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Western Press Review: Commentators Hold U.S. Responsible In Kosovo

By Don Hill/Dora Slaba/Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 29 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today and over the weekend differs on approving or disapproving NATO's air assault on Serbian forces. Some commentary holds that -- right or wrong -- it is a primarily U.S. responsibility.

WASHINGTON POST: Americans fail to take into account the historically charged mind-set of many Serbs

Michael Dobbs is a Washington Post reporter who lived in Belgrade from 1977 to 1980. He wrote yesterday in a commentary in The Washington Post that the U.S. underestimates the solidarity that political isolation and xenophobia have conferred on the Serbs. He wrote: "When it became clear last week that NATO was about to launch air strikes against Serb-led Yugoslavia, a popular Belgrade television station immediately changed its programming [to show] an epic Serbian movie, 'The Battle for Kosovo,' depicting 14th Century Serbian knights in heavy chain mail being slaughtered by Ottoman hordes on horseback, [seemingly] a strange way of boosting the morale of the population on the eve of an attack by a combined air force of the United States, Britain, France and Germany. But American ways of thinking fail to take into account the historically charged mind-set of many Serbs-- one in which defeat can mean victory, and the fact that the rest of the world is against you is merely further proof that you are right and everybody else is wrong."

GUARDIAN: The United States has ruled itself beyond the law

In The London Guardian, columnist Isabel Hilton comments on lessons to be taken from Spanish efforts to hold Chilean General Augusto Pinochet legally responsible for international law violations. She writes: "What we are looking at [in Kosovo and earlier cases] is not justice, but Pax Americana, or as it used to be called, U.S. hegemony."

She concludes; 'As a nation and a superpower, the United States has ruled itself beyond the law. This is a dangerous position, not least because [the United States] might find it needs more friends than it can count on."

LA STAMPA: Washington knows full well it will have to resort again to diplomacy

La Stampa of Turin, calls the Kosovo issue an American dilemma, describing the choice between the horrors of bombing and the impotence of diplomacy. La Stampa says: "[It] can be expressed in two words: What next? What happens after the bombing? The White House doesn't know the answer to this. [But] Washington knows full well that sooner or later," it will have to resort again to diplomacy.

WASHINGTON POST: Clinton got a grudging green light to educate Milosevic

Columnist Mary McGrory wrote in yesterday's Washington Post about what The Post called, "A Lesson in Hot Lead." She wrote: "Vietnam, this generation's worst trauma and a synonym for quagmire, was pitted against World War Two in the [U.S.] Senate debate over the NATO bombing in Kosovo. It lost. The quarrel was over lessons learned. The Vietnam experience taught us: Don't intervene in civil wars in small foreign countries. But World War II said: Act promptly to stop murderous maniacs. The issue was never stated in quite those terms in either chamber, where [President Bill Clinton] got a grudging green light to educate Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic with hot lead."

SALZBURGER NACHRICHTEN: The international community has not remained passive

The Salzburger Nachrichten supports McGrory's point. It says: "For months on end one gained the impression that the Serbian despot Slobodan Milosevic could let hundreds of thousand of Albanians be murdered. It seemed a repetition of the Nazi era was easily possible, that the world would allow [Milosevic] to act in the same way as [Hitler] 60 years ago. As of Wednesday, this assumption was proved wrong. The international community has not remained passive. NATO forces have bombed Serbia and don't intend to stop until Milosevic gives in. With a comparable reaction in 1938, World War Two might have been prevented, certainly cut shorter."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: There is no need for war

NATO's Kosovo policy conceivably could work but the forces involved don't seem committed to do enough, commentator Alan Judd writes in London's The Daily Telegraph today. He contends: "NATO's bombers had hardly touched down from their first mission last week before there was speculation that our century was fated to end as it began, in a Balkan conflagration. Surely not, though. There is no need for war, no governmental enthusiasm; we're not prepared; there's no vital British interest at stake and, with just a modicum of goodwill, the issues can be resolved without further bloodshed. True enough, but so it was in 1914."

LA REPUBBLICA: The likelihood of early negotiations is diminishing

The Rome daily La Repubblica says prospects for a negotiated settlement in Kosovo are receding. It says: "The war in Serbia has taken a qualitative turn which diminishes the likelihood of early negotiations. While Tomahawk rockets target the Serb military positions and fire right into the heart of the capital city of Belgrade, the Serbs have launched ethnic cleansing on a grand scale. And Milosevic does not seem to give the West the expected signal to end this rain of bombs. So that it is again the civilian population of Kosovo which is suffering."

