So, to maintain our Bosnia policy, to maintain the success of Dayton, to
maintain the peace that had been forged in 1995, we looked at Kosovo and said,
"No. The solutions that may have been desirable for the overwhelming majority
of the population, which is independence from Serbia, is a solution that we
Quite apart from Bosnia, independence for Kosovo could have had ramifications
for the wider region. Macedonia has a large Albanian population that might
have desired to become part of Kosovo, or also to leave Macedonia. How do you
deal with a large Albanian population in Kosovo and in Albania? Do you merge
them? Do you make them two independent states? At what point does the
unraveling of states in eastern and central and southeastern Europe stop, once
you start in Kosovo? So the argument was, let's draw the line here. That
meant that the line we drew at Dayton would stand, which said that Bosnia had
to remain unified. Also, the consequences of an independent Kosovo for the
rest of the region were simply unacceptable. ...
For understandable reasons, they didn't deal with the issue of Kosovo at
Dayton. How did that affect the Albanians, their thinking, their goals, and
the means to achieve those goals?
The failure to deal with Kosovo in Dayton was understandable. The focus there
was on ending a war that was very real in Bosnia, as opposed to preventing a
potential conflict that was not yet real in Kosovo. The failure to deal with
Kosovo in Dayton led the Albanians to conclude that the one way to get western
attention and a Dayton-like conference, and to get the president of the United
States to pay attention to you, is to use violence. That violence begets
international attention, and therefore, one should start violence. The
Kosovars had been pursuing a policy of non-violent opposition since 1989.
Suddenly, that became less and less viable. As time goes by, more and more
people realize or conclude that the way you get the West involved is to start
And in February of 1998 that happens--they start killing people. We have a
special envoy, Robert Gelbard, in the area then. He makes some comments. What
does he say, and what's the significance?
Bob Gelbard, the US envoy to the region, is in Belgrade as the troubles start
brewing inside Kosovo. He says to Mr. Milosevic, in his very clear message,
both publicly but particularly in private, that there is a very big twist that
Mr. Milosevic faces.
On the one hand lies integration in the rest of Europe at one fork of the road;
at the other, is utter darkness. The determining factor is how Milosevic will
deal with the Kosovo Liberation Army, which is beginning to engage in what he
calls terrorist acts--killing law officers and policemen inside Serbia. He
tells Milosevic, "You can deal with this terrorist group in a way that is
consistent with dealing with terrorism, but don't go after the population--find
a way to resolve the Kosovo problem politically--give the Kosovars more
political rights, greater autonomy, and more rights over their own destiny.
Then the United States and its allies will continue to engage Serbia, and will
allow Serbia to emerge as part of the community of nations. But if you don't,
if you go after the population, if you don't deal with them politically," there
is, as he said, "utter darkness" at the end of the tunnel.
Days later, the Serb forces go hard after a particular clan, which is
connected with one of the KLA strongholds at the time. That gets the attention
of Secretary Albright immediately. She sees this, and reacts immediately.
Tell me first of all, what does it mean to have Secretary Albright as secretary
of state at that point in time? What does she bring to the table?
Since the beginning of her presence in the Clinton administration, Secretary
Albright been perhaps the most forceful advocate for strong forceful opposition
to the kinds of policies that Milosevic conducted, in Croatia, then in Bosnia,
and by February, 1998, inside Kosovo. Her constant refrain was that the only
language Milosevic understands is the language of force--that we have to
threaten force, and if necessary use it--engage in air strikes, clobber him
over the head like a schoolyard bully, and put him in his place . . . and then
the problem gets solved.
The formula is to make the case over and over and over again that you need to
be forceful. She has a particular knack for putting this in highly rhetorical
and forceful language--go after Milosevic, make clear that this will not
stand--hope to force the administration to come along, convince the public and
the American Congress to come along, and in the end, give the allies no choice
but to join what the United States is about to embark upon.
Tell me about what's happening in the White House, as she's pushing her
rhetoric. What's the appetite, at that moment, for another adventure in the
In the early part of 1998, the White House is preoccupied with very different
things. The Monica Lewinsky story has just broken. There's the notion that,
at this point, if you engage in another foreign adventure, it would have been
portrayed that you start using force in a "Wag-the-Dog" scenario. That was not
generally supported in the White House
The White House also had a different perspective than Madeleine Albright about
how you would resolve this conflict. Their perspective generally was that we
had in Milosevic somebody that we could perhaps make a deal with. It was a
perspective that Richard Holbrooke brought to fruition in Dayton in 1995.
Milosevic is a man who, however odious his behavior, however wrong his
policies, if you deal with him with the right kind of carrots and the right
kind of sticks, you get a deal. There's a strong belief in the White House,
and in other parts of the administration, that forceful rhetoric--threats
without really having a policy behind it, such as those was coming from the
Department--was the wrong kind of policy at the wrong time.
And at that time, as it's heating up in Kosovo, one of the first questions
that comes up is the Christmas warning. The Clinton administration reiterated
the Christmas warning on a number of occasions, but it didn't act on the
The Christmas warning was reiterated by the Clinton administration shortly
after President Bush first issued it in early 1993. As originally issued, the
warning was if Mr. Milosevic engages in threats against the Kosovars, or
engages in military action against the Kosovars, the US will unilaterally act
against you, including bombing in Serbia. By 1996, 1997, a realization emerged
within the administration that the Christmas warning, originally issued as a
unilateral US threat, could no longer be implemented.
It was very clear from the moment that violence started that the Christmas
warning was off the table as far as Sandy Berger was concerned, as far as the
president of the United States was concerned, and as far as Madeleine Albright
was concerned. She may have wanted it to be on the table, but there was a
clear decision not to have it on the table. The reason was simple. First, if
we started to use force against Mr. Milosevic in these circumstances, we would
not know what would happen inside Bosnia. Bosnia had now emerged as a major
issue in how we dealt with Mr. Milosevic, in a way that didn't exist in 1992 or
1993. Second, the Christmas warning was a unilateral US threat to use
unilateral US force. NATO had now been committed to dealing with the Balkans,
because the United States had forced NATO into the position that it had in
Bosnia. So the threat of force had to be a NATO threat.
