Policy Studies, a member of the liberal Serb organization Women in Black was so overcome that she dressed down the assembled panelists, even though they were all fundamentally in agreement. "My friends have been working for democracy in Serbia, and now, we're lining up behind Milosevic. Did the Clinton administration think my people would be saying 'hurrah'?" she fumed. "Bill Clinton has done more for Milosevic than Milosevic could have done for himself."


Indeed, as a Southerner, Clinton might have seen some parallels between the Confederates and the Serbs. As Civil War authority Shelby Foote has noted, when the poorly supplied, outgunned rebels were captured by the Yankees and asked why they were fighting, the standard response was, "Because you're down here." Writing to an American journalist last week, a Belgrade University professor explained the rallying around Milosevic in much the same terms: "In this moment we have only one solution. We must protect our country," he wrote. "We do not have another one." But Clinton's historical myopia is par for the course. As Julianne Smith, a senior analyst at the British American Security Information Council, notes, "Saying bombing enough will get Milosevic back to the table is false— look at the recent history in Iraq, where it clearly hasn't been effective. And as for saying bombing is a protective tool, nothing could be further from the truth. And the assumption that the KLA will stop fighting if the Serb military is degraded is false. There is no evidence that they'll stop and say, 'Fine, we're content with autonomy.' And very little concern is being given to Russia."

To most here in Washington, the initial Russian reaction elicited little concern. As one Republican congressional staffer gleefully put it, "This is our chance to show the world just how little the Russians matter anymore." According to Bill Hartung, international arms expert for the World Policy Institute, this view— embraced to varying degrees among both Republicans and administration officials— is shortsighted. "For a certain strain of unreconstructed Cold Warrior, it's very emotionally satisfying to kick the Russians when they're down, but a weak Russia simply doesn't serve our interests— we really should want a good relationship with the country that has the largest and least secure nuclear stockpile," he says. "They could deep-six START II and slow down the Nunn-Lugar [cooperative nuclear disarmament] stuff. And the easiest thing to do is start reviving some of their relationships with countries the Pentagon is nervous about."

At the start of this week, the answer to the big question that is pertinent to both Russia and NATO— whether ground troops would be deployed— remained unlear. However, even though the Independent's Robert Fisk noted two weeks ago that the Kaiser's policy ("the Balkans are not worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier") has been adopted to the letter by NATO, Clinton, in a speech in Norfolk, Virginia, seemed to signal an impending shift. Not only has NATO demanded what it previously had not— that the Serbs pull out and allow the Kosovars to return sans a negotiated peace agreement— but, according to Clinton, the formal objective has changed from degrading Serbian capabilities to the restoration of ethnic Albanians to Kosovo.

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