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<nettime> (fwd) NYRB: Mark Danner - Endgame in Kosovo

New York Review of Books 
6 May 1999


Endgame in Kosovo 
Mark Danner


Across this near-exhausted century, imagery recurs. The
knock at the door, the forced march, the mass evacuation -
expressions now impossible to hear without their attendant

     PRISTINA - The Albanian districts of the city have been
     pretty much emptied of their residents by now. Almost
     every home has been broken into, not even looted but
     simply destroyed.
     The streets are filled with the sound of heavy gunfire
     both day and night.... Everyone seems to be
     I just interviewed the doctors who saw the body of the
     slain human-rights lawyer Bayram Klimendi. They said
     they could not confirm how many times he'd been shot
     because his body showed "bad and deep signs of
     maltreatment" - torture....
     My friends in the outside world call and tell me to
     leave. God, I do want to get out of here. I can't stand
     it anymore....
     But now it seems we have no choice. The knock on the
     door we had long feared has finally come. My family and
     I have been ordered to leave.
     There is no time to finish this report. We have to
     leave NOW. I don't know where. It seems I am about to
     join the ranks of the refugees I was writing about only
     a few days ago.
     Pray for me. Goodbye.[1]

One can envision the scene even as these words were hastily
written: looming in the doorway heavily armed Interior
Ministry troops - automatic weapons, long knives, red
berets, woolen masks covering their faces. Even as the
correspondent and his family drag their suitcases out the
door, the men prod them with the muzzles of their rifles,
hustling them as they stumble out into the packed street,
there to join a great river of frightened people trudging in
silence toward the railway station. They arrive to find
scenes of unmitigated chaos: jammed coaches, mobbed
platforms, vast crowds waiting for hours in fields around
the building. Babies cry, the old and the sick moan. Each
family's story is much the same:

     Then they were herded into passenger cars and livestock
     cars. Their money and their documents were stolen....
     Before the trains departed..., Serbian troops joked
     bitterly that refugees were being given free train
     trips to Macedonia in exchange for their homes and
     Enver Vrajolli, 25, an economics student, said he saw
     what happened to a neighbor in his sixties who refused
     to leave his house. He was shot.
     "We had only one choice: to leave or be killed. We
     chose to go," said Vrajolli.... "As we were leaving,
     [the city] was empty. There were only military forces
     and police left."
     "It was very horrible," Gjylizare Babatinca, 32, said
     as she described how her family was forced out of a
     house Wednesday by masked Serbs with automatic
     rifles.... "We were forced into the train cars they use
     for animals. We were packed tightly together.... It was
     completely dark, and we did not know where we were

The historical resonances could not be stronger, of course,
and indeed perhaps the main difference is that here the
victims themselves could hear the echoes: "You can't imagine
what kind of silence there was as we walked through the
streets of Pristina," one young woman said. "I thought
Hitler's time was coming back, and we were going to some
kind of Auschwitz."[3]

Such drawing of half-century parallels, of the parallel,
derives in fact from a failure of memory. How much more
comfortable to invoke Europe in the 1940s than Croatia and
Bosnia in the 1990s, a mere few years ago. It is no accident
that Serb forces - regular army soldiers, Interior Ministry
specialists, and paramilitary marauders - were able to
"cleanse" hundreds of thousands from Kosovo in a matter of
days. For nearly a decade now, while Presidents George Bush
and Bill Clinton and other Western leaders watched - while
we watched - Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, his Bosnian Serb
henchman Dr. Radovan Karadzic, General Ratko Mladic, and
various army and paramilitary commanders have been
developing these techniques, refining them, perfecting them.

>From the well-documented stories of a great many cities and
towns and villages, dating back to the cleansing of the
Krajina of Croats during 1991 and 1992,[4] one can extract a
rough standard operating procedure:

     1. Concentration. Surround the area to be cleansed and
     after warning the resident Serbs - often they are urged
     to leave or are at least told to mark their houses with
     white flags - intimidate the target population with
     artillery fire and arbitrary executions and then bring
     them out into the streets.
     2. Decapitation. Execute political leaders and those
     capable of taking their places: lawyers, judges, public
     officials, writers, professors.
     3. Separation. Divide women, children, and old men from
     men of "fighting age" - sixteen years to sixty years
     4. Evacuation. Transport women, children, and old men
     to the border, expelling them into a neighboring
     territory or country.
     5. Liquidation. Execute "fighting age" men, dispose of

Too highly schematic to do justice to the Serbs' minute
planning - for each town, each village, each situation is
different - these five steps nonetheless comprise the
elements of the program that worked for the Serbs during
1991 to 1995, the main years of the Yugoslav wars. Serb
troops, both regular army and security forces, working
closely with their savage paramilitary proteges managed to
"cleanse" more than 70 percent of Bosnian territory during a
mere six weeks in the spring of 1992.