So, from the perspective of this official US policy, the Christmas warning was
no longer on the table. When asked publicly, the answer always was that all
options are on the table. When asked at the Congress specifically, is the
Christmas warning still in effect, Madeleine Albright, Bob Gelbard and others
said "our policy is to have every option on the table." The warning was a
specific threat--if you engage in violence, we will bomb you. That is not the
same as saying all options are on the table.
What would Milosevic take from the fact that the warning had been in place
and then it was not acted on? What would he take from that?
Clearly he didn't believe that the warning was any longer in effect. The
moment he engages in the violence exactly defined by the Christmas warning, and
nothing happens, means to him that, "Obviously, whatever I do, they're not
going to pay attention. To the extent that they do pay attention, they're not
going to bomb me, so I can continue."
Instead, the administration calls on Richard Holbrooke. They bring
Holbrooke back to do his magic. Tell me about that. What does that mean?
What's the significance of Richard Holbrooke coming on to the scene?
What's interesting is that the administration goes through an evolution of
policy. In the first month of the crisis, the policy led by Madeleine Albright
says we need to act early, and we need to act forcefully. She goes to London
within days of the massacre and gets the contact group together, gets a very
forceful statement out of it, threatens sanctions, and is willing to keep at
least some form of military threat still on the table. She pushes the allies
to go along with this course. She then has problems with the allies. She also
turns out to have problems at home, because in the end, neither the allies nor
the White House is dependent on, or prepared, to go in the direction that she
wants to go.
Therefore, Richard Holbrooke emerges. Whether it is by request or whether it
is by his forceful personality, Holbrooke says, "This is not the way to do
this. The way to solve this problem is to deal directly with Milosevic. I'm
the person who can deal with Milosevic. I've done it at Dayton. I'll do it
again." At that point, Madeleine Albright disappears from the scene. Her
policy perspective, which is forceful strong action against Milosevic, gets
pushed aside in favor of a policy perspective that says we need to deal with
Milosevic, we need to find a negotiating process, and we need to get the Serbs
and the Kosovars to talk and deal directly with each other.
In mid-May, we see the first public meeting between Milosevic and Rugova. Both
sides need to get some benefits in order to get that meeting staged. Milosevic
gets sanctions relief--sanctions we have just slapped on three or four days
beforehand. Rugova gets a meeting to the White House. Most people who go to
the White House and meet the president are heads of state. The meaning for Mr.
Rugova of getting a White House meeting is recognition that this guy has real
power and real control over his state, his country, his territory called
Kosovo. That's the meaning of getting Rugova to the White House and getting
Milosevic sanctions relief. But in terms of settling the conflict, what we
have is a photo op. but no coming together of the two sides on the issue in
question. By just recognizing Rugova, you have not settled the question of who
talks for who when it comes to the Kosovars.
And in recognizing Rugova, we have taken on the Kosovo cause. Now we're in
The meeting between the president and Rugova is recognition that what the
Kosovars are demanding, a greater degree of autonomy, is at very least
something that the United States will support. But it is not the intention of
the United States, even though that is how people may well have read it, to get
in bed with the Kosovars. The United States does not support the Kosovars'
fundamental demand, which is independence. Indeed, the United States supports
what Mr. Milosevic wants, which is to maintain Kosovo as an integral part of
the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, if not of Serbia itself.
In June, NATO begins some military planning, and they put together a lot of
different plans. One of the first things they do is send some planes up and
around Kosovo, the "Balkan Air Show." What's going on with that? What's that
message, and who pushes that?
By May, and into June, NATO is ready to get into the act. Two things happen
very early on. One is a series of military planning exercises that really
range from the banal--having a couple of trips along the border--to the
extreme, which is an invasion of Yugoslavia, and taking control of the whole
country as exercise. But before you can move in that direction, NATO wants to
demonstrate that it has real potential to do harm inside Kosovo or inside
Serbia, and it launches this "Balkan Air Show." They have a bunch of aircraft
flying over the border of Albania and Kosovo. They're flying low enough to
make a lot of noise, and in effect, to tell the Serbs we're here, we can do
damage, and perhaps more importantly, to tell the Kosovars we're here, we can
do damage. But in the end, the fact that they only do an air show . . .
demonstrates NATO's weakness in essence, rather than its strength.
Coming after a Christmas warning that has not been implemented, let alone
reiterated publicly, the NATO air show once again tells Milosevic that the
United States and NATO really aren't in this thing to fight--they are here
basically to demonstrate that they're powerful, but not in order to go after
the schoolyard bully directly with the use of force. So Milosevic takes from
that that he can continue.
And by the summer, even though the Serbs had backed off a little bit, the
changing dynamic on the ground is significant. The KLA has really moved out
now, and they have taken over a lot of territory. That's an important point,
because they take more territory and become a bigger force,. It changes the
political calculations about who we are fighting for, and who we are helping
What happens in the summer of 1998 is an interesting change in the dynamics.
The KLA moves out and becomes stronger and stronger militarily. In fact, they
gain territory from the Serbs. By July, they claim control of about 40% of all
of Kosovo, and that changes the dynamic in two very different ways. First, the
KLA becomes the political leadership of Kosovo. It displaces Rugova, and
demonstrates to the Kosovars that a policy of non-violent resistance is not
working--that violence, and threats, and force are what would get Kosovo what
it wants--autonomy and independence.
Second, there's a change in dynamic for the international community,
particularly the Europeans, but also many in the United States, who believe
that the KLA are a bunch of thugs, and these thugs are now winning. All of a
sudden, a policy designed to oppose Milosevic creates a situation where the
more we oppose Milosevic, the more these thugs will win--at what point are the
KLA thugs the problem? At what point are we going to oppose these guys? So
the notion of intervening militarily is suddenly problematic. "We don't want
to be the air force of the KLA," is the standard stock answer of the allies to
bombing the Serbs. At that point, the allies decide to stand back, to say,
wait a minute, we've got to find a political solution--not because Milosevic
might otherwise do bad things--but otherwise, the KLA will win.
By late summer, the Serbs are trying to take back some of that territory.
NATO had many different options. But there was really only one option that
they were developing, that was even on the table, which was the phased air
plan. Why was that the only one?
