Chandler of Chicago, IL asks:
Why have we waited so long to do anything about the slaughter
of these innocent people? Is there a policy reason for waiting?
I canít imagine the pain and the anguish of these people when
a decision like this NATO attack, if it had been made back in
June, could have saved so many lives if it was done swiftly and
with authority. Why does the world let these people get away with
this murder. Why has NATO not acted quicker on this one?
There were many factors the U.S. weighed before eventually resurrecting
the threat of military force in Kosovo, first made in 1992 and
The plight of the 50,000 refugees living in the open on the cusp
of winter is just one among many considerations. During the summer
and fall, their situation was "manageable" for the Clinton administration
and its allies because the weather was warm and the Serbs were
blocking access to the refugees by the media. But as winter descends,
US officials are anxious to avert a calamity, one that would provoke
a global outcry as CNN broadcast footage of ethnic Albanian women
and babies dying in the snow.
But threatening airstrikes is different from launching them.
The White House remains unsure of what it would do next should
NATO actually attack, because the consequences are so uncertain.
Among other things, airstrikes could give new impetus to Milosevic's
crackdown on his pro-democracy opponents and trigger Serbian reprisals
against the ethnic Albanians. To prevent the latter, NATO might
have to deploy ground forces, including U.S. troops, something
the Clinton administration and Congress are dead set against.
The U.S. is also highly concerned about the impact of airstrikes
on the Dayton peace accords. Politically, the administration's
ability to keep U.S. troops in Bosnia indefinitely -- as is now
its intention -- depends on ensuring that none are killed. So
far, so good. But a NATO attack in Kosovo could provoke retaliatory
attacks on U.S. troops in the Serb half of Bosnia. It could also
bolster Bosnian Serb hard-liners at a time that their power is
in serious decline and moderates appear more willing to support
The Clinton administration also opposes independence for Kosovo
because it believes this will prompt minorities elsewhere in Europe
to hanker for secession. It believes it can strong-arm Rugova
into going along with a settlement short of independence. But
the emergence of the KLA upset this formular. The U.S. does not
want NATO to be the "KLA airforce." By not intervening for seven
months, the U.S. gave Milosevic breathing room to crush the KLA.
When the smoke cleared, the U.S. may have hoped that Rugova would
be the only ethnic Albanian leader left standing.
The problem with this approach is that Serbian forces, reportedly
commanded by some of the same Interior Ministry operatives who
allegedly oversaw ethnic cleansing in Bosnia -- Lukic, Sematovic,
Legija -- reverted to excesses, seeking to punish ethnic Albanian
civilians for supporting the KLA. And, though thoroughly battered,
the KLA has managed to survive, its remnants digging in for the
winter in preparation for a spring resurgence.
The Clinton administration's attention was also engaged elsewhere,
i.e. Monica Lewinsky. Nor was there any consistent policy formulation.
First it was led by Robert Gelbard. Then Holbrooke came in and
replaced Gelbard; then Holbrooke ran into confirmation problems,
leaving no discernible "honcho" at the upper levels of U.S. diplomacy
on Kosovo in Washington. Then Holbrooke was brought back to make
the deal with Milosevic designed to avoid airstrikes while reopening
Kosovo to humanitarian aid organizations.
Finally, the U.S. was unable to obtain agreement among its NATO
allies on how to address Kosovo and faced considerable Russian
opposition to NATO intervention.
Alex Dragnich responds:
Because under international law a NATO attack would be an act
of war against a sovereign country -- Yugoslavia. That would set
a precedent for any country or collection of countries to intervene
in any country -- even the U.S. -- on behalf of some allegedly
aggrieved minority. As Col. Harry Summers (U.S. Retired) has observed,
the U.S. was "once the guarantor of national sovereignty,"
but today we "violate it at our will." No one has authorized
the U.S. to be the world's policeman. Killings in other countries
far exceed those in Kosovo.