WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Perhaps President Clinton never had a chance. He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn't.
If the U.S. had introduced ground troops, say Clinton aides, Clinton would have been criticized by the U.S. Congress for risking a military quagmire. Had he decided not to intervene at all in Kosovo, he would have been criticized for allowing NATO to standby in the face of a humanitarian disaster.
Therefore, despite warnings from General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, that "far from helping to contain the savagery of the Serbs in Kosovo - a moral imperative cited by the president - air strikes might provoke Serb soldiers into greater acts of butchery," the decision was made to go ahead with air strikes.
But that strategy is failing, and it appears that NATO is being timid in attacking Serbian command and control centers.
"Six days of intensive bombardment have failed to take out the Serb
anti-aircraft defences," reports The Independent (War in The Balkans - Strategy may be failing, says Nato, Andrew Marshall and Kim Sengupta, April 1) "with damage estimated at being only "minimal to moderate", say military sources. The hit rate is low, and the U.S. Air Force is down to its last hundred cruise missiles."
As for the sites hit one wonders why power plants, radio and television stations, and telephone exchanges were not targeted at the outset as they were in Iraq.
The Independent reports, "In the first five days of the campaign, about 90 attacks were made against at least 70 "individual sites". Eight airfields had been targeted and seven aircraft destroyed in addition to four MiG-29s and a MiG-21 shot down while trying to intercept NATO planes. There have been 16 attacks on radar and early-warning systems and 16 attacks on surface-to-air missile sites. Twelve of the further 15 air defence facilities have also been struck."
President Clinton may have made matters worse for the Kosovars when, within two days of the first air strikes, he assured the American people that U.S. troops would only be sent into Kosovo in a peacekeeping role.
"How happy President Milosovic must have been to hear that" says Robert Fisk (Lies, deceit and betrayal, The Independent, March 30). Fisk adds, "Already, Clinton was making excuses for NATO's air raids - and then promising that ground troops would never be sent to fight Serbian forces in Kosovo."
"So Milosevic's army pressed on eagerly. And when the next flood of Kosovars staggered into Macedonia with their stories of summary executions and
house-burning, we were told yet again that things would have been worse without
the air raids. Once NATO admitted that 500,000 Kosovars had been displaced, this lie was mercifully forgotten."
And throughout this humanitarian catastrophe, still unfolding, the leaders of Muslim countries have been conspicuous by their absence.
Clinton's aides would have us believe that President Clinton, with good intentions, at least tried to help the Kosovars. But somewhere along the way, perhaps stymied by NATO members' or U.S. Congress' opposition, even the air strikes seemingly avoided key targets.
Given Mr. Clinton's record on Bosnia, Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, etc. we remain sceptical. A more likely reason is that NATO was beginning to look like a paper tiger, and the U.S. couldn't have that just before NATO's 50th anniversary celebration on April 23 in Washington, D.C.
Now fewer good options (or the better of bad options) exist than before the NATO air strikes. But whatever strategy is now adopted independence for Kosovo, and swift justice for the aggressors, should be high on the list of priorities.
In the meantime the first priority should be to alleviate human suffering.
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