With hubris surprising even for Washington, President Clinton has managed to blunder into a Balkans war, intensifying violence in Kosovo while destabilizing the entire region. He's also lowered the bar to aggressive war the world over.
Traditionally, war has been treated as a last resort. Yet this administration is implementing the most militaristic program in decades. The president has intervened in Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq, Macedonia, and Somalia; threatened to do so in North Korea; and launched an undeclared war against Yugoslavia.
He argues that Washington must not allow small conflicts to "fester and spread." But US policy has consistently failed. Somalia was a disaster; reconciliation is a fantasy in Bosnia; Haiti now enjoys a presidential instead of military dictatorship; only diplomacy kept the peace in Korea; Iraq remains recalcitrant; and in Kosovo, US intervention has backfired spectacularly.
More fundamental is the diminishing standard for making war. What justifies the extreme step of unleashing death and destruction on another people? Traditionally it has been a military threat against the US.
Yet Yugoslavia has not threatened America or any of its allies. There is no serious, let alone vital, US interest at stake. To paraphrase German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single healthy American rifleman.
Yugoslavia obviously poses no direct threat to the US or any US ally. Some argue that there are indirect dangers: failing to act risks another continental, if not global, conflict. But it is a paranoid fantasy to imagine Serbia inaugurating such a conflict. To the contrary, it is Washington that is now spreading the violence.
Indeed, the surrounding states learned the lesson of World War I, remaining aloof from the Bosnian civil war, thereby building firebreaks to rather than transmission belts for war. Anyway, the European Union's members, with a combined GDP of $8 trillion, population of 400 million, and armed forces of more than 1 million have the wherewithal to sort out the problems of the Balkans, if they believe doing so to be worth the cost.
The administration also says it is acting for humanitarian reasons. But that claim can't be taken seriously, given the many worse conflicts, from Angola to the Sudan, which it currently ignores.
Grant that Serbian treatment of Kosovars has been atrocious. So has the Turkish handling of Kurds. And Indonesia's conduct in East Timor. And India's behavior in Kashmir. As well as the actions of two score other governments in a variety of conflicts around the globe. Is war the right remedy in all these cases? The administration did not threaten war to stop killing. Rather, it wanted to enforce an international diktat to establish a jerry-rigged autonomous government to be backed by a permanent foreign occupation of indisputably Yugoslavian land.
Were any other nation to make such a demand, Washington would consider it high hubris. Were any other nation to make such a demand of the US - to, say, occupy Southern California ("Azatland" to Mexican irredentists) to oversee relations between an anglo-dominated government and growing Hispanic population - Washington would consider it to be justification for war.
Moreover, contrast US policy toward Turkey, a NATO ally. In a brutal civil war that has killed 37,000, Ankara ruthlessly destroys Kurdish villages and restricts the political freedoms of Kurdish sympathizers. The administration has voiced no outrage, demanded no occupation, proposed no bombing. Instead, Washington supplies the weapons Ankara uses to repress Kurdish separatists and enlists Turkey to fight against Yugoslavia. Hypocritical is a charitable characterization of administration policy.
Warmongering in the name of peace is an oxymoron. Washington should restrict serious military threats to serious security dangers. By attacking Yugoslavia the president has trivialized war, the most monstrous of human practices.
*Doug Bandow, a former special assistant to President Reagan. is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, in Washington, D.C.