Clinton in a Spin

P.R. on War Out of Control

For Clinton, everything is about feel-good spin. Thus, even as heartbreaking images of sick and starving refugees poured out of the Balkans on Monday, there was the king of diversion chuckling with smiling, well-fed children at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

In fact, Clinton seems to be losing control of the spin on this conflict, with the P.R. war on the issue turning against the admininistration. Over the weekend, Democratic hawk Chuck Robb joined Richard Lugar in backing the call by Republican presidential hopeful John McCain— perhaps the one public figure who has gained the most out this mess— for a Balkans ground force.

The best the White House could do was to put Defense Secretary William Cohen back on the tube to reiterate the pledge that Yugoslavia would remain only an air war. Cohen aides flacked the arrival of Apache killer helicopters— and 2000 support troops— as part of the air war. But at the same time, European news reports were heralding their arrival as part of a big ground contingent that could fight its way into Serbia.

On Sunday, in response to the worst refugee crisis since World War II, the administration proposed a nut-case plan for packing thousands of disoriented refugees into hellholes such as the U.S.'s Guantanamo Bay outpost in Cuba, which had been previously reserved for fleeing Haitians. Word was that the refugees could remain until the U.S. got around to implementing a fanciful scenario for returning them to their burned and looted villages.

On Monday, The Washington Post printed a page one piece stating that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had expressed "deep reservations" about a Balkans air war long before the attack began.

Clinton's secret weapon in all of this is the hapless figure of Richard Holbrooke, the part-time Yugoslav negotiator who is the White House's main link to the peace table, as well as Clinton's next proposed UN ambassador, although this appointment has been held up by a Justice Department investigation into possible business conflicts of interest and inquiries by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Holbrooke is vice chair of Credit Suisse First Boston, an investment bank that markets itself in Croatia (where it helped privatize the phone company), Slovenia, and elsewhere in eastern Europe, pulling down a salary of $1,153,000. In addition, he made $370,000 in speaking and writing fees last year, mostly about U.S. policy in the Balkans, according to Philip L. Christenson in The Washington Post. Holbrooke claims he was just acting as a private citizen.

Meanwhile, Milosevic tightened his control, shutting down what remained of the independent media, and putting the final touches on the ethnic cleansing. Clinton helped the Serbian strongman last week by bombing bridges near Novi Sad— the capital of Vojvodina province, which, with a large Hungarian population, had opposed Milosevic. Residents of the area, who had themselves been the objects of ethnic cleansing, suddenly found their villages attacked by their "friends" in Washington.

The Killers
Breakdown of the Terror Forces

War crimes almost certainly have been carried out in Kosovo by the Serbian security forces and their paramilitary associates.

According to a British Defense Ministry briefing in London on Friday, Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojilkovic also controls the Department of State Security, which was hit by cruise missiles over the weekend. The DSS is run by General Radomir Markovic. One of its sections, deaing with paramilitaries, is run by Franki Simatovic, who functioned in both Bosnia and Kosovo as a cutout between paramilitaries and formal state structures.

Simatovic also controls a 400-to-500-man force called the JSO, whose members are recruited from the Army's Special Forces. "They wear red berets," explained the British briefing officer. "They also wear masks, and they operate in groups of between 15 and 25; they have a penchant for armored 4 x 4s and by any standard this group is well-trained, well-motivated, and very, very dangerous. We also believe that they act as Milosevic's praetorian guard."

The DSS also runs a black ops outfit called the RDB: a gendarmerie of about 5000 men. Then there is the PJP, a specialized group equipped similarly to a light infantry battalion, with mortars, heavy machine guns, and armored personnel carriers. Its most notorious unit is the 24th Special Police Detachment, with 5000 men in six groups, headquartered in Pristina by a General Stevanonic. It is, according to the British briefing, "the backbone of Serbia's control in the province, and has been responsible for many of the atrocities."

Arms Paydirt
Forget About Running Out of Cruise Missiles

The cost of the war to the U.S. taxpayer is just beginning to be realized. Certainly, Raytheon and Boeing, which make cruise missiles, stand to make a bundle. Contrary to press reports, the Pentagon isn't about to run out of cruise missiles. The Navy, which purchased thousands of Tomahawks during the Cold War, in part for use in ship-to-ship warfare, has 3000 in its inventory, according to the Center for Defense Information. The Tomahawks cost $1 million each. The problem is these missiles are now antiquated, and it takes about 18 months and $350,000 apiece to upgrade them. The missiles are made in Texas by the Hughes Division of Raytheon.

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