When you live abroad it is all so different. Every act of the United States is perceived as “arrogant.” Every step is analyzed, criticized. Every media scandal is pored over and discussed intensely. (Ohhh. . .it was a Gap dress!). Did you know that in most countries, the U.S. ambassador is frequently cited as ‘one of the ten most important people in the country?’
It is slightly disappointing, landing in the land of opportunity, to find that Fox Weekly World News gives precedent to local news over international affairs. It took me some time to recover from that aspect of “the culture shock”. . .along with the fact that America was not actually anything like Pulp Fiction. Or Reservoir Dogs.
About Kosovo. The debate has raged all around me, from discussions in poli-sci class and dorm rooms to talks over plain dinner. I would like to make one thing clear. The whole world does not share American sentiments over the situation in Kosovo. The most interesting aspect is that, although a majority of people supports the airstrikes in Kosovo, they support them for humanitarian reasons. However, this same humanitarian crisis could have been avoided if the bombings had not started in the first place. The most striking example of NATO planning is the lack of any planning from the start.
President Clinton’s reply “We will keep on bombing,” to the Italian Prime Minister’s query of how NATO planned to proceed if Milosevic refused to budge, is classic. Milosevic was never given any room to function in from the very start. You cannot expect a leader of a country (elected on nationalistic fervor) to give in blindly to demands from an outside power. This would be tantamount to a show of weakness and would lead to unpopularity in his own country.
The largest miscalculation was the expectation that Milosevic would back down after a few airstrikes. Milosevic started massing troops on the Kosovo border after repeated threats from NATO. NATO claimed it had predicted Milosevic would carry out a large campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Why were no preparations made in advance for dealing with the large influx of refugees into the region?
From the very start, the air strikes were skewed. The United Nations was ignored over the issues in the Balkans; Russia was treated as an outsider in the whole affair, despite its all to too close ties with the Serbs. The whole affair was mismanaged, leading critics to charge that the bombings initiated a humanitarian disaster that could have been avoided.
Another aspect of this war is the manner in which it has been run. NATO has played it out like a video game. Almost as if they were running a slow motion movie, the airstrikes have been choreographed to perfection. The whole process seems to be flawless. Why, the U.S. pilots might as well actually be getting practice in a video game arcade for the whole war. This unreality does not translate on the ground however.
Just as the Gulf War demonstrated what air power could do, this war demonstrates what air power cannot do. It cannot help refugees fleeing from a region. It cannot wipe out dispersed Serb units on the ground. Ground troops are better equipped to do that. NATO entered this war unprepared to deal with the contingency of ground troops. They were simply not an option because NATO could not afford to lose any troops. So while the harrowing pictures of Kosovar refugees were flashed on TV screens all over the world, the capture of three U.S. soldiers elicited as much concern and showed why NATO is unwilling to commit ground troops to the region.
One of the U.S. soldiers left a message for his Serbian captors saying he would pray for peace. Now peace is a great thing, but if you are captured and released by your enemy you do not leave a message (beamed all over the world) contradicting the policies of your superiors in the military. While I admire the NATO concern for the safety of its soldiers, I must point out that this is bad precedent. On the one hand NATO sparks a campaign that leads to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, then on the other hand NATO is unwilling to commit soldiers to the area out of concern for human life. (So the lives of the refugees, who arguably came into this condition because of the airstrikes are not that important at all.)
What is the point of fighting a war at all if you are not willing to commit fully to it? What is the point of fighting a war to alleviate human suffering when it instead aggravates human suffering?