THE GLOBE AND MAIL, Wednesday, May 26, 1999 COMMENTARY
What this war is really about
Belgrade -- Hats off to Lieutenant-General Michael C. Short of the
United States Air Force. Thanks to Lt.-Gen. Short, NATO's claim that the
air war in Yugoslavia is not directed at civilians has been stripped of
its last shreds of credibility.
When he sat down for an interview with The Washington Post last weekend,
the general made it plain that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is
trying to do much more than just hurt the Yugoslav military when it
bombs bridges, power plants and water-pumping stations. It is trying to
break the will of the Serbian people and foment an uprising against
President Slobodan Milosevic.
Here is what he said about how he hoped Serbs would react to the
devastation of their country. “If you wake up in the morning and you
have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you
take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20
years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo, what's this all about? How
much more of this do we have to withstand?’ And at some point, you make
the transition from applauding Serb machismo against the world to
thinking what your country is going to look like if this continues.”
There you have it, straight from the man in charge of the air campaign.
This is no longer a short-term air strike against the Yugoslav
government, as it began, or even a long-term campaign against the
Yugoslav military, as it became. It is a war of attrition against the
whole Serbian nation. The aim is to make ordinary people so miserable,
so afraid and so discouraged that they will rise up in anger against Mr.
Milosevic and force him to pull out of Kosovo. If NATO's generals can't
do the job, the Serbs will do it for them.
You have to be here to understand how absurd that is. People in Belgrade
are simply amazed at the boneheadedness of the NATO strategy, and when I
ask people what they think of it, they sputter with outrage, frustration
A good part of the population already opposes Mr. Milosevic; so those
people need no incentive to dislike him. The idea that they might be
bombed into disliking him more is laughable. People here are so angry at
the bombing, and so involved with the daily struggle to survive under a
bombardment, that they have little time or inclination for politics.
Even the fiercest critics of the government find the bombing repugnant
and ridiculous. After fighting Mr. Milosevic for years, they feel they
are being punished for his crimes. While bombs fall all around them, he
is safe in a bunker somewhere, more powerful than ever. “I am the mother
of a son,” one bright-eyed young woman said yesterday as her
three-year-old played on the floor. “We are suffering, Milosevic isn't.
He has all the cards.”
The bombing does seem to have strengthened Mr. Milosevic, not
necessarily by making him more popular but by giving him a perfect
excuse to crush dissent. These days in Yugoslavia, anyone who opposes
his regime is called a traitor. The editor of a leading independent
newspaper was murdered last month -- a reminder, everyone here assumes,
that in wartime it is best not to criticize. The Belgrade headquarters
of the opposition Democratic Party has been repeatedly stoned and
defaced by a rent-a-mob. In such an atmosphere, a veteran opposition
figure told me in a darkened cafe during a power outage, “to say the
opposition should speak up now is a call to suicide.”
Yet that is just what the allies appear to be saying. Newsweek magazine
reported this week that U.S. President Bill Clinton had authorized a
plan to use the Central Intelligence Agency to destabilize Mr.
Milosevic. As if the systematic destruction of Yugoslavia's
infrastructure were not enough, the plan reportedly includes a scheme to
train Albanian rebels to carry out a campaign of sabotage in Serbia.
Asked about the plan, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman said, “I
wouldn't be surprised if we were using it here as part of an effort to
bring the war in Kosovo home to the people, the civilians in Belgrade,
so that they pressure Milosevic to break and make an agreement with
Okay, so here is the plan. We rain bombs on their heads for a couple
more months. Then we send Albanian terrorists to blow up what's left.
Then we tell them to rise up en masse against a man whose
ruthlessness we have compared with Hitler's.
Thank you, Senator Lieberman. Thank you, General Short. Now we know what
this war is really about.
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