NEW YORK TIMES: The members of the expanded alliance are capable of a unified response

The New York Times, which consistently has supported the Kosovo incursions, editorialized yesterday that a plus in the Kosovo affair is the unity it is forging in NATO. The Times opined: "The air campaign against Yugoslavia is doing what years of abstract debate could not. It is beginning to define the role for the NATO alliance to play in post-Cold War Europe. Four days of bombing is not enough to resolve this issue fully. But the early indications are that the members of the expanded alliance are capable of a unified response to threats to Continental security and stability.

"Despite NATO's recent expansion to 19 members, the alliance summoned the political unity required for decisive action to meet a dangerous military crisis less than 100 miles from the borders of NATO Europe. It acted with U.S. military leadership but with broad combat participation from European members."

SUEDDEUTSCH ZEITUNG: The moral impetus of the engagement for humanity clouds the vision of the consequences

In today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, editorial director Josef Joffe says high ideals and combat gadgetry won't be enough. He says: "On the way to war, morals and high tech are not the best advisors. Reliance on technical superiority suggests hope for a short, limited war "- a victory without victims, at least not on one's own side. The moral impetus of the engagement for humanity, as it was expressed by [German] Chancellor [Gerhard Schroeder], clouds the vision of the consequences. What happens when the goal isn't achieved, when the action proves worse than what it sought to prevent?"

FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM: The president must know that this whole deal could blow up in his face

In the Fort Worth [Texas] Star-Telegram, a regional newspaper with a foreign news staff, columnist Bill Thompson commented Saturday that U.S. President Bill Clinton probably isn't cynically exploiting Kosovo to build his historic legacy; it's too likely the policy will be a disaster. Thompson wrote: "When President Clinton bombed suspected terrorist enclaves and launched military action against Iraq last year, his detractors accused him of using the nation's armed forces to distract the public's attention from developments in the presidential sex scandal. Impossible, said his defenders. The president of the United States would never do such a thing."

Thompson wrote: "I likewise reject the current argument -- compelling though it is -- that Clinton has committed the United States to air strikes against Yugoslavia for no reason but to enhance his eventual standing in the history books. For one thing, if the military adventure in the Balkans is as risky as most experts say it is, it could doom Clinton to a legacy of recklessness and failure. The president must know that this whole deal could blow up in his face."

AFTENPOSTEN: NATO says yes to two contradictory outcomes

Two Scandinavian newspaper commentaries likewise view the chances of a happy Kosovo outcome with pessimism. Nils Morten Udgaard in the Norwegian daily Aftenposten quotes Michael Howard, British historian and honorary president of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, on "The three golden rules of a civil war -- Do not get involved. If you cannot help getting involved, choose a side and support it. And choose the side that can win and make sure it does win." Udgaard writes; "NATO is now trying to bomb [Yugoslav] President Slobodan Milosevic into signing the Rambouillet peace plan on Kosovo, and is systematically destroying his means of conducting a war against the Kosovo Albanians. [But] the battle of life and death will ultimately be decided on the ground. So far, NATO has refused to send ground troops to Kosovo. It has also refused to take a clear-cut stand on the Kosovo conflict. It says yes to two contradictory outcomes, independence for Kosovo and integrity for Yugoslavia."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Milosevic has in mind a Final Solution for the Kosovo Albanians

The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende' daily editorializes: "When Hitler realized in 1943 that he wouldn't be able to achieve his Thousand-Year Empire, he focused on gassing millions of Jews to death. Nobody at the time claimed that the mass murder of the Jews was the result of the allied advances on the Western and Eastern fronts. Now [Yugoslav] President Milosevic has set off Europe's biggest refugee catastrophe since the last war. What German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping yesterday termed 'genocide' started long before NATO began its operation in Yugoslavia. Milosevic has in mind a Final Solution for the Kosovo Albanians."

NEW YORK TIMES: We should publish pictures of atrocities to counter Milosevic's tactic of shutting out the world

Columnist-commentator Anthony Lewis wrote in Saturday's New York Times that the United States shouldn't permit Milosevic' suppression of the press to hide evidence of Serb atrocities. Lewis charged: "For three days now, on Slobodan Milosevic's orders, Serbian policemen, soldiers and paramilitary thugs have been spreading terror across Kosovo. They have burned and shelled villages, driven thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes and carried out dozens of assassinations. The scale of the terror campaign has not fully registered in the outside world because Milosevic has expelled Western journalists and cut off television links. But enough details have got through to make clear that a human disaster is taking place."

Lewis said: "The United States has compelling evidence of what Milosevic is doing in Kosovo: high-resolution photographs from satellites that show burning villages and shattered houses. We should publish those pictures to counter Milosevic's tactic of shutting out the world."