A very interesting part of NATO's decision-making structure was going through
the options. In June, the NATO defense ministers tell the NATO military
authorities to look at all the options in which NATO military force might be
brought in to improve and change the situation inside Kosovo. As good military
men, the NATO military authorities go out, and they create a series of plans
about what it is that we can do. This includes a whole series of plans that
involve using ground forces to occupy Kosovo, and even to subjugate the former
Yugoslavia by going into Belgrade. As the plan is being developed, and the
United States military representatives and the people at SHAPE, at the NATO
headquarters, are fully engaged in it, something changes in mid-air.
Suddenly the question of considering ground troops becomes one that the United
States says, "No. We don't even want to look at this option anymore, we don't
even want to present this option to the political authorities. We only want to
look at air power. We don't want to look at any use of ground troops in any
circumstances." Right in the middle of the planning process, there is a big
fight within NATO, and there's a question whether the plans that had been drawn
up can be presented to the civilian authorities. In the end, they are. But
once presented to the civilian authorities, there is an immediate decision by
those authorities that we're only going to look at two air options. One is a
phased air campaign. The other one is a limited air response, consisting of a
few tens of Cruise missiles meant to send a signal, and a phased air campaign
built mostly on what we did in Bosnia in 1995. We would phase up air strikes
over a period of time, designed to get Milosevic to a political solution.
So there wasn't a stomach among the allies for anything more than dropping a
few bombs, and in particular among . . .
There were some allies, notably the British, who concluded by the early part of
the summer that no solution to this problem could ever happen without military
force, and that that military force would have to include a ground component.
But there was a signal sent from the United States by July of 1998 that no,
there is no way we are ever going to consider any deployment of ground troops,
NATO or US, in this situation. The only thing that we are willing to do, and
even to look at seriously, is the question of air strikes.
By September 30, there is a massacre in the village of Donji Obrinje. It's
on the front page of the New York Times when they cover it. There's a
pretty gruesome picture, and a big story about it. That day, there is a
principals' committee meeting at the White House. The New York Times is
in the situation room, standing witness to the decision making there. How
important is that? How important is the fact that those images are constantly
on the TV, in the papers? Images of these massacres are right there, front and
center. How important is that to this administration in driving their decision
Images of the kind of horrible atrocities that were committed in late September
are heart wrenching for any human being, whether you're the national security
adviser, the secretary of state, or just simple Joe down the street. Those
kinds of images will influence your policy. If the front page of the New
York Times is showing the kind of atrocities that were committed
. . . If that's on the table when you are considering what to do, you're more
likely to decide to do something, rather than to do nothing. It is very easy
once you have these kinds of images to say, "That does it. Here we've got to
go, and the decision is that we've got to threaten serious force."
That afternoon, Albright, Berger and Cohen go up to Capitol Hill to brief
the senators and the congressional leaders there. Why were they going up?
What was the message that they were carrying? Tell me about them travelling up
to the Hill.
Once the US administration decides to press the allies to threaten serious use
of force, and, if necessary, implement a phased air campaign, it is necessary
to sell it on the Hill. It is particularly necessary now, because the
president is in trouble politically over the Lewinsky scandal. They've got to
get the Hill on board. Albright, Berger, Shelton and Cohen travel to the Hill,
and they have two messages. One is, "This is a mess. We've got to do
something about it. We have a really good air campaign. We're going to
threaten to use air power in order to meet the demands that the UN Security
Council has set. If necessary, we are going to implement a phased air
campaign, and here's how that would look." The second message is, "Don't
worry, we're not sending combat troops under any circumstances--not to
implement an agreement, and not to force Milosevic to come to the table."
Why are they so adamant? First of all, Secretary Cohen is pretty adamant
about this. But who is pushing it, and why are they so adamant about not
sending combat troops?
Within the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department is the
underlying assumption that, if this policy ends in sending American troops to
Kosovo, Congress won't support it. Therefore, we have to reassure Congress and
the American people that, while we are seized with this policy, while we are
willing to use force, we are drawing a clear red line. There will be no
American combat troops in Kosovo under any circumstances. The attempt here is
to reassure the Congress that we know our limits.
What happens is that the Congress says, "You guys don't know what you're
talking about. You don't have a Plan B. You don't know what will happen if
you use force from the air, and if Milosevic doesn't meet your demands, then
you don't have a Plan B. If you want to go to war, go to war, but don't come
to us and say we'll do some air strikes, but have no answer to the question of
what if it doesn't work." That's the question that Sandy Berger had been
asking right up to that point.
And that very week, there are important actions up on Capitol Hill. The
House is actually beginning the voting to start impeachment of the
Clearly, when you get in a situation where the House and the Senate are
considering impeaching the president, that's not a good time to go to war. This
is especially so where the interests of the United States are not as clear-cut
as they would be for instance, in the Persian Gulf, or if the United States or
one of its allies was directly attacked. This is a question about interfering
in the internal affairs of a state that we recognize to be internal affairs.
There have been large-scale humanitarian atrocities, although not many people
have been killed yet. It's a difficult issue for the president to consider the
use of force, even without impeachment hanging over him. With impeachment
hanging over him, it's nearly impossible to consider in a serious manner.
Berger seems to buy in, and the question isn't answered. As you said, he
keeps raising the question "What if?" The question isn't answered. But
Albright seems to win the day, and push for the bombing. What happens to
When they agree to push for the threat of bombing, they genuinely believe that
threats will work, and that it will be sufficient to get Milosevic to agree to
the demands set by the UN Security Council. They believe if they send Dick
Holbrooke down to Belgrade, he will find a deal where Milosevic agrees.
Remember, what the UN demands is not very much. It asks for a cease-fire.
Winter is not a very good time to fight in Kosovo. It asks for a withdrawal of
troops down to the level of February. Nobody really knows how many troops were
there in February. But it's about 15,000-20,000--not an insignificant number
in a province the size of Delaware. It asks for granting assistance to the
international agencies to help and assist the people and refugees there.
Milosevic should have no problem with the international community paying for
the upkeep of refugees and people in Kosovo. It's not that they're demanding
that much, and there is a general belief that threatening force, and
demonstrating that NATO is united, is more than sufficient to get him to sign
up to this. So there's really no need to consider what would happen if, in
fact, you had to bomb.