Percentages of Bosnians actually killed varied widely,
partly according to the strategic value of the target. In
Brcko, for example, which commands the critical and
vulnerable "Posavina Corridor" linking the two wings of
Bosnian Serb territory, Serb troops herded perhaps three
thousand Bosnians into an abandoned warehouse, tortured
them, and put them to death. At least some US intelligence
officials must have strong memories of Brcko:

     They have photographs of trucks going into Brcko with
     bodies standing upright, and pictures of trucks coming
     out of Brcko carrying bodies lying horizontally,
     stacked like cordwood....[5]

Similarly, pilots of American U-2 spy planes took
photographs of the monumental "cleansing" operation General
Ratko Mladic unleashed in and around Srebrenica during July
1995. An angry Madeleine Albright, then the US
representative to the United Nations, released the
photographs to her colleagues - doing so long after anything
could have been done for the men of Srebrenica but at a time
when "the international community" had begun to show
sympathy for the Krajina Serbs, whom the Croats were then
expelling en masse from their homes.[6] Thus we are able now
to gaze upon photographs of Bosnian men gathered in a field,
guarded by Serb soldiers; then of the same field days later,
its grass now disrupted by what appear to be newly dug and
refilled mass graves.

Together with a videotape showing another group of Bosnian
men sitting terrified at the feet of their Serb captors, and
a relatively large number of survivors' accounts, we can now
piece together the intricately planned and flawlessly
executed minuet that allowed General Ratko Mladic and his
Serbs, in less than a week, to expel nearly twenty-five
thousand women, children, and old people from Srebrenica and
to murder and bury perhaps seven thousand "fighting age"men

What cannot be overemphasized, both in Bosnia and now in
Kosovo, is the planned rationality of this project, the mark
of brutality routinized:

     Though many people were "indiscriminately" killed,
     tortured, beaten and threatened, the process was
     anything but random. The first objective was to force
     the Muslim populations to flee their home towns and
     create an ethnically pure Serb territory. A certain
     amount of immediate, "demonstrative atrocity" was
     therefore deemed necessary. The more random and
     indiscriminate the terror and violence, the easier this
     goal would be achieved.

Imposition of terror, the more "indiscriminate" the better,
breeds fear; fear breeds flight. Some there were, however,
who would not be encouraged to flee:

     The second objective was to minimize possible future
     Muslim resistance. To the Yugoslav military, steeped in
     the Titoist tradition of territorial defence and
     people's war, every man was a potential fighter. Thus,
     men of military age were singled out for particularly
     brutal treatment. In Visegrad, one observer witnessed a
     paramilitary gunman announcing, "The women and children
     will be left alone..." As for the Muslim men, he ran
     his finger across his throat.[8]

Today, as this plot is reinterpreted in the stories of
refugees interviewed hard upon the Albanian and Macedonian
borders[9] - reinterpreted, that is, as news - we must
struggle to remember that by now the stories could not be
more familiar, and hence more predictable.

Consider Selim Popei, for example, from the village of Bela
Krusa, who on April 3 paused not far from the Albanian
border to speak into the microphones and tell the world's
television viewers how, at eight o'clock on March 25, the
morning after the NATO planes started bombing, the Serb army
tanks came and surrounded his village; how the Serb special
police caught two hundred of the fleeing villagers; how from
those they separated out forty-six men. For his part, Selim
was sent over with the women: an old man, he had now become
a witness:

     They killed five of my children. The youngest was
     thirteen, the oldest was forty-five. The others were
     thirty-two, twenty-two and eighteen. They killed my
     brother's sons too. I was about twenty steps away when
     I saw it with my own eyes. We all saw it, the women

Then there is Jalai al-Din Sepulahu, another old man, who
told how he and his friends from the village of Krusa Emade
were cowering in a basement when the Serbs found them.

