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<nettime> Force without force
nettime's_roving_reporter on Wed, 21 Apr 1999 12:05:29 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Force without force


The New Republic
APRIL 26 - MAY 3, 1999 ISSUE

Force Without Force
by Leon Wieseltier

Saving NATO, losing Kosovo.

Last week was the week in which the United States fought a war with Serbia
and lost. As of this dejected hour, there are almost half a million
refugees around Kosovo's borders, and the magnitude of the slaughter
inside Kosovo is unknown, though it is cert ainly what Senator Nickles
would have to call "a very significant massacre"; but NATO is delighted to
announce that it has destroyed a second bridge in Novi Sad, and that two
significant buildings in Belgrade are in flames.  No, wait, the clouds
have cleared. An appliance factory in Cacak is also a ruin.

The war aims of the Western alliance continue to be formulated in a
language that remains bizarrely unaffected by the agony on the ground.
These words that officially defy reality are designed to discourage any
discussion of American ground troops, who mi ght get hurt. And so at the
Pentagon they speak only of "punishing" and "degrading" Serbia and its
army. On March 31, President Clinton articulated "our stated objective" in
this way: "To raise the price of aggression to an unacceptably high level
so that we can get back to talking peace and security, or to substantially
undermine the capacity of the Serbian government to wage war."  But the
Serbs are not waging a war, exactly. They are expelling people and
exterminating people. The only way to punish and to degrade a savage in a
ski mask who breaks down the doors of houses in the night and orders the
women and the children to leave and shoots the men dead is to capture him
or to kill him. Yet the president seeks not to stop aggression; he seeks
to raise its price.  Hasn't he heard that the Field of Blackbirds is
priceless? Somebody should brief the president about unreason. For his own
fondest aim for Operation Allied Force is to "get back"  to "talking."
What a distraction from dialogue evil is!

In Bosnia, a genocide took place in the face of American inaction. In
Kosovo, a genocide is taking place in the face of American action. Truly,
our capacity for horror is being taxed. NATO's war against Slobodan
Milosevic and Slobodan Milosevic's war against Kosovo are being fought
alongside each other, in a sickening disconnection. NATO is promising that
its war against Milosevic will continue because its "credibility" is at
stake; but credibility for NATO is not mercy for Kosovo. If Milosevic
finally has his way with Kosovo and NATO finally has its way with
Milosevic, then NATO will be credible, except morally. Operation Allied
Force originated in a moral impulse, in an impatience with an injustice,
and for this it deserves to be supported, or else the United States is
just another great power; but it is no wonder that NATO's campaign is
increasingly defined more in the terms of realism and less in the terms of
idealism, because the struggle against ethnic cleansing has been thwarted
in the Balkans for the second time in the annals of the Clinton
administration. The work of idealism, once again, has been reduced to
relief and rescue, to the aftermath of catastrophe. Where we should have
rushed bullets we are now rushing blankets.

We have been witnessing a good fight badly fought. The means have not been
commensurate with the ends. Operation Allied Force is Operation
Insufficient Allied Force; and the crippling of Serbia from the skies will
not alter this. How did this happen? A few early observations are
possible.

The Velocity of Evil. In Washington it is said that the fault with
Operation Allied Force was not its purpose but its "implementation." This
is true, but it is too simple.  For the implementation is a reflection of
the extent to which the purpose was improperly comprehended. The failure
in the planning of this operation was owed in part to a poor understanding
of genocide as a military problem. The preempting of genocide, or the
ending of it, has certain peculiarities as a military objective.  The use
of force against it cannot be satisfied with punishment, because
punishment is always tardy. It is right to deny the aggressors the fruits
of what they have done; but they have done what they have done. Punishment
is just a way of restoring morality to tragedy. Also, it makes no sense to
speak of escalation in a war against genocide. Such a war is not a war of
attrition, if its aim is to prevent the death and the disappearance of a
people. A war against genocide must be fought with a fury, because a fury
is what it is fighting.

For the purpose of stopping genocide, the use of force is not a last
resort; it is a first resort. The alacrity of the response matters as much
as the intensity of the response. In Washington it is said that ground
troops must not be "hastily deployed," but a hasty deployment is the only
kind of deployment that is appropriate, because the crime, too, is hasty.
The president is pleading that we "stay the course," and NATO is promising
weeks and weeks of bombing. But Kosovo will soon be still. Less than half
the Kosovar population is left in Kosovo. In Belgrade, the stillness of
Kosovo will mean victory.

American culture and American politics are drenched in the memory of
Auschwitz, but some of the fundamental features of ethnic cleansing, its
swiftness and its single-mindedness, appear to have escaped American
planners. They have not yet learned to think operationally about the
resistance to genocide.  Instead they consult and they calibrate. And they
boast about the cohesion of the alliance.  The good news is that Brussels
is holding. The bad news is that Pristina is not.