Holbrooke does go over, and he does get a deal with Milosevic. You are
brought over to the White House, and you're briefed on the deal. Tell me about
As often happens when the deal is set, the White House or others call in
experts, who they believe to have opinions and expertise to share with the
White House. And, more importantly, they are people who happen to be on
television or who get quoted in the newspapers, who may be able to help explain
what is going on. These are opinion leaders, and they help shape the public
opinion. So the White House invites people like me, at times, to come over,
and to listen to the deals that are being addressed there, and to carry the
message forward if we agree with it. We also provide input to the kinds of
deals that are being struck, and the kinds of policies that are being
So you hear about the deal. They're briefing you about the deal Holbrooke
got. Tell me about your reaction.
My reaction to the briefing I got at the White House was the same as my
reaction when I first heard about the deal. I thought it was a bad deal. It
was a deal that might have momentarily solved a pending humanitarian crisis,
which was real. But the solution did so in a way that was certain to have this
conflict reappear in the spring. We were about to send in 2,000 unarmed
observers, in the hope that they could prevent the kind of atrocities that had
been happening before. I didn't believe then, nor believe now, that that was
What did you tell them?
I told them, as I had said publicly, that if you send in unarmed observers, you
are sending in de facto hostages. Once you send in hostages, NATO wouldn't be
able to fulfill the threat to bomb if Milosevic violated the agreement he said
he would comply with. You have taken away the one threat that you had that
could ensure the implementation of this agreement.
How does Milosevic read this? We're not going to send ground troops--and we
will send monitors?
Milosevic reads this the same way he's been reading it all along. We have a
Christmas warning, which we don't implement, because we've all of a sudden
forgotten about it. We have NATO planning on the question of using force, and
we have a US veto on the consideration of ground troops. We have a threat of
air strikes in order to get him to agree to the UN demands, and then the
agreement he signs doesn't have any details of how to agree with those UN
demands. He signs up to those details and immediately violates every single
one of them. Nothing happens. So the way Milosevic reads it is that the
international community is concerned about what happens in Kosovo, is willing
to ruffle some feathers, but they're not going to use force against him.
The Serbs did, to some extent, comply initially with this. They did pull
their troops back, and I've talked to people about this--they did put them in
garrison. The KLA didn't necessarily play by the rules there.
Here you had a very interesting negotiation. You had a negotiation between an
international mediator, Mr. Holbrooke, and one party, to a conflict that has
two parties. We made a deal with Milosevic. We made no deal with the KLA. We
never had the KLA sign on to a cease-fire. We never had them sign on to
behaving in a certain way. We didn't even deal with them. So the reaction of
the KLA was, hey, these troops are pulling back, great, we're pulling in. This
was very predictable. Anybody who had any sense about this conflict knew that
every checkpoint abandoned by the Serbs would be taken over by the KLA. Every
village in which Serb troops left would be taken over by the KLA. Of course,
that happened. The KLA is in here for a purpose. This is not a game to
them--they want to win. This is independence for them. They want to get all
of the Serbs out, and they will use any possible means to do so. In fact, the
NATO air threat becomes their ally. They move in, take over checkpoints, and
take the villages. At some point, they're going to provoke the Serbs into some
kind of reaction. They're going to provoke the Serbs into doing things that
violate the agreement that Holbrooke, Clark, and Naumann have negotiated with
Milosevic. NATO has promised to then use air power. So the KLA has every
incentive to provoke the Serbs into the kind of reactions that we see happening
by December of 1998, in the hope that that would finally bring about NATO air
power. That's the situation. Everybody knows it's the situation, and what do
we do? We just hope it doesn't happen.
In mid-January, it's clear that there are big problems. The agreement has
fallen apart. There is a lot of fighting, and concern about Milosevic
shredding the agreement. There is a meeting at the White House on January 15.
Tell me about that meeting. Who's there, why did they come together, and what
are they looking at?
By Christmas, it's clear that the agreement Holbrooke negotiated is unraveling.
Serb troops are starting to go back in numbers far exceeding what they were
allowed to be. Serb troops that were supposed to be in garrisons are out
there. There is fighting all across Kosovo, particularly in the north and
east. The KLA has taken advantage of the Serb withdrawal, and re-established
major positions. This thing is about to explode. Everybody knows it's about
to explode. A meeting is called in the White House to ask what are we going to
do--what is our future policy?
A policy paper called October Plus basically re-affirms the fundamental nature
of the Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement. October Plus strengthens it a little
bit, re-invigorates the shuttle that we're doing between the Albanians and
Milosevic to get a political agreement. It sends some bodyguards to some of
the OSCE monitors down there, and a variety of other means to set this up.
There's general agreement within the government that that's what we're going to
do. Madeleine Albright comes to the meeting and says, "No. You know, this is
not working. This agreement is unraveling. The Serbs are not complying. The
shuttle diplomacy is just not going to work. There is no way the Kosovars and
the Serbs are ever going to agree to anything under these kinds of
circumstances, and we basically have three options. We can say that this is a
conflict we can't solve. We can pull back. We can say that this is just too
hard, and we're not going to do this. We can continue to muddle through,
knowing full well that come April, this thing is going to explode. Or we can
take decisive action. We can launch air strikes. We can threaten air strikes
and see if we can get a deal. What's the decision?" The decision by the
principals is, "No, we'll muddle through. We'll go with October Plus. We can't
leave our commitment. Our credibility is at stake here, and really can't
leave. But decisive action--we just can't stomach it."
After all, on January 15, the Senate just started a week before a trial of the
president, who was impeached by the House on December 19. This is no time to
go to war. Therefore, the decision by the principals on January 15 is to
continue with October Plus, muddle through, and find a way to solve this
problem down the road.
That day is a massacre at Racak. Four days later, Sandy Berger pulls
everybody back in to the White House. On January 19, there is a meeting.
What's it about, and what are the dynamics there? What do they decide?
