Well, the United States is at it again. The only superpower left in the world decided to flex its muscles on another small country with border problems. In 1992 the United States decided to go to war against Iraq, under a thinly disguised UN veil, and reduced the world’s 4th largest standing army to scrap metal for its attempt to reassert dominance over Kuwait. Kuwait is a nonsensical country, ethnically and linguistically identical to the rest of southern Iraq, basically created after WWI in order to cut Iraq’s access to the Persian Gulf. (Indeed, before the discovery of oil in the North Sea, Europe especially was heavily dependent upon this area and had every interest in fragmenting it in order to avoid one nation’s controlling too much of the supply and therefore prices)
This time around, in the name of NATO, the United States is bombing Yugoslavia for trying to keep one of its (already autonomous) provinces from seceding. Following this logic, Great Britain, at the time the greatest power in the world, would have been amply justified in attacking the Union in 1860 for trying to stop the Confederate States from seceding from the United States. Abraham Lincoln would have gone down in history as being a nationalistic nut. He probably would have been castigated by the press for having been a power monger and a dangerous criminal for using nationalism as a tool for mass control. Queen Victoria on the other hand, perhaps aided by Napoleon III and Bismark would have been celebrated as morally virtuous heads of state. (Note that when you have to meet a European monarch you only have to go down on one knee.)
Ah, I see you do not like my analogy. Wilsonians that you are, you appeal to the right of all peoples to self-determination. I personally would remark that the United States is surprisingly unwilling to bomb Beijing in the name of Tibet or any other of the hundreds of unhappy ethnic provinces China has in its control. No one has mentioned dividing Russia or the United Kingdom for that matter. The United States has laid no claim to Canada, a country (with the possible exception of French Quebec) so similar to the United States one wonders at its independence. The truth of the matter is that conducting one’s foreign policy on the basis of some perfectly arbitrary moral values is deeply unrealistic and causes more problems for everybody than it actually solves, especially in ethnic quagmires like Yugoslavia. One wonders at whether the U.S. has forgotten the lessons of Vietnam and the Cold War.
Let us look at some of the other reasons Ken Bacon, our now famous White House spokesman, has advanced to explain to CNN and the world why all this is happening. As usual the United States justifies a supposedly “moral affair” by stating its interests in the matter: a stable Europe.
As a European, let me tell you that Kosovo is about as important to the stability of the United States’ European main economic partners as the Fiji islands. Most of Europe has ignored the ethnic conflict there for the better part of 2000 years without really suffering for it, and I can’t see that changing now. In fact, if truth be told, no people have ever even really been attached to Kosovo territory. Serbs, Turks, Armenians, and others have drifted in and out of this area since time immemorial reacting to the pains of wars, famines, plagues, and cultural differences. The Serbs themselves were driven out of the area little less than 50 years ago. If the Jewish people can be allowed to return to Palestine after 2000 years, surely one can make allowances for a 50-year gap for Serbs or a 100-year gap for the Iraqis.
The main issue with the righteous American public seems to be the civilian plight of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees spilling into neighboring countries like Macedonia and Albania. Let us be reminded of who started shooting first. The KLA, a small, extremist, nationalist Kosovar paramilitary group, started shooting at Serb border patrols as a part of their claim to an independent state. The Serbs retaliated by launching the campaign we know to try to eradicate this guerilla resistance. Let us put ourselves in a Yugoslav soldier’s shoes for an instant. You enter a village where people trying to shoot you may be hiding, what do you do? The US army would have you use your college level communication skills in order to be all you can be. (Dead seems a reasonable suggestion.) For those not taught to deal with politically correct “moral” considerations, one solution is to round up the men and put them into prison camps and shoot those who resist. Send the women packing and you might actually be able to reclaim some of the land you were expelled from half a century ago. From a Serb point of view this makes obvious sense. I can’t say I don’t sympathize.
So what lessons can we, as Americans, take from this kind of situation? Do we really need to spend our resources (something like $212,000 per tomahawk cruise missile according to Time) and manpower just to prove that we are the big guys? Is our pride so important that we cannot admit to our inconsistencies and mistakes? Are we so conceited and presumptuous that we absolutely must impose our worldview upon others who really don’t see things our way? It certainly seems that way. Of course, we can if we want to as long as we can get away with it, and this time it looks like we have.
But don’t we have other things to take care of? What happened to being a “beacon of light” to the world? All we are is the object of worldwide ridicule combined with that small twinge of fear of the unpredictable. Though demonized by world media, Slobodan Milosevic is essentially a democratically elected head of state looking out for the interests of his country and countrymen. He is not a Hitler-like madman bent on world domination as CNN would like you to believe.
So instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a day on Kosovo, a Yugoslavian province whose GNP is probably not even close to that, couldn’t we perhaps take a look at what’s wrong at home? By bombing Yugoslavia we make two peoples unhappy instead of originally just one. The plight of the Kosovars, the burning of their villages and their displacement can more than likely never be repaired anyway. Returning them to their homes is only going to make the problem worse. So instead of crying over spilt milk, perhaps it’s time for the US government to look at some of what the American people basically want, things like money and security as well as what they should have, like education. What the current administration seems to be very good at is steering away from confronting these problems by conjuring some up overseas in order to divert the attention of the public. Perhaps the time has also come to stop chasing windmills all over the world and focus on what we think is important. Does the fact that Kosovars are being roughly treated stop you from sleeping at night? What about your job, your relationship(s), your health? My point.