Lessons From Yugoslavia
Blueprint for War?

by Jan Baughman

May 26, 2003


Operation Allied Force

In March 1999 NATO forces began their 'humanitarian' war on Yugoslavia to stop the 'ethnic cleansing' of Albanians by the Serbs. We related to the pain and suffering of the alleged refugees of war, and Slobodan Milosevic became the Hitler of the '90s. Operation Allied Force unleashed 78 days of bombing and destroyed the infrastructure of a country that no longer exists in name or in the cultural diversity the bombing was intended to preserve. Milosevic is embroiled in the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, and what led us to war, and the aftermath of it -- has been long forgotten, if at all understood. It is no surprise that we've learned no lessons from this tragedy. Or have we?

Operation Enduring Freedom

In the post-September 11 world, Osama bin Laden quickly became the new Hitler, elevating the notion of "evil" to new heights. As the media focused our attention to Afghanistan, we learned about the plight of women and children under Taliban rule; the burqa impacted the psyche of woman world-wide; and American school children were pulled into the drama and encouraged by their president to send a dollar to America's Fund for Afghan Children.

Emotions ran high and the desire for revenge was uncontrollable. We quickly jumped on the train of destruction in the manhunt for bin Laden, packaged more palatably as a mission to free the oppressed citizens of Afghanistan.

President Discusses War, Humanitarian Efforts, November 19, 2001
"We just had a very productive Cabinet meeting. We discussed a variety of subjects, spent a fair amount of time on the war and the progress we're making in Afghanistan. We have made great progress there, but there's still a lot of work to do. And the degree of difficulty is increasing as we work hard to achieve our objectives, not the least of which is to bring the al Qaeda to justice.

They're running and they're trying to hide, and we're in pursuit. And we will stay the course until we bring them to justice. The American people must know it may take longer than some anticipate. They also need to know that we're a very patient group.

[T]he people of Afghanistan understand what al Qaeda and the Taliban government have meant to their ordinary lives. Women are treated lower than low. There's no respect for human life. There's jubilation in the cities that we have liberated. And the sooner al Qaeda is brought to justice, the sooner Afghanistan will return to normal. People understand that. "
President, General Franks Discuss War Effort, December 28, 2001
"As to whether or not bin Laden is in control of some network, who knows? The thing we're certain about is that he's on the run, that he's hiding in caves, if hiding at all. And the other thing I'm certain about is we will bring him to justice. I don't know whether it's going to be tomorrow, but Tommy will tell you that I haven't said, Tommy, get him tomorrow. I said, just get him. And we will. We will bring him to justice. "
Joint Statement Between the United States of America and Afghanistan, February 27, 2003
"President Bush and President Karzai reaffirm their common vision for an Afghanistan that is prosperous, democratic, at peace, contributing to regional stability, market friendly, and respectful of human rights. They affirm their ironclad and lasting partnership in pursuit of this vision, and will work together to ensure that Afghanistan is never again a haven for terrorists and that no resurgence of terrorism threatens Afghanistan.

The United States has demonstrated its commitment to Afghanistan, providing U.S. forces to combat terror and secure stability, and granting over $900 million in assistance since 2001. Working together, Afghans, Americans, and our international partners have made great progress in ridding Afghanistan of Al Qaida and Taliban elements. We averted famine for some 7 million Afghans last year, and have begun the essential and challenging work of rebuilding after decades of dictatorship, war, and extremism. As a sign of confidence in the future, some 2 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan over the past year. But much remains to be done. This year will mark a shift toward long-term reconstruction projects and the rebuilding of Afghan institutions. The United States will be a full partner in this transition, helping to secure stability and supporting reconstruction throughout the country, including roads, schools, clinics, and agriculture. We will continue our work together, with other partners, to gather the resources that will hasten the day when all Afghans lead prosperous and secure lives."

"The United States and Afghanistan will work together toward that day when Afghanistan is fully secure and self-sufficient. In Afghanistan as elsewhere, the United States covets no resources and seeks no special advantage. President Bush and President Karzai reaffirm the bond of friendship that unites the peoples of America and Afghanistan in the common pursuit of a safer, freer, and more prosperous world for the benefit of all."