Just as the principals meet on January 15 in the White House, Serb forces are
engaged in yet another massacre of 45 people in Racak. That's on the front
page of the newspaper. The next day, the OSCE monitors are there on the scene,
and report what happened. The head of the OSCE monitors says this is a crime
against humanity. We again have pictures of bodies, of heads torn off, of
torsos. Within four days, there is an immediate agreement in the White House
that the very option that Madeleine Albright put on the table four days
earlier, which was not acceptable, now becomes acceptable. We have to have
decisive action. Muddling through is no longer possible. We can't postpone
the moment of deciding what to do. On January 19, the decision is to have
decisive action, start threatening force, and to do that to get an
Who is pushing for that? Who is on the fence, and who is opposed to
By January 19, Albright is the leading advocate of what becomes the Rambouillet
strategy. On the fence, to a certain extent, is Sandy Berger. But he realizes
that the politics are moving in the direction that Albright wants to go. On
the fence, and opposed to this move, but also knowing that the politics are
moving in the opposite direction, is the Pentagon. At that stage, the Pentagon
still says they're still not convinced that we should send troops to implement
a possible agreement as Albright is proposing. But in the end, everybody signs
off on the strategy, and goes ahead with it.
The NFC staff is putting together the memorandum to the president, laying out
the recommendation of the principals to threaten serious use of force. At that
time, the president is travelling in his limousine up to Capitol Hill to give a
State of the Union address at the moment of the highest political crisis of his
presidency. The House impeached him a month before. The Senate is in the
midst of a trial to remove him from office. Here is a president standing in
front of the country and in front of all those people who voted against him,
who impeached him, and who were about to vote against him in the Senate. He
has to stand there and make a speech about the state of the union, and also
about deciding whether to use serious force with regard to Kosovo. It's not an
easy situation for anybody to be in.
On January 21, the president and Prime Minister Blair have a
conversation about this use of force. What are they concerned about? What do
they talk about, and what's their big concern about having to drop
The big concern in Clinton and Blair's conversation on January 21 is whether
the threat of air power will get Milosevic to deal. There is no certainty
about that. But if air power has to be used, where does it end? Are we going
to send in ground troops to implement an agreement that we may achieve because
of the threat or use of air power? Are we going to send invading ground troops
to bring this about? It's very clear that, at that point, Clinton rules that
out, and Blair does so as well.
From the beginning, Tony Blair is very, very clear about what needs to be done.
This is a conflict that will not be solved without the use of force. That's
been the underlying assumption of British policy from day one. He's clear
that, at some point, use of force will have to include the use of ground
troops. You don't fight wars without ground forces, and you don't implement
agreements without combat troops on the ground. From about July, 1998, and
onwards, that is the leitmotif of British policy. British policy from that
moment on is unwavering with regard to the threat of force and the use of
force. What Britain wants to do is to lead the effort in a forceful way. It
doesn't want to do what it did in Bosnia, in which British policy was to wait,
to halt, and to put a brake on any development that might lead increasing use
of force. In this case, Britain was committed. There was a humanitarian
crisis in the midst of Europe that was unacceptable, that had to be stopped.
Milosevic was a bully who had to be stopped. Britain was unwavering in its
support within the Cabinet, and from that point on, throughout this entire
Blair has a special relationship with Clinton. How does that play
Blair has a special relationship with Clinton in the sense that they are two
peas from the same pod. They are both centralists who used to be on the
left--they have this third way. They are deeply politically inclined, they are
interested in politics, they are interested in each other's politics, and they
are clearly close friends. Blair's role becomes to buck up Clinton, not only
personally in terms of taking the necessary steps, but to buck him up against
his advisers. They're constantly telling him, "Mr. President, we can't really
do this. This is too much. The Congress won't do it," and Blair says, "Mr.
President, this is the right thing to do."
But the president has still not committed on ground troops, even as
peacekeepers. They are saying, "We are not making a decision on that until
February 13." The president gives a radio address; he indicates a commitment
of troops. Tell me about the radio address, and any connection to the events
of the day before, February 12.
Policy in Kosovo goes through a very strange period in mid-January to
mid-February. In the Senate, day in and day out, senators are debating whether
or not to remove President Clinton from office on the impeachment
recommendation of the House. At the same time, the United States is pushing a
policy on the allies, on the Russians, and on everybody else that says we need
to get an interim agreement on autonomy in Kosovo, and the way to get that
agreement is to be able to threaten to use force against the Serbs. Because
there is a trial in the Senate, the United States is unwilling and unable to
commit to providing ground troops, to help implement that agreement, until
February 13, which is one day after the Senate votes and fails to remove
President Clinton from office. Once the Lewinsky scandal ended, once the final
political step in that torturous year-long process is over, the president feels
able to commit to the deployment of ground troops. He wasn't able to commit
So what's going on here? I've talked to people in the administration, who
said they always knew that US troops would be a part of the ground force, that
they knew it from day one. Yet we have here a president publicly saying no, we
will not go, we will not go. The day after he is acquitted, boom . . .
They had privately always agreed that American troops would be part of a force
to help implement an agreement to be reached at Rambouillet, but they had not
said so publicly. The president was not going to say publicly that he was
going to put American men and women in a very dangerous situation while he was
still standing trial in the Senate over the Lewinsky scandal. It was only the
day after he was acquitted from that trial, on February 13, that he publicly
announced to do so.
But what message was sent? On the one hand, the United States may have known
that this was all along going to be the case, but the allies didn't know. The
Kosovars, who had to be reassured by the fact that the troops would be there,
were not reassured by the delay. Milosevic reads this as hesitation by
American policy towards its own strategy, towards its own ability to implement
what it said it would implement. So Milosevic believed that you could push,
and the United States would not follow through.
Let's talk about Rambouillet. The Albanians have some surprises when they
come, and one of those surprises is who they pick as the leader of their
delegation. Who did they pick, and why was that a surprise? What's the
They pick a 29-year-old nobody called Hashim Thaci, who is a political leader
in the KLA, rather than their own elected president, Ibrahim Rugova. The
surprise here even for the United States, which had put together this whole
delegation, is that Thaci becomes the leader of the game. It signals that the
Albanians in Rambouillet will not be as easy to maneuver into the situation
that we want as we had thought. Thaci was close to the hard-liners in the KLA.
He'd talk over the mobile phones that they all carried with those hard-liners
day in and day out, to make sure that Kosovo was not going to be sold down the
tubes for a success of American diplomacy at Rambouillet.
Secretary Albright decides to weigh in on this, as the Albanians are
struggling with this. Why did she go, and what was the significance of her
arrival? She comes down, her plane lands, she's got the black Stetson hat on,
and she comes down those steps. Tell me about the significance of that, of her
landing and her coming down.