     They collected all the people. They separated the women
     from the men. They told the women to leave. They put
     the men against the wall. And they killed the men. I
     don't know what else to say. My brother was killed,
     three of my cousins, and the son of one of them. They
     were all killed.

And finally Mehmet Krashnishi, who comes from Krusa Evolva,
a tiny village next door. He appears younger than the
others, even with the burns on his face and his hands
heavily wrapped in white bandages. Early on the morning
after NATO warplanes dropped their first bombs, he said,
Serb troops came to his village.

     They rounded up all the villagers. They separated men
     from women. To the women they said, "You may go to the
     border," and they put us men in two big rooms. They
     said, "Now NATO can save you," and then they started to
     shoot. And when they finished shooting us they covered
     us with straw and corn and set it on fire. We were one
     hundred and twelve people. I survived with one other

Mehmet, reenacting a narrative familiar from the massacres
at Srebrenica, collapsed and played dead as soon as the
Serbs began shooting. He was burned in the fire, he said,
but when the Serbs left to fetch more fuel to finish burning
the bodies he managed to flee.[10]

Why then look to Auschwitz when Prijedor and Srebrenica and
Brcko lie so much closer to hand? The answer is not far to


Endgame: we have finally stumbled into it, the confrontation
the West has labored so long and so hard to avoid, the
consequences of a politics of gesture. All the hesitations,
hypocrisy, half-solutions, compromises, and wishful thinking
on which Western, and above all American, policy have rested
for nearly a decade - all stand revealed for what they are
in the reality of those hundreds of thousands of people
massed along the Macedonian and Albanian borders, deposited
there with such efficiency by Slobodan Milosevic, the great
peacemaker of Dayton.

Under the pressure of such events, memories of high
officials flicker, grow dim. Consider Lawrence Eagleburger,
George Bush's former secretary of state and perhaps the
dominant American official during the first months of
Yugoslavia's implosion, who wrote, on Day Twelve of the

     When the Yugoslav Federation began to break up...and
     the first signs of ethnic strife became apparent, the
     Bush Administration took a relatively hard look at what
     to do. We had no illusions about the fact that to have
     an effect would mean involving several hundred thousand
     ground troops, and for better or worse we decided that
     it was a swamp into which we did not want to walk. NATO
     may no longer feel it has that choice; if so, it is
     vital that those who make the decisions take as
     realistic a view as we did as to what intervention
     would entail.[11]

Almost impossible not to admire the artistry here, the
rhetorical subterfuges so densely interwoven and blithely
deployed - from preventative shilly-shallying ("a relatively
hard look," "for better or worse"), to dubious and
self-justifying opinion masked as inarguable conclusion
("would mean involving several hundred thousand ground
troops"), to illogical severing of present difficulties from
past mistakes ("NATO may no longer feel it has that
choice"), to brazen pomposity ("it is vital that those who
make the decisions take as realistic a view as we did").

Of the half-dozen or so opportunities that "the
international community" had to avert and then to halt the
violence in the former Yugoslavia, at least two - and those
with the lowest potential cost - came during the
administration of Mr. Eagleburger's former boss, the
"foreign policy president," George Bush. At least from
September 1990, when the CIA issued a "National Intelligence
Estimate" predicting that "the Yugoslav experiment has
failed, that the country will break up" and that "this is
likely to be accomplished by ethnic violence and unrest
which could lead to civil war,"[12] Eagleburger and others
knew the war was coming, and for a number of reasons -
including the victory in the Gulf War and a strong
reluctance to endanger the political benefits it brought -
they undertook no serious diplomatic effort to prevent it.
When on the very eve of Yugoslavia's break-up, in late June
1991, Secretary of State James A. Baker III's one-day
"flying visit" failed to solve the problem - the use of
force had already been taken explicitly, and quite
unnecessarily, off the table - Baker returned to Washington,
licked his wounds, and uttered the now-famous dictum: "We've
got no dog in this fight." The wisdom of this homely
judgment is now clear for all to judge.

President Bush unceremoniously handed off the Yugoslav
problem to the Europeans, who, pleased to be granted such an
important task, declared (in the words of Luxembourg's
foreign minister) that "this is the hour of Europe."
"Europe," unfortunately, discovered it had no military -
America's retreat from the field had removed the NATO
alliance as a factor - and thus was forced to negotiate
while lacking any powers of coercion.