In and Out. The infirmity of will that has characterized Operation Allied
Force is best captured in the concept that has become the centerpiece of
all discussion of the use of American force. I refer to the
circumscription of American action known as "exit strategy." This dogmatic
deadline is really a political concept, not a strategic concept; it allows
politicians and planners to beautify their pandering to the polls with the
high discourse of strategy. Essentially, "exit strategy"  exchanges the
maneuve rability of soldiers for the maneuverability of politicians. It is
a concept borrowed from the world of commerce, which is not a world of
sacrifices for principle. A smart investor knows when to get out; so, too,
a smart interventionist.

"Exit strategy" became canonical in 1993, in the wake of the clash in
Somalia in which 18 American soldiers were killed. President Clinton's
response to the incident was not to suggest that the soldiers in Mogadishu
had not died in vain, since hundreds of thousands of Somalis were saved
from starvation by the American deployment. "Americans are basically
isolationist," he explained to George Stephanopoulos. "They understand at
a basic gut level Henry Kissinger's vital-interest argument. Right now the
aver age American doesn't see our national interest threatened to the
point where we should sacrifice one American life." Since it is an axiom
of Clintonism that the president and the average American must at all
times be the same, the president brusquely announced on October 7, 1993,
that American troops would withdraw from Somalia on March 31, 1994. (Then
he remarked that "I hope I didn't panic and announce the pullout too
soon.")  In 1996, Anthony Lake, his tortured and timid national security
adviser, went so far as to codify an "exit strategy doctrine": "Before we
send our troops into a foreign country, we should know how and when we're
going to get them out." Lake was making omniscience into a condition of
the use of American force.

The doctrine of "exit strategy" fundamentally misunderstands the nature of
war and, more generally, the nature of historical action. In the name of
caution, it denies the contingency of human affairs. For the knowledge of
the end is not given to us at the beginning. We cannot completely predict
or completely determine the outcome of our best endeavors, though our
ignorance of their outcome does not make them less necessary or less just.
No great deed, private or public, has ever been undertaken in a bliss of
certainty. "Exit strategy" is for American strategy what "closure" is for
American psychology: a spurious guarantee that Americans will not have to
tolerate a condition of inconclusiveness for very long.

In war, certainly, an adherence to dogma is not strategic wisdom. "The
only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish
real war from war on paper," Clausewitz famously wrote, is the concept of
"friction."  Among these "effects that cannot be measured, because they
are largely due to chance," he added, is "the weather. Fog can prevent the
enemy from being seen in time...." It follows that a good commander is a
flexible commander: the sort of commander who would send Apache
helicopters where F-117s cannot go, because the cause is too precious to
surrender to the clouds; the sort of commander who would wisely order a
mission to creep.

America's commitment to NATO would itself have failed the test of "exit
strategy."  It has been 50 splendid, exitless years. So, too, would other
American deployments that have been essential to the protection of our
values and our interests: the three American divisions in South Korea, for
example. For "exit strategy" is more than a scruple about prudence in the
use of force. (Who is for the imprudent use of force?)  It is a scruple
about the use of force itself. It is an inhibition, an intimidation. It
rigs the discussion about military power in a way that makes any ambitious
projection of it unlikely. The antithesis of "exit strategy" is courage.

Saving General Powell. As a consequence of the disappointment of Operation
Allied Force, the Powell Doctrine is enjoying a revival. "This only
affirms the Powell Doctrine," commented Senator McCain. "This is more
reminiscent of the gradual escalation and bombing pauses that
characterized the Vietnam War." No greater malediction can be hurled at a
military operation. (But McCain was speaking critically of the Powell
Doctrine; he called for ground troops.) And in an unexpected outburst of
Powellism, Philip Gourevitch in The New Yorker fretted about "a new
military bog." He did not call for the introduction of ground troops; he
called for the government to "declare its intent." Gourevitch writes as if
he hates Clinton's hypocrisy more than Milosevic's cruelty. But we are
fighting the West's own butcher; and it is owing precisely to such
platitudes that the administration is restraining itself from doing all
that needs to be done to stop him. (A new military bog in Rwanda would
have been a godsend.)

Powell himself has been happy to express a feeling of vindication: "The
challenge of just using air power is that you leave it in the hands of
your adversary to decide when he's been punished enough.... So the
initiative will remain with President Milosevic." The implication of
Powell's remark is that he himself would have visited ground troops upon
the Serbian rampage, so as to cut it off and kill it. The notion is
grotesque. It was Powell who refused to consider the deployment of
American soldiers in Bosnia during the long years of its excruciation. The
Powell Doctrine (which also worships exit strategies) was significantly
responsible for the military and political climate that has resulted in a
half-measure such as Operation Allied Force. It was not formulated to
encourage the use of American ground troops as an instrument of foreign
policy. Quite the contrary. It promulgated a set of conditions for the use
of American ground troops that will almost never be met. Powell is
prepared to fight a war, but not a war that will ever be fought. In this
way, the general can appear as a man of war and a man of peace. This trick
accounts for his absurd popularity.

