Slobodan Milosevic, RIP

by , March 16, 2006

The death of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic is an occasion for all wings of the War Party, no matter what their current squabbles over the war in Iraq, to come together in a bipartisan and trans-ideological show of unity: from the Weekly Standard to the The New Republic, and virtually all points in between, the consensus opinion is that the war to "liberate" Kosovo from the Serbian jackboot was a just cause. The same Clintonian Democrats who today decry the naked unilateralism of the U.S. in invading Iraq vocally supported America’s attack on "The Butcher of the Balkans" – undertaken without UN approval – and defend it to this day. The bombing of Yugoslavia, which killed 5,000-7,000 Serbian civilians, was bitterly opposed by congressional Republicans, who were accused by the other side of the aisle of undermining the troops and acting, in effect, as a kind of fifth column. As George W. Bush and his supporters impugn the patriotism of Iraq war opponents, the Democrats’ loud squeals of protest evoke no sympathy from me. Nothing is sweeter to the ear than the sound of a hypocrite’s howls as he’s hoisted on his own petard.

The image of old Slobo splashed across the front pages evokes, in me, a sense of nostalgia – for the good old days of Antiwar.com’s youth, when we were just beginning our efforts to expose and oppose the War Party. It was a lonely time to be an antiwar activist, since so many on the Left supported the first wave of Wilsonian interventionism that later metamorphosed into the Bush Doctrine. A broad united front made up of Democratic Party loyalists, neoconservatives, George Soros, and leftist intellectuals of the black-turtleneck Susan Sontag type, along with Bianca Jagger and the mad Trotskyist [.pdf] "Red" Vanessa Redgrave, gathered to demonize not only poor old Slobo but all Serbs. The New Republic branded them an intrinsically evil people who deserved collective punishment, exhaustive "reeducation," and permanent occupation: Stacy Sullivan’s piece equated the Serbs with the Nazis and recommended a latter-day version of the draconian Morgenthau Plan to reduce them to a state of harmless quiescence.

Milosevic was the Saddam of the Balkans, and Serbia – a ramshackle country without resources, either economic or military, and no threat to the United States in any way, shape, or form – bears an eerie resemblance to pre-war Iraq. Dominated by a single party for many decades, with an economy driven into the ground by years of socialist mismanagement and outright plunder, and ruled by terror and baksheesh, Serbia – like Iraq – insisted on believing in the myth of its own sovereignty, and crossed the path of the aspiring American hegemon once too often for its own good.

Kosovo may have belonged to Serbia for generations, it may have been the historical seat of the national mythos, its churches may have housed the soul of the Serbian people – but none of that mattered to the Americans, not a single bit. Nor does it matter to them that, today, those churches are charred ruins, while Kosovo has fallen into the hands of terrorists and drug lords of the Albanian mafioso, and become an international center of the white slavery circuit and the arms-smuggling trade.

What matters is that the preening moralists of the interventionist "Left" feel good about themselves and can pat themselves on the back for having stopped "genocide." That was the word Rep. Nancy Pelosi used to describe what was going on in Bosnia and Kosovo, as I questioned her support for Clinton’s war at a public meeting. Her bugged-out eyes bulged and seemed almost to pop out of their sockets as she exclaimed in horror that of course U.S. military intervention was a moral necessity. Hitler-Nazis-"ethnic cleansing" – all the by-now-familiar buzzwords used by the neocons to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq were trotted out and tested first by the Nancy Pelosis of this world, as they defended a war against a country that had never attacked us and posed no threat, either to our territory or our legitimate interests.

As it turned out, however, the "genocide" was greatly exaggerated: indeed, it was almost entirely the product of war propaganda, as John Laughland and others revealed to an indifferent world in the war’s aftermath. We started out hearing of as many as 100,000 victims of Milosevic’s "ethnic cleansing," as CNN (then popularly known as the Clinton News Network) assured us. Then, somehow, they decided to pare down the number to around 50,000: however, as the war ended, and the number of bodies seemed hardly in accordance with this estimate, they reduced it to 10,000. But where, critics still wondered, were the bodies? Apparently nowhere to be found. In the end, the truth came out, as it usually does, albeit far too late to prevent an immoral and precedent-setting war: what happened in Kosovo was not an ethnic cleansing, but a civil war, in which the body count showed a nearly equal number of deaths on both sides. The total number of victims, including Kosovars, Serbs, Roma, and others, was under 10,000.