By the fall of 1991, as the Serbs prosecuted bloody
artillery sieges on the Croatian cities of Vukovar and
Dubrovnik, the Europeans' diplomatic effort had clearly
failed. President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia begged the
Americans to send the Sixth Fleet on a "sail-by" of
Dubrovnik which might, he thought, warn the Serbs off.
General John Galvin, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe,
prepared plans, which could have included "clearing the
Serbs gunboats off the water," but Washington declined to go
forward, unsure what the Serbs' response would be. Said

     They "might" have gotten the message. They might also
     not have gotten the message and then we would be faced
     with the question of what to do next.

This is a rather puzzling attitude, as Wayne Bert writes in
The Reluctant Superpower:

     Eagleburger seemingly had no misgivings about the value
     of American credibility unless some overt threat was
     made for which there was no follow-through. Complete
     inaction, in his view, did not compromise US

And complete inaction, of course, did not pose the terrible
risks that action did; for if in the case of any forceful
action, even a warning, the US could have no guarantee the
Serbs would be deterred, and since, if they were not, the
administration would be obliged to take another action to
see that they were (for to do less would be to destroy
American credibility) - well then, by definition, to act at
all risked losing all control of American policy. Under this
odd logic, even the slightest warning, or the refusal to
take the use of force "off the table," virtually equals a
slide down a "slippery slope" to the use of Eagleburger's
"several hundred thousand ground troops."

Missing from this calculus, of course - leaving aside the
highly questionable assumption that only ground troops might
have halted the war at this point, before it moved into
Bosnia - is any notion that the war in Yugoslavia should be
prevented or stopped, that the prosecution of a prodigiously
brutal war in post-cold war Europe might somehow be harmful
to American interests - that inaction, in a word, might hold
within it its own severe risks. On this point Secretary
Eagleburger, a former ambassador in Belgrade who had known
Slobodan Milosevic there, was quite emphatic:

     I have said this 38,000 times and I have to say this to
     the people of this country as well. This tragedy is not
     something that can be settled from outside and it's
     about damn well time that everybody understood that.
     Until the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats decide to stop
     killing each other, there is nothing the outside world
     can do about it.[14]

Eagleburger believed that the war could be, indeed must be,
left to "burn itself out." The war's continuance posed risk,
apparently, only to the people "killing each other" - itself
a remarkably misleading and harmful characterization coming
from a high American official, since by then no one could
doubt that, though all sides had committed atrocities, the
Serbs, who were using "ethnic cleansing" as their main
technique of war, had committed the overwhelming number.
Rape, massacre, deportation: these were not regrettable
byproducts of the fighting but actions intrinsic to
achieving the Serbs' territorial objectives.


The war did not burn itself out: indeed, it was in implicit
recognition that it might not that Lawrence Eagleburger, now
secretary of state for a lame-duck George Bush, chose in
late 1992 to send Slobodan Milosevic and his military
commander the so-called "Christmas Warning," advising that
"in the event of conflict in Kosovo caused by Serbian
action, the United States will be prepared to employ
military force against the Serbs in Kosovo and in Serbia
proper." Bosnia and Croatia could burn and smolder for
years, and did; Kosovo, bordered by Macedonia and Albania,
was deemed to be the geopolitical limit, the "red line," as
a Clinton official later called it. If Eagleburger or other
Bush officials even suspected that their refusal to commit
resources of any sort, political or military, to stop
Milosevic in Croatia or Bosnia might lead him to doubt their
determination to prevent him taking what action he pleased
in Kosovo - which, after all, remained Yugoslav territory -
they showed no sign of it.[15]

For Governor Bill Clinton, campaigning against the "foreign
policy president," Bosnia and the atrocities being committed
there had served as a superb issue; for President Bill
Clinton, struggling to enact a tax bill and other
controversial domestic programs, Bosnia represented a black
hole that threatened to swallow his administration. As a
candidate he had uttered bold words threatening the Serbs
with bombing; as president he limited his boldness to
scuttling the "Vance-Owen plan," the peace proposal then on
the table, which he criticized as not "going far enough" in
reversing the Serb war gains, and then blamed his failure to
attack the Serbs from the air on the recalcitrance of the
European allies, whose troops were on the ground performing
"humanitarian" missions.

