Don’t ignore genocide to keep peace

Clapping and cheering, Kosovar Albanians showed their support for Clinton and NATO officials during a visit this week to their refugee camp.
Despite daily evidence of atrocities committed by Slobodan Milosevic, his army and police forces, there are still many critics in the United States who feel we should not have intervened.
The various criticisms have not changed much since the bombing started. At the beginning, opponents of military action primarily focused on the question of our national interest. Others insisted we had no right to enter into the affairs of a sovereign nation, and denied the seriousness of the Kosovar Albanians’ accounts of bloodshed.
Now that the country’s borders have been reopened to journalists and international forces, the reports of mass graves and countless war crimes lessen the credibility of those who attempted to ignore the truth of what was going on and undermine efforts to help these people.
That’s not to say there are no reasons to question the method we used to address the problem. Perhaps there could have been more diplomatic actions, as some claim. Richard Holbrooke, expected to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said, “The war was messy, but it worked.”
Or did it? Many argue that the main drive against the Kosovars occurred in the first few days after the bombing. Had we not become involved, the human rights violations would likely have simmered slowly. Yes, the refugee problem would not have been so dramatic. But, here again, we saw the world step up to the plate and work out a solution in a spirit of cooperation and empathy.
But the tensions between the Belgrade government and the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army were rising and were bound to continue causing carnage, especially as the Belgrade government intensified efforts to root out terrorism by using unfounded accusations and the killing of innocent civilians.
Another argument said NATO broke international law, as it failed to obtain a U.N. mandate to enter the conflict. But, if the coalition is prohibited from intervening to stop a murderous dictator in their midst, perhaps it is time to push the envelope of international law.
After all, many decisions in world politics are now based on a consensus among the “international community.” A few dissenting countries like Russia and China — themselves not known for quality human rights codes — should not stand in the way.
Simply put, I was happy to see world military force being used to stop this atrocity, although I was, at times, very nervous about some of the threatening comments made by dissenting countries toward the United States.
Given my current opinion on the issue, and in light of the apparent feelings of the Kosovar people, I fail to understand what anti-intervention protesters wanted to do about the problems in the region.
During the post-war sanctions on Iraq, I reported on events sponsored by concerned groups like the Progressive Student Organization. On a trip to Iraq, they met with people who told the Americans they, rather than the Iraqi government, were feeling the brunt of the sanctions.
Given the sentiments of the Kosovar Albanians, I wonder what welcome the PSO would receive if they were to travel there, meet the refugees and tell them that they’ve been fighting to stop the intervention.
A balance of viewpoints is important to keep the military under control and provide alternative ideas for solving conflicts. But, when an atrocity of this magnitude is occurring and people continue to press for negotiations, it is reminiscent of the complacency that allowed Hitler to begin his takeover at the start of World War II.
Clinton has said this war was not started to take Kosovo away from the Yugoslavian government, and indeed, there was little world support for Kosovar independence. But, because of Yugoslavia’s inhumane actions, it appears they have lost the right to remain in control.
“It is clear that the Belgrade leadership has forfeited any role over the destiny of the Kosovo people,” Holbrooke said. “Belgrade is not going to run Kosovo for the foreseeable future.”
When a government steps so far over the line into criminal behavior, why would it not be punished? There is little reason to force Kosovo, with 90 percent of its population consisting of ethnic Albanians, to sleep with a murderous bedfellow.
The government of Serbia continues to downplay their mistakes. Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic said the country’s current cooperation with the withdrawal agreement entitles it to make three demands. These include finding those responsible for “violation of the U.N. Charter and international conventions, the aggression, crimes against peace and humanity, human losses, citizens’ sufferings, and massive violations of human rights.”
He also demands reparations for his country, the lifting of all sanctions against Yugoslavia and its readmittance to the United Nations.
If Bulatovic is serious about his first demand and cooperates with international war crimes officials, perhaps he will see progress. But I believe he is again trying to focus the debate on the effect of the atrocities rather than the cause. This will not work, now that the evidence is being brought to the world.
To avoid unclear policies with this type of foreign struggle, Clinton’s aides are encouraging him to develop a “Clinton doctrine,” which would guide U.S. involvement in foreign affairs. The plan would replace the Powell doctrine, which was developed after the Gulf War.
Officials say it would likely have three conditions to determine whether the United States should get involved. These would require there be a compelling national interest, a moral imperative to save lives and a likelihood of dramatically helping while minimizing risk.
Critics worry that this could open up a new can of worms by leading to intervention in countries where the national interest is not clear.
Others use the United State’s failure to intervene in Rwanda, for example, as evidence of hypocrisy and inconsistent U.S. policy. Clinton, for his part, has called his failure to get involved in Rwanda the worst mistake of his administration.
While the problems of intervention are sorted out, people everywhere should question which is more important: the notion of sovereignty regardless of ongoing crimes, or the forging of a world which doesn’t tolerate this kind of regime.
Robin Cook, Britain’s foreign secretary, told of a mass murder site he visited this week: “These people were herded into narrow rooms. They must have known what was coming, and then they were brutally shot through the doors. We hope they were all dead, because then they were set on fire. It must have been a vision of hell. I would just ask anybody who still doubts that we were right to stand on that doorstep looking at those corpses and see what I saw.”
That, or witness the pictures on the Internet, read up on the evidence and question those with a knee-jerk opposition to using professional soldiers where they are needed.

Brian Close’s column usually appears on Mondays. He welcomes comments to [email protected]