Afghanistan Today

According to a May 25 article on Afghanistan News, mine-clearing operations have been suspended because of guerrilla attacks, opponents of Hamid Karzai's government are attacking US and other foreign soldiers, Taliban leaders have resurfaced, and "[a] flawed reconstruction plan is perpetuating this insecurity, destabilising the region and undermining the US anti-terrorism campaign. Instability stems from the manner in which the government was formed."

On the humanitarian front, "half a million are internally displaced. Only 20 per cent of the population has clean water. Land mines kill 100 villagers and injure 500 monthly." And the reconstruction plan? "Although a new reconstruction plan promises $200 for every family, many will not see this money for three years."

And according to the report Strange Victory: A critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan war, "Operation Enduring Freedom was not intended or designed be a stability operation. The Taliban regime was removed in order to punish it and to expedite intense, large-scale action against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan -- not to stabilize the country or relieve its humanitarian crisis.

Estimates of casualties range from 3000 to 4000. In the meantime, Osama bin Laden's whereabouts remain a mystery, and al Qaeda activity is increasing.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Although the 1991 Gulf War never really came to an end, in the days following the war on Afghanistan, a shift began to take place in which Saddam Hussein became the evilest of evils and a newer -- if not bigger -- threat to America than the elusive bin Laden. Efforts to link Saddam to al Qaeda began, at least in rhetoric. Easily frightened, the American public quickly came to fear an attack by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and perhaps a lack of closure on the war on Afghanistan (and Gulf War I) fueled the blood-thirsty build up to Gulf War II: Operation Iraqi Freedom. Once again, our attention was focused on the plight of the Iraqi citizens living under the iron fist of a brutal dictator, who starved the masses, deprived them of our humanitarian aid so that he could build more palaces for himself and his family.

President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended, May 1, 2003
"...We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We're pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime, who will be held to account for their crimes. We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated. We're helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people.

The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq.

Our mission continues. Al Qaeda is wounded, not destroyed. The scattered cells of the terrorist network still operate in many nations, and we know from daily intelligence that they continue to plot against free people. The proliferation of deadly weapons remains a serious danger. The enemies of freedom are not idle, and neither are we. Our government has taken unprecedented measures to defend the homeland. And we will continue to hunt down the enemy before he can strike...."
President Bush, P.M. Howard Discuss Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 3, 2003
"Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The United States -- United Nations Security Council voted 1441, which made the declaration it had weapons of mass destruction. It's well-known it had weapons of mass destruction. And we've also got to recognize that he spent 14 years hiding weapons of mass destruction. I mean, he spent an entire decade making sure that inspectors would never find them. Iraq's the size of the state of California. It's got tunnels, caves, all kinds of complexes. We'll find them. And it's just going to be a matter of time to do so. "

Iraq Today

In the initial days since the end of bombing we were fed the requisite jubilation story, with images of Iraqis dancing in the streets. The days since have been marred by looting, mayhem, uncertainty and shifting of US authority from Jay Garner to Paul Bremer, and fighting among Iraqi factions over future leadership roles. The only definitive plans that appear to have been in place prior to the war were the plans for US and British interests to control the flow of oil and its spoils, and the contract awards to the companies that would do the rebuilding.

According to The New York Times,May 19, 2003, "Long before President Bush ordered the attack against Iraq, the White House and the pentagon drew up a plan for rebuilding and running the country after the war that was nearly as meticulous as the battle plan. But over the past two to three weeks, the wheels have threatened to come off their vehicle for establishing the peace. The looting, lawlessness and violence that planners thought would mar only the first few weeks has proved more widespread and enduring than Mr. Bush and his aides expected and is threatening to undermine the American plan."

Did we really have a meticulous peace and reconstruction plan in place, or are the looting and instability a convenient way to back out of peace and reconstruction?

By the time Operation Iraqi Freedom was instigated, the era of official casualty counts had come to an end, but estimates now range from 5000 to 10,000. Saddam Hussein's whereabouts and those of his WMDs remain a mystery. In fact, less than a month after the bombing stopped, the CIA has been asked to reassess its intelligence related to Iraq's WMDs and links to al Qaeda, our very justification for war...

Back to Yugoslavia

What Happened to Yugoslavia while we were in Afghanistan and Iraq? Yugoslavia as a country no longer exists; it is now known as Serbia and Montenegro and far off the humanitarian radar screen. On April 1, 2001, George W. Bush welcomed the arrest of Milosevic. "His arrest represents an important step in bringing to a close the tragic era of his brutal dictatorship. Milosevic was responsible for great suffering throughout the Balkan region. He deserves to be tried for his crimes against the Serbian people." One evildoer down.