And so, beneath the great welter of diplomatic activity, the
matter essentially rested until the summer of 1995, when the
Serbs seized Srebrenica, which had been designated, in a
policy strongly advocated by then UN Representative
Albright, a UN-protected "safe area." The Americans,
however, were unwilling to commit troops; the bedraggled
city was defended only by a few hundred Dutch "blue
helmets." In their concern for the safety of those
peacekeepers, the Europeans blocked air attacks, the only
way possible to save the city. Shortly before Srebrenica was
overrun, a Bosnian Muslim soldier showed a Dutch UN "blue
helmet" a simple formula he had written on a sheet of paper
meant to show the true value the "international community"
placed on human life: "30 UN = 30,000 Bosnians."[16]

In Srebrenica, no UN soldier died at the hands of the Serbs;
seven thousand Bosnian men did. The collective savagery and
humiliation of Srebrenica, together with the pressures of
the coming US presidential election and Clinton's belated
realization that if the Europeans decided to withdraw their
troops from Bosnia, as they now threatened to do, he would
be obliged, because of his own pledge, to commit US troops
to help extract them - all of these, in late August 1995,
led NATO to send its warplanes at last to bomb the Serbs.

Three months later Slobodan Milosevic sat at the peace table
at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He had
come, many American officials believed, because "the bombing
had worked." He had come as well because the tide had turned
against his Bosnian Serb proteges; because Franjo Tudjman's
American-supported Croatian army had driven the Serbs out of
Krajina, whch they had occupied during the war's first days;
because under the umbrella of their new NATO air force the
Croats and Bosnians had fought and begun to win on the
ground - and Milosevic had come, finally, because he knew
the time had arrived to make a deal and to reap all the
international prestige as "peacemaker" that would come with


As had the Yugoslav wars, the Dayton peace sprang from the
forehead of Slobodan Milosevic, the architect of Greater
Serbia, the man who had built his power by inciting and
exploiting Serb nationalism. Milosevic would now be the
"acceptable" representative of Dr. Radovan Karadzic and his
Bosnian Serb associates; he "brought them along," guaranteed
their compliance. When the foreign troops arrived in Bosnia
to enforce the agreement, his intelligence services provided
information about the movements and intentions of Muslim and
Serb "terrorists" - an indispensable service for the
American military especially, whose first priority, because
of the lack of political support for the mission at home,
was to avoid casualties.

As Milosevic could not have failed to see, this priority
would make of Dayton a "cold peace," an agreement that would
put an end to the fighting but would show little success in
reversing ethnic cleansing or in punishing its most
notorious practitioners. Clinton, in one of the more
eloquent speeches of his presidency, had explained to
Americans why he must send their sons or daughters to
Bosnia. Still, approval ratings stayed low; his audience
remained unconvinced. Given such inescapable realities,
American officials sadly concluded, as they had in Haiti the
year before, that the loss of even one soldier might
threaten the mission. (Who could forget Mogadishu or the
perils of "mission creep"?) Certainly they did not intend to
risk American troops to capture Karadzic or Mladic or to
escort refugees back to their homes.

And so it was left. The peace of Dayton was a half-peace.
The Bosnian people were left with half a country, a quasi
protectorate. Though at the start of each of the first two
years that American troops were stationed in Bosnia
President Clinton had twice promised they would be home in
twelve months, he did not keep his promises, nor has he
renewed them; for Clinton well knows that if American
soldiers go home so will Europeans and that without either,
Dayton, fragile as it remains, will surely collapse.

Milosevic, meantime, saw the men he had created, Karadzic
and Mladic, marginalized, named as criminals, while he
attained an importance to the West none could have imagined
even months before. At home, however, he confronted an
economy destroyed by sanctions and war and a political world
that seemed to be closing tightly around him. Having bid a
humiliating goodbye to Slovenia when it declared its
independence in 1991; having fought a bloody war over the
Croatian land of Krajina and then watched Franjo Tudjman's
tanks, three years later, sweep through and cleanse it of
its two hundred thousand Serb residents; having seen the
Dayton Accords make of the Republika Srpska an unworkable
parastate built of stolen land and mass graves; having
watched his last republican allies, the Montenegrins, vote
into office an unsympathetically liberal government - having
watched all this from his darkened Belgrade palace now
become the heart of a shrunken, imploding Yugoslavia, was it
not perfectly natural that Slobodan Milosevic would return
to the scene of his greatest triumph, the Serb holy land of


