With NATO’s Secretary General Javier Solana promising that the alliance is about to wind down its air war, and with Clinton facing eroding congressional support— not to mention a possible showdown in court over the War Powers Act later this month— diplomatic efforts, which moved into high gear early this week, seem likely to pay off.
Over the weekend, a House delegation met in Vienna with Russian politicos and Milosevic crony and banking wheeler-dealer Dragomir Karic. They discussed the framework for a possible settlement involving a bombing halt, withdrawal of Serb troops from Kosovo, and the introduction of a UN peacekeeping force.
Last Friday, House members Tom Campbell, a conservative Republican from California, and Dennis Kucinich, the populist Democrat from Cleveland, filed suit in federal district court here with 15 other members seeking to stop the war by May 25— the date they claim Clinton’s authority runs out under the War Powers Act.
Earlier last week, Sergei Rogov, director of the Moscow-based Institute of USA-Canada— once the Soviet Union’s crucial interface with North America— proposed splitting the war zone into sectors. Under Rogov’s plan, Russian and Ukrainian troops, Muslim soldiers from former Soviet republics, and units from nonwarring NATO members such as Spain and Portugal would be deployed to Kosovo. NATO forces would take charge in Albania and Macedonia. Almost any way you look at it, Milosevic is victorious. Kosovo remains part of ethnically cleansed Serbia, and he remains in charge.
But in Washington, a darker view holds sway. Here, some House members insist that Clinton is using the refugees as pawns in a wider scheme aimed at extending NATO’s influence into the Caspian Sea oilfields. NATO hasn’t ruled out admitting Caspian states into the alliance, and in one scenario making the rounds on Capitol Hill, Clinton and the NATO hawks are using the Kosovo war as a staging ground for NATO’s expansion. This prospect has infuriated the Russians, who see themselves having to compete with Western oil interests in their own backyard.
With NATO crowing about Sunday night’s bombings blacking out much of Yugoslavia, these House members are bracing themselves for continued strikes. They think the president will rebuff any tentative peace feelers, such as the three GIs released to Jesse Jackson, Viktor Chernomyrdin’s shuttle diplomacy, or an opening that might occur during Clinton’s trip this week to Germany.
Oval Office Strangelove
Picking Targets in the White House
Since Clinton is reportedly choosing bombing targets from the Oval Office, the military officials nominally in charge of the war are increasingly disgruntled.
Last week, the buzz in the Pentagon was about an early warning to NATO that went unheeded. Last fall, German general Klaus Naumann, chairman of NATO’s military committee, cautioned allied leaders that they should be prepared for a prolonged conflict if the initial air strikes failed to bring Milosevic around. Once bombs were dropped, Naumann advised, the introduction of ground troops might well become inevitable. One NATO officer quoted in Inside the Pentagon last month said Naumann had warned that “if you employed airpower, you should be prepared to employ ground forces.” But Clinton pressed ahead.
“I don’t see this as a long-term operation,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on March 24. “I think that this is something . . . that is achievable within a relatively short period of time.”
Footnote: In a briefing last Thursday, Air Force General Richard Hawley, who is in charge of combat aircraft, said the war has left the military short of air-launched cruise missiles and satellite-guided bombs. He emphasized that the decision not to deploy ground forces undercuts the air campaign, adding that the A-10 Warthog “tank killer” fighters often rely on forward ground controllers to call in strikes. “When you don’t have that synergy, things take longer and they’re harder, and that’s what you’re seeing in this conflict,” Hawley said.
Blast From the Past?
Old Nuke Plants Threatened, Russians Warn
Russian military officials, in a press conference last week, warned of the risk of a nuclear accident in the Balkans, and accused NATO of unleashing ecological disaster by bombing industrial targets in Yugoslavia.
Major General Boris Alexeyev, alluding to a missile that went astray last week, hitting a house in Sofia, Bulgaria, said the danger of a nuclear power plant being struck in Yugoslavia or a neighboring state has grown. He noted that there are nine nuclear plants in and around Yugoslavia, including Bulgaria’s huge Kozloduy nuclear plant on the Danube and three small reactors near Belgrade.