Powell's criticism of Operation Allied Force is that the war in the
Balkans is not being waged like the war in the Gulf. For Powell, the Gulf
war is the paradigm of war. It was, after all, a glorious victory. Of
course, it was also a war fought with overwhelming force and complete
dominance of the air in a featureless landscape where it almost never
rains. Strategically speaking, Operation Desert Storm was freakishly easy.
It was a victory, moreover, but it was not a glorious victory.  America
owed its success in the desert not least to the definition of success that
Powell propounded. This definition excluded from the war the most
difficult and the most urgent objective of all, the removal of Saddam
Hussein from power.

It was said at the time that this objective would have fractured the
international consensus in support of the war, which mandated only the
liberation of Kuwait.  But this was not the only American anxiety about
the inclusion of the political objective amo ng our war aims. There was
another American anxiety, and it was that the political objective could
not have been accomplished without a ground assault on Baghdad. This would
have been dangerous. American soldiers would have been wounded and killed.
And so American soldiers left the real trouble where they found it and
came home.

If Saddam Hussein ever again makes use of his obscene arsenal, Colin
Powell will have a lot to answer for. But there the general stood in his
sanctity at the Academy Awards, wrapping himself in World War II and
thrilling the young flesh.  "Every generation has the potential for
greatness," he preached. "Had those men and women failed in that test of
their greatness, we would live far different lives today." Then they
rolled the clip of Steven Spielberg's recreation of the least Powell-like
military operation ever launched. You would not have known that it is
Powell who has been instructing this generation of men and women to fail
in their own test of greatness. Hitler is not the only test.

In the current crisis, the Clinton administration's euphemism for
Powellism is "permissive environment." At the White House they are hoarse
from protesting that they will introduce ground troops only into such an
environment. They are not offering a definition of "permissiveness," but
it is hard to imagine a circumstance of conflict in Kosovo that would fall
within such a definition. There are trees in the Balkans, and mountains,
and the devil's weather. Perhaps "permissiveness" means only peacekeeping,
in which case the United States will dispatch its troops after they were
desperately needed. Maybe American troops can police a partition, when it
will be in the interests of Milosevic to keep them out of harm's way. They
can give the remains of Kosovo, and the remains of NATO, and the remains
of American interventionism, a decent burial.

Character Is (Other People's) Fate. Everything that Clinton does is so
tiresomely Clintonian. This war is no exception. Its limitations and its
inconsistencies are his limitations and his inconsistencies. He believes
in the dissociation of actions from co nsequences. He does not like
entailments. Impunity is his ideal. It is no wonder that such a man would
kindle to the cruise missile, and more generally to the moral convenience
of the technology of precision guidance. It allows the president to
believe that America can fight a war and win a war without losing an
American life. In all our sorties over Iraq there has been not a single
American casualty. Never mind that the air war has left the regime in
Baghdad and its instruments of mass destruction intact . The important
thing is that there were American actions without American consequences.
War without death: an apotheosis of Clintonism.

On March 23, the day before the bombing of Serbia (and the emptying of
Kosovo)  began, the president treated the members of afscme to a tutorial
on America's actions in the Balkans. This was the speech in which he
cheerfully confided, on the eve of a war, that "if the American people
don't know anything about me--else--they know that I don't like to use
military force." But this was not the most egregious of his reflections.
He proceeded to pose as the savior of Bosnia. "I know what happened in
Bosnia. The United States and our allies, along with courageous people in
Bosnia and in Croatia who refused to be subdued and fought back, found the
unity and the will to stand up against the aggression, and we helped to
end the war."

Clinton's heroic account of his Bosnia policy is outrageous. It is true
that he found the unity and the will, but only after years of averting his
gaze from those same courageous people. The torments of Sarajevo,
Prijedor, Banja Luka, Gorazde, and Srebrenica were an indirect consequence
of this man's shallowness, of his politicized view of life. The polls told
him to let the cleansing be. At afscme, however, Clinton had the temerity
to compare himself to Churchill. "I want to talk to you about Kosovo toda
y, but just remember this: It's about our values.  What if someone had
listened to Winston Churchill and stood up to Adolf Hitler earlier?  How
many peoples' lives might have been saved, and how many American lives
might have been saved?" This, from the least Churchillian figure of our
time.  Surely the important point about the Americans who were killed in
World War II is not that their lives might have been saved. (When Hitler
came to power in Germany, war became inevitable. It was his reason for
being. There are villains with whom there can be no getting back to
talking peace and security.)  Surely the important point is that their
lives were not lost for nothing.