How appropriate then that Kosovo should be the scene of the
endgame, the confrontation that Slobodan Milosevic himself
helped the West to escape in Bosnia. For Kosovo was not only
the Serb leader's political birthplace, where he had
traveled in 1987 to declare to resentful Serbs (who by then
comprised scarcely one in ten Kosovo residents) that the
Kosovar Albanians "shall no longer dare to beat you!" -
Kosovo was also where George Bush had drawn the "red line"
on Christmas Day 1992, recognizing implicitly that however
many people "killed each other" in Bosnia and Croatia, only
"conflict in Kosovo" - beyond the red line - would so
severely threaten American interests as to demand that the
US "employ military force." Four months later, Clinton's
secretary of state, Warren Christopher, was rather more

     We fear that if the Serbian influence extends into
     [Kosovo or Macedonia], it will bring into the fray
     other countries in the region - Albania, Greece,
     Turkey.... So the stakes for the United States are to
     prevent the broadening of that conflict to bring in our
     NATO allies, and to bring in vast sections of Europe,
     and perhaps, as happened before, broadening into a
     world war.[17]

One might have expected a matter of such magnitude to have
occupied a central place on the peace table at Dayton, and
yet, though the Americans, according to Richard Holbrooke,
"repeatedly emphasized to Milosevic the need to restore the
rights of Kosovo's Albanian Muslims, which he had revoked
[in 1989]," the accords ignored Kosovo. The Americans were
in a hurry: they needed a Bosnia agreement, only Milosevic
could deliver it to them, and he knew it; and he would brook
no diplomatic meddling in what was unquestionably "Serb

To say that at Dayton "the long-feared crisis in Kosovo was
postponed, not avoided,"[18] as Holbrooke does, does not go
far enough; for the fact that the peacemakers, in "solving"
Bosnia, ignored Kosovo dealt a severe blow to the prestige
of Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, then the nonviolent "leader" of the
Albanian "shadow republic" there. Rugova, writes Noel

     had spent four years telling his people, in effect,
     that they must be patient until the international
     community imposed a final settlement on ex-Yugoslavia,
     in which their interests would also be respected. But
     that settlement...left the Albanians of Kosovo exactly
     where they were.[19]

Very quickly Rugova would find his political primacy
challenged by the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a
guerrilla band that, driven by long-suppressed grievances,
rose up throughout the country with startling speed.
American officials described the KLA publicly, and until
very recently, as "a terrorist organization."

Scarcely a year ago Milosevic began responding, as was his
custom, by sending his security forces and policemen to
storm those villages where the guerrilla presence seemed
strongest - and to massacre anyone they found. The
techniques could not have been more familiar. This, however,
was Kosovo, beyond the red line. Had not the United States
vowed to respond to such "Serbian action" by employing
"military force...against the Serbs in Kosovo and in Serbia
proper"? It seemed, however, that the red line had begun to
fade; Clinton officials now spoke not of warplanes and tanks
but of "using every appropriate tool we have at our command"
and making "the Serb economy...head further south."[20]

In May, Richard Holbrooke managed to persuade Milosevic for
the first time to meet with Rugova; then the Clinton
administration brought the pacifist leader to Washington to
"increase his international prestige." It was a significant
achievement - or would have been, had not American diplomacy
already been overtaken by the reality on the ground, where
Milosevic's men went on murdering civilians, sending tens of
thousands fleeing into the mountains. Under these conditions
the "terrorist" KLA had decisively seized the political

Throughout the summer of 1998, the Americans and their
Western allies struggled to negotiate a Kosovo agreement but
were confounded both by Milosevic's intransigence and by the
Russians' insistence that the matter should be handled under
the auspices of the United Nations (where the Russians,
increasingly concerned about the West's exclusion of them
from Balkan diplomacy, could have made use of their veto to
protect their Serb allies). Only in October would Richard
Holbrooke manage to negotiate a "unilateral" deal with
Milosevic in which the Serb leader recognized Kosovo as a
legitimate "international" issue; agreed to permit an "air
reconnaissance regime" over the territory; and pledged to
admit to the territory two thousand "unarmed observers."

