Clinton Official at Rambouillet:
"We intentionally Set Compliance Bar Too High For Serbs to Comply"
Let me state at the outset that my remarks here today do not represent any Senate office or member. Rather, I am giving my professional judgement as a policy analyst and my personal opinion, for both of which I am solely responsible.
The rationale for U.S. intervention in Kosovo and for assistance to the Kosovo Liberation Army is easily stated.It goes something like this:
That, in a nutshell, is the case. I have tried to paraphrase as closely as possible the arguments of supporters of the Clinton policy. The trouble is: hardly any part of the summary justification I just gave is true. Some parts of it are skewed or exaggerated interpretations of the facts, some are outright lies. However, as in Bosnia, the Clinton Administration's Kosovo policy cannot be justified without recasting a frightfully complex conflict, with plenty of blame to go around, as a caricature: a morality play in black and white where one side is completely innocent and the other entirely villainous.
To start with, pre-1989 Kosovo was hardly the fantasyland of ethnic tolerance the pro-intervention caricature makes it out to be. Under the 1974 Tito constitution, which elevated Kosovo to effective equality with the federal republics, Kosovo's Albanians exercised virtually complete control over the provincial administration. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of Serbs left during this period in the face of pervasive discrimination and the authorities' refusal to protect Serbs from ethnic violence. The result of the shift in the ethnic balance that accelerated during this period is the main claim ethnic Albanians lay to exclusive ownership of Kosovo. At the same time, Albanian demands mounted that the province be detached from Serbia and given republic status within the Yugoslav federation; republic status, if granted, would, in theory, have allowed Kosovo the legal right to declare its independence from Yugoslavia. One of the ironies of the present Kosovo crisis is that Milosevic began his rise to power in Serbia in large part because of the oppressive character of pre-1989 Albanian rule in Kosovo, symbolized by the famous 1987 rally where he promised the local Serbs: "Nobody will beat you again." In short, rather than Milosevic being the cause of the Kosovo crisis, it would be as correct to say that intolerant Albanian nationalism in Kosovo is largely the cause of Milosevic's attainment of power.
Second, in 1989 Kosovo's autonomy was not revoked but was downgraded -- at the federal level at Milosevic's initiative -- to what it had been before 1974. Many Albanians refused to accept Belgrade's reassertion of authority and large numbers were fired from their state jobs. The resulting standoff -- of boycott and the creation of alternative institutions on the Albanian side and of increasingly severe police repression on the Serbian side -- continued for most of the 1990s. Again, the political problem in Kosovo -- up until the bombing began -- has always been: how much autonomy will the Kosovo Albanians settle for? When I hear now that autonomy is not enough and that only independence will suffice, I can't help but think of Turkish Kurdistan where not only have the Kurds never been offered any kind of autonomy but even suggesting there ought to be autonomy will land you in jail. But of course we don't bomb Turkey over the Kurds; on the contrary, as a NATO member Turkey is one of the countries helping to bomb the Serbs.
Third, while after 1989 there was a tense stand-off in Kosovo, what we did not have was open warfare. That was the result not of any pre-planned Serbian program of "ethnic cleansing" but of the KLA's deliberate and I would say classic strategy to turn a political confrontation into a military confrontation. Attacks directed against not only Serbian police and officials but Serbian civilians and insufficiently militant Albanians were undoubtedly, and accurately, calculated to trigger a massive and largely indiscriminate response by Serbian forces. The growing cycle of violence, in turn, further radicalized Kosovo's Albanians and led to the possibility of NATO military involvement, which, I submit, based on the Bosnia precedent, was the KLA's real goal rather than any realistic expectation of victory on the battlefield. In every respect, it has been a stunningly successful strategy.
Fourth, the Clinton Administration's claim that NATO resorted to force only after diplomacy failed is a flat lie. As I pointed out in a paper issued by the Policy Committee in August of last year, the military planning for intervention was largely in place at that time, and all that was lacking was a suitable pretext. The Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement of October 1998 -- to which the KLA was not a party -- mandated a partial Serb withdrawal, during which the KLA occupied roughly half of Kosovo and cleansed! dozens of villages of their Serb inhabitants. Any reaction on the Serb side, however, risked NATO bombing.
Finally, the Rambouillet process cannot be considered a negotiation under any normal definition of the word: A bunch of lawyers at the State Department write up a 90-page document and then push it in front of the parties and say: "Sign it. And if you (one of the parties) sign it and he (the other party) doesn't then we'll bomb him." And of course, when they said that, Secretary Albright and the State Department knew that one of the parties would not, and could not, sign the agreement. Why? Because -- as has received far too little attention from our supposedly inquisitive media -- it provided for NATO occupation of not just Kosovo but of all of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) under Paragraph 8 of Appendix B: "8. NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access through out the FRY [i.e., the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia], including associated air space and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support, training, and operations."
I have it on good authority that one senior Administration official told media at Rambouillet (under embargo) "We intentionally set the bar too high for the Serbs to comply. They need some bombing, and that's what they are going to get." In short, Rambouillet was just Albright's charade to get to where we are now: a bombing campaign. Their big mistake was, they thought their splendid little war would have been over long before now. It's all happened just as they planned, except the last part: Milosevic has refused to run up the white flag.
Fifth, nobody can doubt there are serious atrocities being committed in Kosovo by Milosevic's forces -- though the extent and specifics of the reports that the media (as in Bosnia) treats as established fact are open to question and have been characterized by Agence France Presse (4/31) as on occasion being "confused, contradictory, and sometimes plain wrong."
For the Administration and NATO, however, it does not appear to detract from their propaganda value that "reports coming from NATO and US officials" appear often as little more than regurgitation of unconfirmed information from the KLA. I have in mind, for example, the report for a time being peddled by Jamie Rubin, among others, that some 100,000 Albanian men had been herded into the Pristina sports stadium until a reporter actually went to the stadium and found it empty. At the same time, we should not doubt that a lot more civilians, both Serb and Albanian are being killed by NATO than we are willing to admit as the air strikes are increasingly directed against what are euphemistically called "infrastructure" -- i.e., civilian -- targets. Some Albanian refugees say they are fleeing the Serbs, others NATO's bombs. The Clinton Administration has vainly tried to claim that all the bloodshed since March 24 has been Milosevic's fault, insisting that the offensive would have taken place even if NATO had not bombed, but I find that argument unconvincing. After the failure of the Rambouillet talks and the breakdown of the October 1998 Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement, a Serb action against the KLA may have been unavoidable -- and no doubt it would have been conducted with the same light touch used by the Turks against the PKK or by the Sri Lankans against the Tamil Tigers, who, like the KLA, do not play by Marquis of Queensberry rules. But a full-scale drive to push out all or most ethnic Albanians and unleash a demographic bomb against NATO staging areas in Albania and Macedonia may not have been.