If Democratic opponents of the Iraq occupation claim they were lied into supporting that war, one wonders how many of them even realize that it wasn’t for the first time? How many know we still have troops in Kosovo – 1,600, out of a total international force of some 16,000 – and are calling for a timetable to get them out? Today they scream about how Halliburton is the number-one war profiteer, but none of them said a word when that same company, through its subsidiary Brown & Root, garnered exclusive contracts to build and maintain the U.S. military presence in the Balkans. This includes Camp Bondsteel, a huge facility that has become the center of U.S. military operations in the southeastern European theater – and also apparently one of several secret prison facilities in which "renditioned" prisoners are being secretly held, and, in all likelihood, tortured.

Oh, the irony of it all. Yet the ironies of the Balkan phase of America’s nascent imperial hegemony are legion, and we could spend an entire week delighting in them, happily flinging imprecations and I-told-you-so‘s in all directions, but you get the idea. If, today, the U.S. government claims the right to intervene anywhere and everywhere in the name of "humanitarianism," in order to prevent alleged "genocide" and shine the Light of Democracy into the darkest corners of the globe, then Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and the holier-than-thou legions of the "enlightened" internationalist Left took a giant step in that direction when they signed up for the "liberation" of Kosovo.

I hold no brief for Milosevic, as I have made very clear in the past on more than one occasion, but his trial was a legal abomination and a dangerous affront to the concept of national sovereignty. By asserting the alleged "right" of some supranational authority to intervene in the internal affairs of the former Yugoslavia, the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal was anticipating the Bush Doctrine, which invokes a similar "right" in the name of spreading "democracy." You’ll note that no attempt has been made by the Tribunal to assert its authority over the trial of Saddam Hussein, which is being left strictly to the Americans and their Iraqi henchmen. In Iraq, the "multilateralist" façade of American imperialism has been shed, and it is this brazenness, not the policy of interventionism, that offends the delicate sensibilities of the Democrats in Congress. We have to be "smart" about dominating and colonizing other peoples: that is, in essence, the Democratic critique of George W. Bush’s foreign policy of untrammeled aggression.

Slobodan Milosevic was not the devil he’s made out to be, but merely a third-rate Communist apparatchik and thug who sought to hold onto power no matter what or how, even as the post-Communist system fell apart all around him. He succeeded only in dragging his once proud and prosperous nation down along with him: that is his un-proud legacy. We at Antiwar.com opposed Milosevic and his rule from the beginning – even as we opposed the American aggression and the efforts of the War Party to build, around the Kosovo intervention, an international consensus on the desirability of setting up a supranational world police force, the embryo of a global state. To the Clintonian Democrats who were the main cheerleaders of that war, NATO was the chosen instrument of American hegemony, just as the UN – in the form of the Tribunal – was the preferred instrument of a very rough justice. Together, these nominally international institutions dressed up and partially hid an increasingly assertive American Empire, which came out of the closet with full force in the post-9/11 era.

In Kosovo, we coordinated with our European allies to bomb some of the oldest cities in Europe, as well as a radio and television center. When Dubya suggested to Tony Blair that they bomb al-Jazeera, he might have brought up this precedent: after all, President Clinton didn’t hesitate to give the order to bomb Serbia’s Station RTS, killing a night watchman and putting a major source of news about what was happening inside the former Yugoslavia out of commission. And before we hear too much gloating about how Judith Miller got her comeuppance when she allowed herself and her newspaper to be used as a conduit for war propaganda, let us remember how CNN pioneered that territory in even more outrageous fashion by allowing U.S. government covert agents inside their news operation for the explicit purpose of slanting Kosovo coverage.

How quickly we forget. And that’s why I’m around, and why you keep coming back: to remind you, and not gently, that none of this is new. We’ve been here before. The only difference being that each cycle of war propaganda followed by a military strike is more intense and destructive than the last. It’s as if we, as a nation, are intent on working ourselves up into a fit of war hysteria that can only end in self-immolation – a burst of fire and a puff of smoke.

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