Two Anniversaries

On March 20, 2003, American forces began their invasion of Iraq. According to the Emperor himself, the purpose of the war was to "disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people."

Five years later, U.S. troops are still occupying Iraq. Four thousand of them have died, and tens of thousands have been injured, many seriously. The Iraqi death toll runs in the hundreds of thousands (the Empire refuses to "keep score"), and the number of displaced Iraqis is over a million.

The path to that war was "paved with false assumptions and lies," in the words of Rep. Ron Paul. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere had nothing to do with Hussein. And the only things people of Iraq have been "liberated" from were their lives, property, and dignity. By every reasonable standard, and a few unreasonable ones, the Iraqi adventure has been a complete and utter fiasco.

In today’s America, it is a popular belief among those against the Iraq war that Bush the Lesser is to blame, and that things will turn around after he is replaced. That is a dangerous folly. The road to damnation did not begin in March 2003 – or in September 2001, for that matter – but in March 1999. Iraq was not the first instance of an illegal, aggressive war launched from Washington. That dubious honor goes to the 1999 attack on then-Yugoslavia, in support of the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army. The Kosovo war provided as precedent for Iraq, a "pattern of aggression," as British historian Kate Hudson famously noted in August 2003.

Bombs Over Belgrade

Operation Allied Force (incorrectly known in Serbia as "Merciful Angel") was launched on March 23, 1999, without UN approval or even a pretext. Even though the press today claims that NATO’s air war was launched to stop or prevent "repression" of Albanian rebels by Yugoslav and Serbian forces, the actual justification invoked as the attack began was that Serbia had to be bombed into signing the "Rambouillet agreement" – a disgraceful ultimatum demanding NATO occupation of Kosovo and a free hand in the rest of Serbia. Even Empire’s war planners quickly recognized the abject absurdity of "bombs for peace" and directed the media to change the official line in a "humanitarian" direction. The war thus became about "saving the Kosovars" (sic). Tales of alleged Serbian atrocities abounded, routinely compared to those of the Nazis: mass deportations, mass executions, mass graves, mass rapes.

They proved as real as the "Iraqi WMDs."

Even though Allied Force was officially a NATO operation, the vast majority of sorties were flown by American warplanes. As in Iraq, the assumption of the U.S. leadership was that the war would be short and victorious. It was neither; instead of capitulating within a week, the government of Slobodan Milosevic fought on for 78 days, agreeing to let NATO occupy Kosovo only after receiving explicit guarantees of Serbian sovereignty. When Yugoslav troops retreated from Kosovo, they did so nearly unharmed and in perfect order, showing that the bombing was primarily directed against civilian targets and intended to terrorize.

Kosovo was a Rubicon that the Empire needed to cross: a demonstration that it could attack anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

Brutal Occupation

As in Iraq, the occupation turned out to be worse than the actual war. The UN took over administration of the NATO-occupied province, but in practice that meant turning it over to the terrorist KLA. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Roma, Turks, and other non-Albanians were ethnically cleansed. Over 150 churches and monasteries, cemeteries and chapels were destroyed and desecrated. Non-Albanians were beaten, murdered, and even allegedly harvested for organs. Entire villages were razed during a pogrom in March 2004. Eventually, those who launched the 1999 invasion sought to legitimize it by supporting the Albanians’ declaration of independence in February this year.

In Kosovo and Iraq alike, the occupiers set up puppet governments, organized elections, and even promulgated constitutions. None of it changed the savage reality. Iraq continues to be divided between mutually hostile communities that all resent the occupation, while Kosovo continues to be dominated by a terrorist organization transformed into an organized crime syndicate, oppressing non-Albanians but brutalizing other Albanians as well.

Belief and Reality

Much as the Imperial policymakers believe that their beliefs can shape reality itself, the world today is a much different place than the world of 1999, or 2003. China never forgot the attack on its embassy in Belgrade. Nor did Russia forget the humiliation of having a U.S. lackey in the Kremlin stand helplessly by as NATO savaged Serbia.

NATO did not claim a victory in Kosovo until the U.S.-funded and organized opposition managed to depose Milosevic in an October 2000 coup. Even though Serbia has since been ruled by various combinations of pro-Imperial politicians, who have demonstrated an almost limitless capacity for groveling and sycophancy over the intervening years, there is still some defiance left in her.

The Empire does not care much; convinced its will has triumphed in Kosovo, Washington believes that the upcoming Serbian elections in May will finally bring to power a servile, pliant leadership that will sign on the dotted line and follow along. It also believes that Iraq will become a peaceful parliamentary democracy. The "reality-based" community, however, begs to differ.

Twilight of America

The upcoming presidential elections in the U.S. offer a slate of candidates who at best disagree on the flavor of Imperial aggression. John McCain was a hawk on Kosovo as much as he is on Iraq. Policymakers advising Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama alike believe that Kosovo was a triumph of liberal, "humanitarian" interventionism. In truth, it has been a triumph only for aggression and terror.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman once infamously claimed that supporting the terrorist KLA was "fighting for human rights and American values." What became of the America whose founders hoped would not go abroad "in search of monsters to destroy" and nurture "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations"? It is now a global Empire, invading, occupying, and supporting terrorism even while claiming to oppose it.

What happened in March 2003 – and in March 1999 – was a defeat; of the American republic, international law, and perhaps even of peace at the end of a century that has seen precious little of it. On these solemn anniversaries, one can only hope that these defeats were temporary and transient. Otherwise, the future looks less like utopia, and more like Kosovo.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.