Scenarios Reach the TV Screen-6
As television producer Roberts recalls, it was a Ukrainian friend who, seeing the implications for his own country of the Abramowitz humanitarian war plans, set him to worrying. "If the U.S. endorsed this new foreign policy principle the potential for international chaos was immense. Real or trumped up incidents of destruction or displacement would be grounds for Russian or American military intervention in dozens of countries where nothing like a melting pot has ever existed."
"Real or trumped up" -- that is the question. For once so much is at stake -- nothing less than the future of the greatest power the world has ever seen -- events are all too likely to follow the imaginary scenario laid out by the policy planners.
This can happen in at least three ways.
1 - Reality imitates fiction. It is a common human psychological phenomenon that people see what they are looking for, or have been led to expect to see, often when it is not there. This happens in countless ways. It may account for desert mirages, or apparitions of the Virgin, or simple errors of recognition that occur all the time.
When reporters unfamiliar with the country are sent into Bosnia or Kosovo to look for evidence of "Serbian war crimes", and only evidence of Serbian war crimes, that is what they will find. And if Croats, Muslims and Albanians who are fighting against the Serbs know that that is what they are looking for, it will be even easier.
If they are expecting, say, Serbs to be criminals, everything Serbs say or do will be interpreted in that light, with greater or less sincerity. Every ambiguous detail will find its meaning.
2 - Evidence will be trumped up. This is an age-old practice in war.
3 - Circumstances can be arranged to incite the very crimes that the power wants to be able to punish. In police language, this is called entrapment, or a "sting" operation, and is illegal in many countries, although not in the United States.
The Kosovo scenario has been advanced in all three ways.
Military intervention may be justified "when a self-determination claim triggers an armed conflict that becomes a humanitarian crisis", wrote Scheffer and Halperin.
The much-praised non-violent movement of Ibrahim Rugova could not meet this criterion. It failed precisely because it was not a movement for political equality but a movement for secession. A non-violent movement for political equality can find many active ways to illustrate its exclusion and press its demands for inclusion. But the goals of the Albanian movement were not inclusion but complete independence from the existing State. To show their rejection of Serbia, Kosovo Albanians in the Rugova period refused to use the democratic rights they had, boycotted elections, refused to pay taxes, and even set up their own parallel schools and public health service. The odd thing is that this movement of passive resistance was met for the most part by passive resistance on the part of the Serbian State, which allowed Dr Rugova to go about his business (obviously in defiance of Serbian laws) as "President of the Republic of Kosova", let people get away with not paying taxes and did not force children to attend Serbian schools. Certainly, there were numerous instances of police brutality, although their extent is hard to judge, in-as-much as Kosovar Albanian Human Rights Groups notoriously exaggerated such incidents in order to claim that their people were being brutally oppressed -- a claim which was not accepted by the German government, incidentally, despite its support to the separatist movement. But in reality, internal separatism was too easy. The two communities grew ever farther apart, but peacefully. There was an impasse.
That impasse was broken by the UÇK/KLA, acting with the backing of the United States. The strategy was summed up by Richard Cohen:
The KLA had a simple but effective plan. It would kill Serbian policemen. The Serbs would retaliate, Balkan style, with widespread reprisals and the occasional massacre. The West would get more and more appalled, until finally it would, as it did in Bosnia, take action. In effect, the United States and much of Europe would go to war on the side of the KLA. It worked.
This version perhaps gives the KLA/UÇK a little too much credit. The United States has been watching Kosovo closely for years, and there are strong indications that it both passively and actively assisted the armed rebels in their humanitarian sting operation. The KLA did indeed kill Serbian policemen, as well as a number of civilians, including ethnic Albanians who failed to boycott the Serbian state. But in between these killings and the Serb retaliation, "Balkan style", there was a very significant encouragement from Richard Gelbard, acting as U.S. proconsul for former Yugoslavia. Normally, Gelbard's visits to Belgrade were marked by utterances berating Serbian authorities for not doing Washington's bidding in one respect or another. But on February 23, 1998, Gelbard visited Pristina and declared publicly that the KLA/UÇK was indeed "unquestionably a terrorist organization".
To the Serbs, this simply seemed to be recognition of what to them was an obvious fact. Naively believing that the United States was, as it continued to declare, sincerely opposed to "international terrorism", Serbian authorities took this remark as a green light to do what any government normally does in such circumstances: send in armed police to repress the terrorists. After all, they were not hard to find. Unlike guerrillas in most conflicts, they made no effort to conceal their whereabouts but openly proclaimed that they were hanging out in a number of villages in the Drenica hill region. Far from heading for the hills when the police approached, the UÇK let civilians who didn't want to get shot head for the hills while they themselves hunkered down at home, sometimes with a few remaining family members, and shot it out with police. This suicidal tactic may have stemmed from the fact that Albanian homes often double as fortresses in the traditional blood feuds, but could not withstand Serbian government fire power. In any case, the results were enough dead Albanians in their villages to enable Madeleine Albright and her chorus of media commentators to cry "ethnic cleansing". It was not "ethnic cleansing", it was a classic anti-insurgency operation. But that was enough for the trap to start closing.
It is easy to imagine how the same scenario could enfold again in some remote area of the "Eurasian Balkans", where folk customs are not frightfully different from those of the Albanians.