Unfortunately, this is not a point that this president can make. Operation
Allied Force asks many things of the American people, and one of the most
difficult things it asks of them is to be led into this war by this man.
So let us be clear. At this miserable moment, it is a mark of moral and
historical seriousness to support this morally and historically unserious
man. Clinton's decision to attack Milosevic--or, in the shabby words of
Newsweek, his "fail[ure] to offer Milosevic a face-saving compromise"-
-was the right decision. He is not admirable, but he is right. I am not
sure if he understands why. His prosecution of the war will tell.

After Such Knowingness, What Forgiveness? It is springtime for realism.
Idealism died with the cold war, didn't it? But apparently it didn't. The
United States certainly has an interest in the stability of Europe and the
authority of NATO, but the truth is that Operation Allied Force is an
idealist's war. This maddens the realists, who thought that they were rid
of such costly moistness.  Republicans who swelled with pride during
Reagan's war in Grenada and Bush's war in Panama are cool toward Clinton's
war in Yugoslavia. This is what isolationism means, in Washington: my
party's opposition to your party's intervention. Some conservatives are
redescribing the cold war as nothing more than a great-power rivalry.
Michael Mandelbaum's heartless old crack that foreign policy is not social
work is being fanned back into life.

Thomas L. Friedman is one of the tough guys. He knows how the world really
works. He first proved his toughness in 1995. "I don't give two cents
about Bosnia,"  he wrote. "Not two cents." Four years later, he writes:
"The question we are wrestling with in Kosovo today is this: How should
Americans react when bad things happen in unimportant places?" Friedman
still does not grasp that a place in which innocent men, women, and
children are being expelled and exterminated is an important place. It is
a place that asks about the philosophy by which we claim to live. For this
reason, Pristina is a more important place than Davos.

I don't mean to be unfair. Friedman is not altogether unmoved: "I'm glad
we're punishing the Serbs now for their ethnic cleansing. It's barbaric."
Good.  Also, "give war a chance." Also good. But now what? "I want NATO to
stop what was bad and get out." So does NATO. But how? Not with ground
troops, certainly. "While NATO steps up the air war, it also needs to step
up its diplomacy." Friedman wants us to negotiate with Milosevic! He wants
"a modified Rambouillet deal that would give the Kosovars internationally
protected autonomy in a Kosovo still under Serb sovereignty, or a
partition of Kosovo." But Kosovo will shortly cease to exist, except as a
ghost. I also wonder whether Friedman would be willing, in the same spirit
of realism about what a strong state will permit for a stateless minority
in its dominion, to consider a modified Oslo deal that would give the
Palestinians internationally protected autonomy in a Palestine still under
Israeli sovereignty.

Fareed Zakaria is another one of the tough guys. He, too, is disabused of
the sentimental illusion that the foreign policy of the United States must
be animated by ideals. Not long ago he observed acerbically that "today it
is the idealists who urge intervention--in Haiti, Somalia, Rwanda,
Bosnia--while strategists, like Henry Kissinger, urge selectivity,
caution, moderation." Idealists cannot be strategists. They are too simple
for strategy. "In fact the new interventionists urge American involvement
in precisely those areas where Washington has few national interests--this
ensures that its motives are pure." Purity is what idealists want. But
Zakaria knows that this is an impure world.

He knows, for example, that Slobodan Milosevic "is no Adolf Hitler. He is
not even Saddam Hussein." I do not recall Zakaria getting too exercised
about Saddam Hussein; but then Saddam Hussein is also no Adolf Hitler.
Anyway, it is the responsibility of th e realist never to get too
exercised: surtout pas de zele and all that. And so Zakaria writes with
condescension about Operation Allied Force: "[The administration's]
goal--to stop the atrocities in Kosovo--is a noble effort but a naive
one." But Zakaria is not naive. He recognizes that the crisis in Kosovo
pales before the crisis in the global financial system. And he recognizes
that NATO has "only two choices": to "wage war" or to "negotiate peace."
If it wages war, however, "Kosovo will have to be arme d and protected by
NATO, probably in perpetuity."  No exit there.

So Zakaria prefers that we negotiate peace. Since he is not worried about
purity, he proposes that "someone could take a message to Milosevic that
NATO would be willing to restart negotiations. (The pope's intermediary
might be just the person to use.)" Zakaria's own plan for the appeasement
of Milosevic is "a slice of Kosovo, to be made autonomous or
quasi-independent." And then he, too, takes cover behind Winston
Churchill. "As Winston Churchill--hardly shy about using military
force--once said, there a re certain circumstances in which `jaw, jaw is
better than war, war.'" Jaw, jaw: There speaks the gentleman from the
Council on Foreign Relations. This is not realism. This is complacence.
But it is not the historical task of the United States to make the world
safe for brandy and cigars.

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