Standing firm on Kosovo

I have written before of Agron, the young Kosovar newspaper editor who spent a month at my newspaper last fall observing American journalists at work.

When he returned to the Kosovo capital of Pristina, we corresponded by e-mail for a while and he warned of increasing pressure from Belgrade on the Kosovo press. Then came the Serbian assault on Kosovo and his messages abruptly stopped. Mine to him were returned undeliverable. We feared the worst.

I heard nothing until May 17, when my secretary burst into a meeting I was holding and said: "Agron's on the phone."

Agron was calling from Skopje, Macedonia. His newspaper building in Pristina had been sacked by the Serbian military, computers worth $200,000 smashed, the night watchman killed. His printing plant and presses, worth $500,000, had similarly been destroyed.

For 30 days, Agron was in hiding, and on the run, in Kosovo. Finally, he made it in a stream of refugees to Macedonia. There the British government is helping him, with half a dozen other journalists, put out a truncated version of his newspaper to circulate in the refugee camps.

I asked Agron what he thought about continuing the NATO bombing. His answer was simple: "If you stop the bombing, we are finished."

Despite the havoc caused by NATO bombing, despite the terrible, but accidental, killing of civilians and fleeing refugees, he pleads that Americans stand firm, that they press on till the butcher of Belgrade, Slobodan Milosevic, is neutralized.

Some doubters of the American and NATO role in Kosovo think we should not be there at all. Kosovo, they argue, is one of those pesky little disputes around the world that should be left to locals to work out. Yes, they say, there should be a moral dimension to American foreign policy, but let's pick and choose the areas where it's convenient for us to apply it.

I wish they could talk to Agron.

I wish they could hear his stories of grandmothers shot, fathers marched off to execution, mothers and sisters raped, children separated from parents. Kosovo's agony would not then be so easily dismissed as inconvenient to our grand foreign policy designs.

Others who have supported the NATO air war are now becoming uneasy because Mr. Milosevic has not yet cracked. They ponder whether we should sue with him for peace.

That's a little like suggesting that in the middle of World War II, after the Nazi occupation of Austria, the conquest of Holland, Belgium, and France, and the firebombing of Britain, we should have invited Adolf Hitler in for a chat about ending the conflict. Worse still, a chat about cleaning up Germany but leaving Hitler in charge.

We should, of course, have stopped Milosevic in Slovenia, or Croatia, or Bosnia, but we have procrastinated, and pandered to him, and are now reaping the harvest of that miscalculation and indecisiveness.

Peace, as Arizona Sen. John McCain says, cannot come at the price of our honor and interests. And surely nobody believes that there can be stability in the Balkans while Milosevic remains entrenched in power and unprosecuted for war crimes.

A few weeks ago, Margaret Thatcher, that retired but still intimidating Iron Lady of British politics, reminded us: "For eight years, I have called for Serbia to be stopped.... So here we are now, fighting a war eight years too late, on treacherous terrain, with imperfect intelligence, and with war aims that some find unclear and unpersuasive.

"But with all that said - and it must be said, so that the lessons are well and truly learned - let there be no doubt: This is a war that must be won."

I forgot to ask Agron whether he heard Lady Thatcher's words during his time in hiding. But I know that he would agree.

*John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

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