Perhaps it would have worked had they been armed
peacekeepers, but this Holbrooke had not even proposed.
Milosevic would, of course, have resisted an armed force,
whatever it was called; more important, President Clinton,
who would have had to contribute American troops to any such
mission, felt himself too weakened by the impeachment
scandal even to contemplate asking Congress or the public to
approve it. Still, Holbrooke's October agreement saved many
lives: for a time Milosevic's forces withdrew and tens of
thousands of civilians were brought down from the mountains.

But as Milosevic's forces moved out, in many areas KLA
fighters moved in. And on January 15, Serb Interior Ministry
troops stormed the village of Racak. Even as the operation
unfolded, according to leaks from American intelligence
sources, a Serb deputy prime minister was ordering the
Kosovo police commander to "go in heavy."[21] Arriving in
Racak the following day, Kosovo Verification Mission
investigators would find:

     1 adult male shot in the groin. He appeared to have
     been shot while running away.
     3 adult males shot in various parts of their body
     including their backs....
     1 adult male killed outside his house. The top of his
     head had been removed and was found approximately 15
     feet away from his place of death. The wound appeared
     to have been caused by an axe....
     5 adult males shot through the head.
     1 adult male shot outside his house with his head
     1 adult male shot in head and decapitated. All the
     flesh was missing from the skull.
     1 adult female shot in back....[22]

And so on. The Serbs had "gone in heavy." Forty-five were


>From the bloody village of Racak to the elegant castle of
Rambouillet: here the French held a farcical gathering
complete with all the trappings of a grand diplomatic
conference - Secretary of State Albright and her staff, her
Western counterparts, various guerrilla leaders of the KLA.
The two most important seats, however, were empty. No
high-ranking NATO military leader attended, and neither did
Slobodan Milosevic. Western leaders made their
demands:Milosevic must withdraw most of his troops from
Kosovo; must accept 28,000 armed peacekeepers (4,000 of them
American); and agree to a three-year transition to Kosovo's
autonomy. If he did not accept these conditions by the end
of the conference, the West would bomb Serbia. President
Clinton vowed not to let the deadline pass, then did.
Western leaders again threatened bombing, then seemed
surprised when he didn't give in. Finally, caught in their
own ultimatum, they were at last forced to send their
warplanes, and this time without Croatian tanks or Bosnian
infantry to fight for them on the ground.

All the while, it is now clear, Slobodan Milosevic was
preparing his vast operation in Kosovo. In a long career,
this would be his masterpiece, cleansing the Serb homeland
of its Albanian interlopers in a matter of weeks. This
should, again, have come as no surprise; as late as
February, George Tenet, the director of Central
Intelligence, had actually predicted in public testimony
that Milosevic would do precisely this.[23]

As I write, the refugees keep coming, the bombs go on
falling, in Washington the talk grows of dispatching "ground
troops." Though Milosevic may be trying to overthrow the
Montenegrin government, though Macedonia is dangerously
swollen with refugees, we hear less now of the "red line" or
of the geostrategic importance of Kosovo. Matters, at last,
have come to appear simpler than that: American officials,
if they wish to consider themselves "leaders" in the "most
successful military alliance in history," are obliged to
accept the reality of Bosnia and now of Kosovo - that in a
country bordering a NATO member, soldiers shelled cities
packed with defenseless civilians; paramilitary troops
raped, tortured, mutilated, murdered; that troops took away
many young men who have not reappeared. All of this happened
under the eyes of American leaders; all of it was quite well
known at the time, or very shortly afterward. And it
happened, and is happening, in Europe, America's strategic

That these events were allowed to unfold, and so soon after
Germans tore down the Berlin Wall, says something about
America. Not only is the world's great liberal power, with
all its might, unwilling, as we are so often told, to be
"the policeman of the world" - even on ground where every
precept of Realpolitik would suggest it should be - but the
idealist values that were proudly assumed to be a vital part
of America's vision of itself as a democratic power in the
world, and that American leaders so often hailed during the
Cold War, appear suddenly desiccated and pale. Whatever
happens in the coming weeks - whether Western leaders order
their troops to fight in the Balkans or Slobodan Milosevic
holds onto Kosovo and a reluctant West accepts the Kosovars
- the ugly history that led up to this bloody impasse has
  not been confronted. Will Americans recognize this - and
what conclusions will they draw? These are the questions
posed by Kosovo's future, and our own.