On May 7, 2003, "President Bush signed a Determination that opens the way for Serbia and Montenegro to receive defense articles, services, and assistance from the United States. The President determined that defense cooperation with Serbia and Montenegro will encourage continued defense reform and strengthen Serbia and Montenegro's democratic institutions, furthering the U.S. goal of achieving peace and security in Southeastern Europe."

And on the forgotten promise to rebuild? From a May 19, 2003 article, "Kosovo Pins Its Hopes on Rule of Law,"
"'The basic lesson of everything we have done is that you cannot have the basis of democracy if you don't have the rule of law,' said Simon Haselock, spokesman for the United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo. 'We have factionalization, mafias, and all these other problems because we didn't start by establishing a rule of law.' [...] 'Mr. Haselock ...recalled that after the war in Bosnia a decade ago, 70,000 ethnic Serbs were forced out of their homes in Sarajevo by ethnic Muslim police and vigilantes after Bosnian Serb fighters withdrew.'"

"'The reason that happened is because NATO said it will not be a police force in that area, and where do we hear that again?' he said. 'They sat by in Sarajevo while people looted, stole and burned.'"

Lessons Learned

Scratching the surface, it seems that we just can't get it right. We don't find the enemy and we aren't prepared to deal with the looting and violence that occurs in the aftermath and the ethnic/factional struggles that we didn't quite understand. But in reality, the war machine knows exactly what it's doing. And with a new war every two years now, the patterns connect pretty clearly.
Demonize the leader
Invoke a charge of war crimes to make dissent unacceptable
Create a humanitarian spin
Create a power vacuum
Get out before it gets too messy
Divert attention to the next crisis
Begin again.
Leaving behind the mayhem in the countries we destroy creates more instability and opens the door for more war. Who will be next? The list is long...and our alert level remains high, keeping in check a supportive public in a country and a world that is itself increasingly in mayhem. Perhaps that too is part of the plan.

On September 17, 2001 I wrote an article, In Search of Peaceful Tracks, concluding: "I greatly fear the war to come, and even more, that to follow because we are deliberately and methodically being led down an ever more violent path with no end in sight, and I am sick because I don't know how to divert the train onto more peaceful tracks, away from all this carnage."

Right now the train appears to be heading for Iran. We must continue our efforts -- increase our efforts -- to highjack that train. We owe it to the people of Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan, and Iraq, and the untold others that await its arrival.

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Atiq Sarwari and Robert Crews, "Fate of Afghanistan hangs precariously in the balance," Gulf News, May 25, 2003; http://feeds.bignewsnetwork.com/redir.php?jid=de14c3a0ccc281c5

Carl Conetta, "Strange Victory: A critical appraisal of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Afghanistan war: Project on Defense Alternatives Research Monograph #6," 30 January 2002 http://www.comw.org/pda/0201strangevic.html#1

Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, "Looting Derailing Detailed U.S. Plan to Restore Iraq," The New York Times, May 19, 2003.

Peter S. Green, "Kosovo Pins Its Hopes on Rule of Law," The New York Times, May 19, 2003.

FOOLS' CRUSADE: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions, by Diana Johnstone (Book Excerpt)

The Balkans and Yugoslavia on Swans

Iraq on Swans


Jan Baughman on Swans (with bio).

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This Week's Internal Links

FOOLS' CRUSADE: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions - by Diana Johnstone (Book Excerpt)

Diana Johnstone's "Fools' Crusade" - Book Review by Louis Proyect

Diana Johnstone On The Balkan Wars - Book Review by Edward S. Herman

Diana Johnstone And The Demise Of 'Yugoslavism' - Book Review by Gilles d'Aymery

Selective Recognition and the Dismantling of SFR Yugoslavia - by Konstantin Kilibarda

We Have The Right To Live - Interviews by Gregory Elich

Making War Out Of Nothing At All - by Aleksandra Priestfield

Embedding The Truth - by Deck Deckert

Courage And Cowardice - by Richard Macintosh

An Awful Lawful World: Who Wins, Who Loses - by Philip Greenspan

Accomplishments - Poem by Sabina C. Becker

My Appearances - Poem by Gerard Donnelly Smith


Published May 26, 2003
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