February 11, 2012

YUGOSLAVIA, BUT WITH MORE TARGETS WE WANT TO TAKE OUT:

A Kosovo Model for Syria: Bill Clinton stood up to Milosevic. Barack Obama can confront Assad. (FOUAD AJAMI, 2/10/12, WSJ)

President Obama isn't about to adopt the exercise of American power and burdens during the era of George W. Bush as his own. But in the face of this Syrian dilemma, he would be wise to consider the way Bill Clinton dealt with the crisis of Kosovo in 1999. Not unlike our current president, President Clinton wanted nothing to do with Kosovo when that last of the wars of Yugoslavia erupted with fury in early 1999.

American power, it should be recalled, had rallied to the defense of the Bosnians four years earlier. The horror of Bosnia had gone on for 30 cruel months, under George H.W. Bush and President Clinton alike. Legends were told about the might of the Serbs, but they were broken with relative ease and the Bosnians were rescued when President Clinton decided that American honor was sullied by the genocide in that corner of Europe--and he unleashed the power of NATO's bombers.

But the Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic was not done. He was determined to deny the Kosovars their autonomy. There had been a terrible summer in 1998, more than 300,000 Kosovar Albanians had been forced to leave their homes. "Ethnic cleansing," that awful euphemism, was again everywhere in the news.

For President Clinton, it was yet another plunge into the Balkan inferno. He authorized a NATO air campaign against Serbia that began on March 23, 1999, the very same day a bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress voted to support it. Two days later, President Clinton spoke to the American people and laid out the stakes in that conflict--the future of Europe, the line to be drawn for brigands and killers challenging the order of nations.

The air campaign lasted 11 weeks, included more than 30,000 sorties, and crippled Milosevic's ability to wage war on the Kosovars. The economic and military infrastructure of Serbia was damaged, even the home of Milosevic was targeted. Though a "war president" is the last thought that comes to mind when thinking of Bill Clinton, he stayed the course.

Prompted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Clinton was even willing to countenance the use of ground troops. It didn't come to that--an independent Kosovo was midwifed by a moderate and limited exercise of American power. We lost no American soldiers in that campaign. Two planes were lost, but their crews were recovered safely.

All this was done outside the suffocating confines of the U.N. Security Council. 
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Posted by at February 11, 2012 6:59 AM
  

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