Colonel General Leonid Ivashov told reporters, “The scale of the damage caused in Yugoslavia allows us to qualify it as an ecological catastrophe.” He said the bombing had released toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, as well as into soil and water systems.
The nuclear threat warned of by the Russian generals cannot be ruled out. Not only do NATO troops face the possibility of desperate Serb opponents lobbing nuke-tipped artillery shells in a “hail mary” effort, but there are those Soviet-designed nuclear plants nearby. In additition to the Kozloduy power plant in Bulgaria, there is the Hungarian Paks nuclear facility. The Kozloduy plant is about 125 miles from the war zone; Paks, about 250 miles. Both resemble Chernobyl in their lack of any sort of serious safety precautions.
On Sunday, a physicist at the VINCA Institute of Nuclear Sciences in Belgrade reported by e-mail that “highest authorities” had warned the institute that it might become a NATO target. “Our reactor is not working for more than 15 years,” wrote P.R. Adzic, “but [a] significant amount of 235-U enriched and unused fuel is still in its interior. Highly radioactive material for everyday activities is also located in several research laboratories.”
There is no question that the war’s damage to Europe’s ecology is only beginning to be felt. In one series of strikes over the weekend of April 1718, NATO bombed a chemical-manufacturing complex in Pancevo, a city of 140,000 about 10 miles from Belgrade, spewing cancer-causing gases 10,000 times above approved limits into the air.
Lock ‘n’ Load
Although Clinton now wants to clamp down on the firepower available to kid killers and tighten gun laws by raising the legal age for purchase, he was more than accommodating to Chinese gun merchants seeking to export thousands of automatic weapons to the U.S. when his 1996 reelection bid needed money.
In 1994, Clinton had banned the influx of Chinese arms begun during the Reagan era. The Chinese had wanted to flood the U.S. market with AK-47s. But on March 14, 1997, in a little-noticed article, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported: “A massive shipment of Chinese guns and ammunition, which had been banned by order of President Clinton, was approved for delivery into the United States four days before the head of a major Chinese gun company met Clinton in the White House.”
On February 2, 1996, the government issued import permits for a multi-million-dollar shipment of more than 100,000 semiautomatic weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition from China. The head of the Chinese gun company was one Wang Jun. He was taken to the White House by Charlie Trie, the Little Rock restaurant owner who tried to donate $644,000 to the Clinton legal defense fund and helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Democratic National Committee. (Trie has pleaded innocent to charges he made illegal political contributions to the DNC and arranged for other illegal donations.) Clinton said he did not meet Wang until Trie brought him to the White House, and did not discuss business with him.
The deal fell through when the Chinese company was caught trying to smuggle 2000 machine guns into Oakland, California.
Arizona Rep’s Comments Stir Storm
Arizona state representative Barbara Blewster, who is fast becoming the national poster child for the John Birch Society, has been blistering the state legislature with her comments about ethnic minorities.
Last week, Representative Leah Landrum, one of two African Americans in the legislature, told the Arizona Republic that Blewster had criticized Native Americans, saying, in Landrum’s words, that they are “not smart enough to do what they need to do to get ahead, and that even African Americans are more advanced. . . . ”
Blewster has previously said that slavery was not so bad, and compared homosexuality to “bestiality, human sacrifice, and cannibalism.”
David Spence, one of three Republicans who ran against Blewster in 1998, called her comments “embarrassing.” Spence said he was especially offended by a comment Blewster allegedly had made to Paradise Valley Republican representative Barbara Leff, to the effect that Leff didn’t look Jewish because she didn’t have a hooked nose.
“The problem is, she’s not just saying it,” Spence said. “She believes it.”
A spokeswoman for Blewster, who refused to reveal her name, said, “It’s time to move on.”
Mo’ Better Bombs
Leave it to Hollywood to find a way to make money off the war. When Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace opens on May 19, it will be preceded in theaters around New York by an ad for the recruit-starved U.S. Navy made by, of all people, Spike Lee. Message: Forget “collateral damage” (militarytalk for civilians killed by those quirky Navy cruise missiles). Think instead about how a good-guy military force vanquishes the evil empire. For the record, the Navy says the ads aren’t pegged to Star Wars. Anchors aweigh!
Additional reporting: Ioana Veleanu