Clinton in a Spin


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.

The Air Force, which has always touted Boeing’s air-launched cruise missiles as an effective means of carrying nuclear warheads, has a much smaller inventory— with perhaps 150 non-nuclear missiles left. They cost $1.5 million apiece. There are many more nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, but their use would require retrofitting them, removing the nuke warheads, and attaching non-nuclear devices, at an additional expense of about $500,000 per missile.

The Stealth fighter shot down near Belgrade cost $45 million when it was built a decade ago. It would cost more to replace it, but there are no plans to make more. There are 57 Stealths in operation. Before the Stealth was shot down over Belgrade, one crashed last May at an air show in Maryland.

Neither the Pentagon nor NATO will say how many “smart” bombs have been dropped from fighters or bombers. These bombs, which all have some sort of guidance system— sometimes traveling along a laser beam to the target, honing in on a heat signature, or even following their own built-in radar— can run anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000. (“Dumb” — or gravity— bombs haven’t been used since the Gulf War, and prior to that in Vietnam.) The smart-bomb inventory is thought to be in the range of 10,000 to 20,000.

Finally, the costs of key aircraft in use over Kosovo include: the F-16 ($20 million apiece); the F-15 ($40 million apiece); and the A-10 “Warthog” anti-tank fighter ($15 million).


Struggle on the Web

Milosevic cops shut down Radio B92, Yugoslavia’s sole remaining independent news outfit, on Friday. Station director Sasa Mirkovic was dismissed, and the station was boarded up. Defiant to the end, Mirkovic flashed this message across the station’s Web site: “Struggle continues. We shall never surrender. Radio B92, Belgrade, Serbia. . . . Keep the Faith.”

For a perspective beyond that of the mainstream U.S. media, check out, a progressive Web site that runs liberal to left news and analysis and offers a good selection of sources on the region.

Death & Tax Cuts

How GOP Plan Threatens the Social Net

Battered and split though they may be, right-wing Republicans in Congress continue to push plans for a tax cut— partly as a means of paring welfare spending even further. It works like this: Under the GOP budget resolutions passed before Congress departed for the Easter break, most of the projected budget surplus will be translated into into tax cuts: an election-year gimmick both parties want to see happen.

With the Republican plan, these tax cuts start small, then grow as the surplus swells, rising to $636 billion over the five years beginning in 2005. So far so good. But there is a catch. By 2007, the cost of the cuts exceeds the surplus. You might think that would spell the end of the tax cuts, but not for the Republicans. When that happens, the cost of the cuts is to be covered by gutting so-called discretionary funding— including such things as the WIC program, which provides food and care for pregnant women and infants; Head Start, which gives poor children a jump on education; veterans’ programs; and general funds for running the government, to mention just a few. All the targeted programs are likely to be cut back by as much as 12 percent. If they are not cut, the Republicans will begin creating the kinds of catastrophic budget deficits they successfully ran against in the 1980s.

Avast Immovable Object

Following is an actual radio transcript released by the Chief of Naval Operations on October 10, 1995, and posted recently on Commander Hackworth’s Defending America e-mail newsletter:

“Station #1: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.

“Station #2: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to South to avoid a collision.

“Station #1: This is the Captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.

“Station #2: No. I say again, you divert your course.

“Station #1: This is the aircraft carrier Enterprise, we are a large warship of the U.S. Navy. Divert your course now!

“Station #2: This is the Puget Sound lighthouse. It’s your call.”

Additional reporting: Ioana Veleanu

The Latest