On Kosovo, it's how we get in, as well as how we get out

The NATO campaign in the skies over Serbia, while massacre and forced expulsions rage in Kosovo, has revived an ancient controversy about the limits of air power.

Before World War II, Gen. Billy Mitchell of the Army Air Corps attracted considerable attention with his doctrine of "Victory through Air Power" - the thesis that the next war would be won largely from the air. Some of us ground soldiers still bridle at the memory of the elite fly boys with crushed caps who flew off into the wild blue yonder and back in time for dinner.

We thought that "victory through air power" died on the Normandy beaches.

But it has returned, in large part because President Clinton, feeling morally committed to doing something about genocide in Kosovo, sought to limit himself to what he considered politically feasible.

However successful in hitting the Serbian infrastructure, the effort to save ethnic Albanians has manifestly failed so far. At the rate the Serbian marauders have been killing and driving out the Kosovars, it looks as though we might soon witness a fait accompli - a devastated and largely depopulated Kosovo.

One could hear the gears grinding as NATO began to address the question of a ground invasion. Supreme Commander Gen. Wesley Clark was frank to say air power alone couldn't save Kosovo. At briefings in Brussels, spokesmen talked of the no-ground-troops policy as the policy "at the moment" or "for the time being."

At a Brookings Institution briefing, Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council officer, predicted that there would be a decision to send in ground troops, but too late to have the intended effect.

Manifestly, allied governments miscalculated in believing that an opportunistic Milosevic would crack as the bombs started falling. A nation under external attack tends to rally around its leader, no matter how unpopular he may otherwise be.

Unless the air campaign soon shows signs of halting the massacre in Kosovo, the NATO summit in Washington later this month to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the alliance may be held in the shadow of defeat in its first war since the cold war. And, with Albania and Macedonia facing collapse under the weight of the refugee tide and the whole Balkan region threatened with destabilization, NATO's next challenge may be the liberation of Kosovo, or a large part of it. Already the idea of partition is in the air - northern Kosovo to become a part of Serbia, the rest an independent state under NATO protection. But with whom will that be negotiated since dealing with Milosevic becomes a less and less palatable idea?

The West has been slow to demonize Milosevic, even though he was clearly complicit in the 1992 Bosnian Serb rampage that drove a million Muslims from their homes. Instead he was courted, especially by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, as one of the fathers of the Dayton agreement to end the war in Bosnia.

But a war, if it is to have public support, requires that the enemy be personalized. That has been the US experience.

In Latin America, Fidel Castro has been the bte noire, and sometime assassination target, of presidents back to Eisenhower. Manuel Noriega of Panama was the man President Bush loved to hate. President Reagan's favorite monster was Muammar Qaddafi, whom he called "the mad dog of the Middle East." President Bush fought a war against Saddam Hussein of Iraq, whom he likened to Hitler. The centerpiece of current Clinton policy for Iraq is supporting the opposition that some day will bring the dictator down.

The Clinton administration has been slow to demonize Milosevic, in part because he was considered for too long someone we could do business with, in part because he has managed to eliminate or co-opt most of his opponents, leaving it difficult to find an alternative.

The administration seems still reluctant to nominate Milosevic to the hall of infamy, the list of evil dictators. Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is offering legislation to promote the "removal" of Milosevic, but the administration hasn't indicated support. State Department spokesman James Rubin, when asked about indicting Milosevic as a war criminal, gave a lukewarm reply promising "cooperation" with any such effort, but not offering a US initiative.

Many Americans ask whether President Clinton has an exit strategy from Kosovo. It has yet to be demonstrated that he has even an entry strategy.

*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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