- April 7, 1999 


[1] "The Knock on the Door: Letter from Pristina," by an
anonymous correspondent. Global Beat Syndicate, NYU Center
for War, Peace, and the News Media:
syndicate, April 1, 98.

[2] John Daniszewski and Elizabeth Shogren, "With Refugees
>From Kosovo, Tales of Terror," LA Times, April 2, 99, A5.

[3] Daniszewski and Shogren, "With Refugees From Kosovo, Tales
of Terror."

[4] For a description of the techniques of ethnic cleansing
see my earlier articles in these pages, among them "America
and the Bosnian Genocide," Dec 4, 97; "Clinton, the UN,
and the Bosnian Disaster," Dec 18, 97, and "The Killing
Fields of Bosnia," Sept 24, 98, all three of which form
part of a ten-part series.

[5] Though "photographs of the bloodbath in Brcko remain
unpublished to this day," the authors attribute this
description to "an investigator working outside the US
government who has seen the pictures...." See Charles Lane
and Thom Shanker, "Bosnia: What the CIA Didn't Tell Us,"
NYRB, May 9, 96, 10.

[6] In Aug 95, with Srebrenica's Muslims buried, Franjo
Tudjman's Croats launched a lightning attack to retake the
Krajina region and succeeded in "cleansing" the territory of
perhaps 150,000 Serbs, most of whom belonged to families
that had lived in the territory for centuries. It was, until
recent weeks, the largest single act of ethnic cleansing of
the war.

[7] For an account of the Srebrenica operation, see "The
Killing Fields of Bosnia," NYRB, Sept 24, 98, 63-77.

[8] Jan Willem Honig and Norbert Both, Srebrenica: Record of a
War Crime (Penguin, 96), 75-76.

[9] At this writing it appears that the Serbs have so far
limited their massacres of military-age men to villages and
towns, while in Pristina and other cities they have been
more selective, murdering politicians, human rights lawyers,
and other members of the intelligentsia, while in some cases
detaining large numbers of men in police stations and
military barracks.

[10] These stories are drawn from Christiane Amanpour's report
broadcast on "Strike on Yugoslavia," CNN, April 3, 99.

[11] Lawrence S. Eagleburger, "NATO, In A Corner," NYT, April
4, 99, sec 4, 11.

[12] David Binder, "Yugoslavia Seen Breaking Up Soon," NYT,
Nov 28, 90, A7.

[13] Wayne Bert, The Reluctant Superpower: United States
Policy 1991-95 (St. Martin's, 97), p. 119. Italics added.
See my "The US and the Yugoslav Catastrophe," NYRB, Nov 20,
96, 56-64, for a full treatment of this period.

[14] Quoted in "Method to the Madness," Decision Brief (Center
for Security Policy, WDC), Oct 2, 92, 3.

[15] David Binder, "Bush Warns Serbs Not To Widen War," NYT,
Dec 28, 92. Mr. Eagleburger's recent statement that "NATO
may no longer feel it has [the] choice" to avoid intervening
in Kosovo seems further evidence that the "Christmas
Warning," however uncompromising its language, was hardly a
firm commitment to "employ military force."

[16] David Rhode, Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of
Srebrenica, Europe's Worst Massacre Since World War II (FSG,
97), 68.

[17] Stephen Engelberg, "Weighing Strikes in Bosnia, US Warns
of Wider War," NYT, April 25, 93.

[18] Richard Holbrooke, To End a War (Random House, 98), 357.

[19] Kosovo: A Short History (NYU Press, 98), p. 353.

[20] "US Warns of 'Serious Action' Against Belgrade on
Kosovo," Agence France-Presse, March 4, 98, and "US State
Department Press Briefing," Mar 5, 98.

[21] Julius Strauss, "Massacre Evidence Mounts Against
Milosevic," Sunday Telegraph, Jan 31, 99.

[22] "Massacre of Civilians in Racak," Kosovo Verification
Mission, Jan 17, 99.

[23] Craig R. Whitney with Eric Schmitt, "NATO Had Signs Its
Stragegy Would Fail Kosovars," NYT, April 1, 99, A1.

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