Albright's coming to Rambouillet is the signal that now the final push for a
Kosovo agreement in the Rambouillet courts is really going to happen. Albright
is convinced, and has been told by her aides, that just a bit of a push, and
the Kosovars will sign on. That's part of the strategy--get the Kosovars to
sign on, get the Serbs to renege, bomb the Serbs, get the Serbs to sign on,
deal--that's the strategy. Albright gets down there, convinced by her aides
that the force of her personality, that the fact that she is secretary of state
of the largest, most powerful country in the world, is more than sufficient to
get a deal.
In the end she succeeds. But the Kosovars tell her, "We agree with this in
principle. We're willing to sign in two weeks, but we're not going to sign
now." That is truly a very big blow to her prestige, because she has put her
prestige on the line to get the Kosovars to sign on, and it doesn't work.
Ultimately it worked. Even if it was unflattering, it worked.
Albright got her strategy.
Even though she fails in Rambouillet to get the Kosovars to sign on, the
strategy works, because the Kosovars, albeit with three weeks delay, sign on
the dotted line on March 18, and at that point, all the ducks are in a row.
The Kosovars have signed. NATO has issued a threat to use force if the Serbs
don't sign. The Serbs don't sign; in fact, the Serbs have been using the time
to increase their forces to be ready for whatever it is that they're ready for
at that point. NATO is ready. So the strategy by March 24, the day the
bombing starts, has worked. The strategy was to get the Kosovars to sign on,
and if the Serbs failed to sign, to get NATO united behind a phased air
Again, the White House calls some outside experts together in order to get
briefed on what is happening at Rambouillet. You get a visit to the West Wing
of the White House. Take me there.
A group of us from the outside are invited to talk to some senior
administration officials in the West Wing of the White House, who are laying
out what is happening in Rambouillet, and what they think needs to be done to
get to a successful conclusion. Many of us are concerned about what happens if
it fails. Some of us raised the issue that, that if you're going to go in and
bomb, that you are also prepared to follow that up with ground troops. What
happens if the bombing doesn't work, are you prepared? And the answer is
actually quite interesting. On the one hand, the answer we get from the
administration is that nobody thinks that a bit of bombing is likely to get
Milosevic back to the table, but at the very least our bombing will severely
degrade his capacity to do any harm inside of Kosovo, so we don't really have
to worry. In essence, NATO bombing would become the air force of the KLA.
If the bombing doesn't work in getting him to the table, we were going to bomb
his forces so that he couldn't do any damage inside Kosovo. We weren't going
to send any ground troops in because Congress would not support it, or so we
Our strategy is to bomb, to bomb, and to bomb, in the hope that at some point
he will give up. We also, at that point, are pretty much convinced that
bombing is sufficient to take care of the Serb armor, their artillery, and the
Serb paramilitary forces, to prevent them from doing the kind of widescale
slaughter and atrocities that they would engage in.
On March 24, the president is going to tell America that we're about to bomb
Milosevic. You get a phone call that afternoon from the White House. Tell me
what happens--where are you, what time is it, and what is the call
In the early afternoon, I get a phone call from people in the White House,
telling me that the president will go on television and that this is real, and
they hope that I can support the United States in its actions. I said, "Of
course. I've been calling for this for a year now, so I'm glad it's finally
happening. Don't worry about it. What is he going to say about ground
troops?" The answer is, "We're going to say we have no plans to put in ground
troops." I said, "You can't say that, because if we don't have any plans to
use ground troops, we ought to fire the person who is responsible for drawing
them up. So either you don't have plans and you're incompetent, or you're
lying, so you can't say that. How about saying something like 'intention'--we
have no intention to use ground troops?" One of my biggest mistakes is to give
them the kind of words that they would, in fact, use, and I would criticize
them for it within days.
Why weren't we more prepared to go to war?
There was a widespread conviction on the part of civilian and military leaders
that bombing would either get Milosevic to back off, or get him to the table.
That was the lesson we thought we had learned from Bosnia. It was a lesson
that we had inculcated ourselves, with regard to what we believed Milosevic was
all about. He was the kind of bully who, if you hit him across the head, he'll
come back and do what you want him to do. That was the conviction. So the
details of the military plan were less important than the fact that you were
willing, and demonstrated that you were willing, to use force, because that
would get the bully to come to your side. It was the assumption of the
secretary of state, of the national security adviser, of the NATO commander, of
the president, and of everybody else. The guiding assumption of using force
was that, by doing so, you would demonstrate that you were serious, and that
was sufficient to get Milosevic to back off.
We don't want to go to war. In fact, we're not at war--we're just using force
in the service of diplomacy in order to change his mind. As Wes Clark would
put it, what we are trying to do is to get Milosevic to back off, to get out of
Kosovo, to allow the interim agreement that was negotiated at Rambouillet to be
implemented--that's what it was all about.
You've said that we need to think about this war as having two phases.
Explain to me briefly what you mean by that.
This is a war that has two very big phases. The first we lose, the second we
win. In the first four months of this war, the Serbs have the upper hand in
two very important instances. One, strategically, they know what they want. We
don't. They want to get the Albanians, as many as possible, out of Kosovo. We
want to get him to the table and we don't really know how we're going to get
Milosevic to the table. He wins, we lose. He has achieved his objective
inside Kosovo by kicking the Albanians out, by slaughtering many thousands of
It's only after about a month that we realize that we can't lose this war.
Politically we can't lose the war, militarily we can't lose this war, and
strategically we can't lose this war. If we lose this war, NATO is ended, and
the credibility of American foreign policy is at an end. We put into place a
strategy that was designed to reverse what has happened inside Kosovo. Our
goals by April, as we said, are no longer to prevent him from conducting
massive atrocities against the Albanians or to degrade his capacity to do so.
Now our goal becomes to have refugees return. Those people who were still
inside Kosovo when we started bombing are now gone, so our goal becomes Serbs
out, NATO in, refugees back. Those are our three goals, and we put into place
a strategy designed to achieve those goals, which we do by June 10.
Did the bombing create a refugee crisis?
No, Mr. Milosevic created a refugee crisis. Mr. Milosevic's forces were sent
in, village by village, to kick the Albanians out, to murder, rape and torture
those who remained. He was responsible for it. The bombing took the lid off.
It allowed Milosevic to conduct this kind of operation without having to fear
that NATO would intervene. Before March 24, he feared that NATO would
intervene. Once NATO had intervened, it was his incentive to go in and do it
as quickly as possible, and then present the United States and NATO with a fait
accompli: "I've cleansed the entire Kosovo. Now what are you going to do about
He got the first part right--he got his job done.
He got that job done. And the question then became for the United States and
NATO, how do we reverse this? How do we make clear that we're not going to
accept this fait accompli? We have to reverse it. A new strategy was put into
place, the strategy of victory, which is designed to reverse what had happened
in the first month of the war.
Let's move to the ground troops, because that's part of it, and the push for
ground troops. Here we are at this critical moment, towards the end of April,
and I want to know what people are thinking about ground troops. Sandy
Berger--what's he thinking?
Sandy Berger is convinced, and remains so to the end, that a bombing campaign
with a strong diplomatic strategy will eventually convince Milosevic that the
time is up, to give in, that NATO has to go in, that the Serbs have to go out,
that the refugees have to come back.
President Clinton has a conversation before the NATO summit with Prime Minister
Blair. By this time, Blair is convinced that the only way the war can really
be won is to prepare for a ground invasion, and if necessary, to put those
troops in, to take Kosovo back. By late April, President Clinton, having
listened to Blair, comes to the realization that he was to win this war, that
he can't lose this thing. NATO will be in bad shape, and the credibility of
American foreign policy will be completely in tatters, so has to win this war.
He comes to the realization by late April or early May that he has to do what
it takes, and if that means ground troops, then he's willing to go ahead.
Let me ask you to set that meeting up. It's an important meeting on the eve
of the summit. Blair arrives in Washington. He goes straight to the White
House for a long dinner meeting with the president. What did they talk about,
and what was the significance?
Blair comes to Washington a day early for the NATO summit and talks to the
president in a very small group, with one mission. The mission for him is to
get the president to consider the use of ground troops if necessary, and
therefore to start planning a process that would be necessary to prepare for a
possible ground invasion. The president's primary concern on that evening is
not to say that Tony Blair is wrong. His primary concern is to have the issue
of ground troops not be part of the summit that will take place the next day.
The deal that Clinton and Blair strike in that dinner the night before the NATO
summit is that Blair will not bring up the issue of ground troops during the
next couple of days. NATO unity is the key, and finding an agreement to
intensify the air campaign is what Clinton wants. In return, the president
agrees to start very quietly planning preparations between the United States
and the UK for a ground invasion.
How big a turning point is that summit? At the end, everybody seems to get
what they want. For people who are worried about ground troops, it's not out
there publicly. People who want ground troops, well, we're starting to work on
it. It seems like everybody walks away getting a little of something.
I think the summit is the turning point in the war. It is the reaffirmation of
the strategy that NATO finally puts in place only in late April--get the Serbs
out, get NATO in, get the refugees back. It reaffirms that the fundamental
goal is to reverse what has happened in Kosovo, and there is a unity of purpose
among the 19 members to that effect. There is no real agreement about how
you're going to do that, but there's agreement about the goal, and we're not
going to change. The other thing that the NATO summit does is that, by the end
of the summit, by the end of April, the United States is committed to a
three-track strategy to achieve the goal. One is the air campaign, an
intensification of strategic bombing. Second is the planning, and if
necessary, moving ahead to prepare for using ground forces. Third is a
diplomatic strategy that engages the Russians directly as a means towards an
end, to have the Russians carry basically our water in Belgrade, so that we can
get a deal.
On May 19, General Clark travels from Brussels and goes to the Pentagon. He
goes where the joint chiefs of staff meet, and briefs the joint chiefs on two
plans he has. One is a plan to invade and prepare for an invasion of
Kosovo--175,000 troops, and what do we take on the American side, who would
have to contribute on the allied side to get this done. The chiefs are highly
pessimistic and dismissive of this, and worried that he is moving in this
direction. The second is an idea to increase the number of troops inside of
Macedonia and Albania--ostensibly to provide a rapid capacity to move in to
Kosovo if there is an agreement if Milosevic gives in, and to establish what
becomes the Kosovo force. But it's also to provide a basis for augmenting the
force later on to prepare for an invasion, in order to cut down the time it
would take to prepare for such an invasion. And while the chiefs are clearly
against the notion that we should go in forcefully, they buy the logic of
increasing the KFOR enabling force from about 25,000 at that point, to about
45,000-50,000 later on.
What are the chiefs so worried about here? Why are they so concerned about
the idea of ground troops?
The chiefs don't want to go to war over this issue. They don't want to have a
ground war. They think it's going to be bloody, and it's going to be bad.
It's not an issue that they generally support the use of force over. They were
reluctant participants in the entire process and they were not going to be
supportive of a ground campaign, in general, and particularly in the army. The
air force believed that you could do it from the air. There was a large degree
of opposition to this.
On June 2, you're invited to a meeting with Sandy Berger. Set that up for
me. Where are you going, and why, and who are you meeting with?
On June 2, a meeting is called by the White House to meet with Sandy Berger in
the Roosevelt Room with a number of people who have been critical of the
administration with regard to its strategy on Kosovo. Most of the people who
were there were people who had called for using ground forces, or at least
preparing for ground forces much earlier.
Berger made what I thought was an excellent presentation on where we were and
where we were going to go. He said there were four points to remember. One,
NATO is going to prevail. Two, prevailing means exactly what we have said it
means, Serbs out, NATO in, refugees back. Three, the air campaign is working.
We're inflicting a lot of damage on Serb forces and on the Serbs themselves.
We have indications that things are moving in the right direction. But four,
all options are on the table, go back to one, we will win. As he explained,
that meant that ground forces were an issue seriously under consideration.
NATO and the United States were planning for all kinds of options, and if
necessary, ground forces would be part of the equation. We were going to win,
no matter what it took.
That was the kind of message that nobody had said publicly up to that time in
those kind of terms. It had not been clear to many of us on the outside that
the administration was fully and totally and 100% committed to winning, even if
that meant putting in ground forces. The message that Berger left on June 2
was that we will, if necessary, use ground forces. We don't think it's
necessary yet, but we will if necessary.
Two and a half months into a war, and the security adviser is basically
saying we're committed to win. That's the message he has to portray.
They never went to war. It took quite a long time for the administration to
recoup both the trust and the confidence of those of us who had called for a
strategy of victory, a strategy that would guarantee victory and winning, no
matter what it took. It takes a long time, because they weren't committed in
the beginning. They were committed to a strategy of changing Milosevic's mind.
That's not a strategy of victory. They weren't committed to doing everything
necessary to achieve it.
We've talked to a number of people. The allies and a number of people
outside were concerned whether this president, and this administration, would
hang in there.
Absolutely. There was a big concern whether the administration would remain
committed to achieving the goals that NATO had set, and there were many people
inside the administration arguing that they didn't think that it was going to
happen. Some of the allies didn't believe that the administration would, and
therefore were not willing themselves to put forward the kind of policies that
would have been necessary to achieve this. And many on the outside were not
convinced that the administration had the will to push this through. The signs
come in May, and then by early June, that the administration is committed.
What does that say about leadership, though? Two and a half months into a
war, you have to reassure your allies and those here that you are actually
committed to the strategy.
The problem was that the strategy we adopted in going into this conflict was
not a strategy that was designed to achieve our political objectives
militarily. It was a strategy designed to somehow convince somebody that we
were committed to something we were not committed to. We were not committed to
winning this war. We were not even committed to war. We never engaged in what
was called a war. We were engaged in the use of force in order to support our
political objectives. In the end, even General Clark still calls this coercive
diplomacy, rather than war. That was a fundamental misapprehension. What we
were engaged in once the first bomb was dropped was a war, and you cannot lose
wars. It took a while for the administration to realize that, one, we were in
a war and two, and we couldn't lose it.
June 1. Why did Milosevic capitulate?
In the end, he capitulated because the strategy that was amorphously put
together around late April worked. The intensification of strategic bombing
forced Milosevic down a corridor with a dead end, but there were two doors
through which he would hope to escape. One was a political door, in which the
Russians were going to come to his rescue politically--preventing a political
deal would have prevented the UN from coming aboard. That door was shut down
on June 3, when the Russians joined the United States and the European Union on
the same NATO demands and said, you've got to deliver. The other door was a
military door--the hope that if he just sat down and waited and waited and
waited, NATO would fall apart, and there wouldn't be any ground invasion. By
May, and certainly by early June, the signs were all there that, if necessary,
NATO was going to go in on the ground, so that door was closed too. Now he was
in a corridor that had a dead end. The moment he realized that, which is the
moment the Russians closed the political door, he said, "Okay, I've had enough.
Whatever you want, as long as I stay in power, I'll quit," and he did.
So we're right there, at the last possible moment, and we get word that he's
going to cave.
The president doesn't have to make that tough political call. This guy
survives scandal, survives the Republicans who end up losing the battle on the
Hill, takes hits for it, and all of a sudden he gets off again. Lucky.
This guy is the luckiest president we've ever had. That said, I believe that
Bill Clinton in time became convinced that he had to win this war. He would
have done whatever was necessary to win the war, and he was leading his
administration in a way that the commander in chief must lead his
administration. In the month of May and into June, he went right down the path
of making all the necessary decisions. Sure, he was trying to postpone those
decisions--he didn't want to decide about ground forces for as long as
possible--but in the end, he would have made that decision. He would have made
the right one, and we would have won in any case.
Who won here--NATO, Milosevic or the KLA?
In essence, NATO, Milosevic and the KLA won. Milosevic stays in power, which
is what he cares about most. NATO won, because it showed that if it uses
force, it can do so for a sustained period of time, and can achieve the
objectives that ultimately they agreed upon. And the KLA won because they
basically run Kosovo today.
How dicey is all of this? We're not going to war. We said we don't plan to
go to war. The next thing we know, we've got a refugee crisis that nearly
topples the Macedonian government, which is what we are trying to avoid in the
first place. Then we have this little problem with the Chinese embassy and
those relations. The Russians go off to Pristina airport, and we're almost
going to take them on. We're just days from making a decision. We're
potentially months from fighting a bloody ground war. How dicey is
When you make a strategy of war on the fly, you are likely to have all kinds of
problems. You may find that Macedonia is about to be overrun and destabilized
by refugees when you only were prepared for 25,000 refugees. You may find that
your relationship with China goes down the toilet, because unfortunately you
happen to bomb their embassy. You may find that you have to go in with ground
troops and start a major war in the middle of Europe, almost on the scale of
the Gulf war. If you don't know what it is that you want, and you don't know
how you're going to get what you want, you're going to make it up on the fly.
You increase the risk of failure, and increase the stakes necessary for
success. It's not a way to go to war.
General Short's notion is that we had the wrong strategy, and that he knew what
the right strategy was, if only he had been allowed to do what he wanted to do.
This ignores the fact that this was a war conducted by an alliance, and ignores
the fact that the strategy that he wanted to implement would never have
received approval in the White House, which was convinced that a bit of bombing
was more than enough to do what needed to be done.
He may well have been wrong. . . . How does he know what makes Mr. Milosevic
tick, and how does he know at what point would have caved? He doesn't even
know why Milosevic caved in the end. He has the hubris to suggest that he knew
the right strategy when others didn't. That's just wrong. The only way in
which you could guarantee success is to have had a military strategy where you
could deny militarily what Milosevic was
seeking--and you do that with ground forces--not with air power.
There's the idea that, if they bombed more heavily, they could have
shortened the war. It would have happened quicker, there would have been fewer
problems, less misery, and they could have at least put the pressure on.
Ultimately they got there. But why not do it from the start?
If we would have bombed downtown Belgrade the way that General Short would have
done, the question is, would that have changed Milosevic's mind? Because if it
hadn't changed Milosevic's mind, the forces on the ground in Kosovo would have
done exactly what they did. So the issue here is, how do you change
Milosevic's mind with air power? My suggestion is that General Short may think
he knows, but he doesn't necessarily have any evidence for knowing how you
change Milosevic's mind. You can only make that case if you believe that, in
the end, the bombing of the electricity was what changed Milosevic's mind. He
doesn't know the center of gravity of the Serb forces any more than I do. He
doesn't know that Milosevic could have done what he did inside Kosovo, even if
we'd hit the bridges in downtown Belgrade on day one.
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