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Western Press Review: Commentators Assess Kosovo Legacy

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba



Prague, 4 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary continues its concentration on the war over Kosovo. Many commentators attempt to back off for a broader perspective.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Any thug calling himself president can expect the green baize treatment

The Wall Street Journal Europe considers the meaning of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's release of three U.S. soldier prisoners. In an editorial under the headline "Milosevic Blinks," the newspaper suggests that Milosevic has come to realize he has underestimated the West's resolve. The editorial says: "He probably expected pinprick bombing of three or four days instead of a massive, sustained campaign. He also thought he could rout the KLA rebels across Kosovo quickly, but they are standing and fighting back. His own options weakening, he's now looking for the West to bail him out, just as it did the first three times. One of the least admirable traditions of Western diplomacy in this century is its instinct to negotiate with, and thereby legitimatize, anyone laying claim to the title, head of state. No matter how homicidal, duplicitous or crazy, any thug calling himself president or prime minister somehow can expect the green baize treatment from Europeans and Americans."

BASLER ZEITUNG: The ball is again in NATO's court

However, Switzerland's Basler Zeitung editorially urges a new look at negotiation. It says: "Jesse Jackson's successful mission should prompt Washington and Brussels to rethink the situation and to redefine options. The black priest who traveled to Belgrade without a political mandate has given proof that there was and is room for a political-diplomatic solution. Since yesterday the ball is again in NATO's court."

TELEPGRAPH: Is it ever possible to negotiate with such a man

Netherland's Telegraph editorializes: "But every gesture by Milosevic is accompanied by a high degree of mistrust. He lies and deceives wherever he can. He says he wants peace and at the same time drives out an additional 50,000 to 100,000 people. The question remains open whether it is ever possible to negotiate with such a man trusting that everything will then improve."

DIE PRESSE: Milosevic's gesture of goodwill is nothing but a chess move

And Die Press in Vienna says: "After the release of the three U.S. soldiers who were captured a month ago, naturally (Clinton) had no other choice but to express his gratitude publicly. In the same breath he had to display his tough stance in declaring the unabating continuation of NATO air strikes. For Milosevic's gesture of goodwill is nothing but a chess move to split the West. The powerful man in Belgrade continues to place his bets on the doubts about war entertained by Western democracies, however inevitable. Every NATO rocket that fails to hit its target strengthens this uneasiness. However cynical it may sound: accidents such as the oversight of a bus on a targeted bridge suits Milosevic very well. But he is mistaken if he speculates that NATO will fall apart as a result of a critical public."

DE STANDAARD: The choice of words is unseemly

Even so, the Flemish daily De Standaard declares: "NATO must stop glossing over 'collateral damage' as an unavoidable by-product when people and war victims are at stake. (The) military have a developed a veiled technical jargon when speaking about it. Maybe there is no other way, but this choice of words is unseemly. (It is no) way to speak about human beings."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yugoslavia would have to succeed in three areas for the critics to be right

The Los Angeles Times publishes the views of two outside commentators who support NATO deployment of ground troops in Kosovo. In one, Alex Alexiev, an international business consultant who writes frequently on Russian and Eastern European affairs, says: "Critics believe that the ground force option would place NATO in a no-win situation, with a real possibility of a protracted engagement ending in a Vietnam-like debacle. Could the critics be right? Could a country like Yugoslavia pay for a large-scale war effort? How is Belgrade even able to finance its current campaign in Kosovo?"

The writer finds a positive answer to the question unlikely. He contends: "For the critics to be right, Yugoslavia would have to succeed in three areas. It would have to find the financial and logistic wherewithal to sustain a prolonged war effort. It would have to maintain a high level of civilian and military morale and combat performance in a struggle against technologically superior forces. Yugoslavia would have to secure the political and materiel support of a major international player like Russia."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The US must endorse a powerful ground invasion of Kosovo

In the other Los Angeles Times editorial, military historian Caleb Carr writes that air power as a stand-alone deterrent was doomed from the start. He says: "And so, finally, the use of ground troops in Kosovo is being spoken of as not a possibility but a probability, perhaps an inevitability," and adds, "Pentagon officials began this sorry affair by asserting the objective could be achieved by air, and most politicians believed them." Carr says: "It is understandable that the United States does not want to enter a ground war in Kosovo," but, he argues, "If it wants to finish the job, it must join the British and the unusually bellicose and bilateral French in endorsing a powerful ground invasion of Kosovo."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Strife between Russia and the West can be averted

Sergei Rogov, director of the Institute of USA and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says in the International Herald Tribune that relations between the United States and Russia -- critically wounded by Kosovo -- still can be salvaged if military actions are halted immediately. Rogov writes: "The United Nations must launch an international peace-enforcement operation (the first such peace enforcement operation in the history of the United Nations). And all refugees must be allowed to return home." The Russian scholar concludes: "A new and prolonged period of strife between Russia and the West can be averted. The role of the United Nations as an effective enforcer of peace would be enhanced. This is the right way to prepare for the new millennium."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Chernomyrdin has emerged as his country's best hope

Kosovo has brought a more famous Russian, former Premier Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, back out of the shadows, says correspondent Richard C. Paddock in an analysis in the Los Angeles Times. Paddock writes from Moscow: "Russian special envoy Viktor S. Chernomyrdin's meeting yesterday with (U.S.) President Bill Clinton to discuss a peace plan for Kosovo was one of the brightest moments yet in the former prime minister's political comeback." Paddock says: "Political fortunes change quickly in Russia. During the past three weeks, Chernomyrdin has emerged as his country's best hope for bringing an end to NATO'S bombing of Yugoslavia and reasserting Russia's influence in world affairs."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The issue of war and peace is too important to leave to the president

A former special assistant to U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Doug Bandow, writes in the Los Angeles Times that U.S. politics are feeling the Kosovo impact also. Bandow writes: "The House voted against declaring war on Yugoslavia. But it also refused to order the withdrawal of U.S. forces. President Clinton can thus continue to prosecute the war that he illegally started." The writer says: "The issue of war and peace is too important to leave to the president. Perhaps this never has been more obvious after watching this administration blunder into and exacerbate a crisis in the Balkans."

DIE WELT: Arab advocates of Nato's military operations stand to gain a few tactical advantages

Evangelos Antonaros, writing from Athens in Germany's Die Welt, says the NATO intervention on behalf of Kosovo Muslims hasn't won wholehearted support from Islamic nations. He says: "Shock waves from the conflict in Kosovo have rippled throughout the Muslim world, leaving seriously divided opinions in their wake - and Arabic opinions have been especially deeply divided by them." Antonaros writes: "NATO's decision to intervene so massively on behalf of the Moslems in Kosovo has gotten little support in the Arabian world. Arabian leaders in more than just the four countries with the poorest relations with the United States fear that a Euro-American victory in the Balkans will give Nato and America too much power."

The writer says: "Gulf region Arabs, who are the most vocal Arab advocates of Nato's military operations in the Balkans, stand to gain a few tactical advantages of their own from their position. With their nearly unconditional yes to Nato, they hope to make clear to their own populations -- whose unhappiness with Allied air raids on Iraq is steadily mounting -- that the West, especially Washington, also will come to the aid of Muslims when they are threatened by Christians."

AKTUELT: The Serb people do not consist only of innocent victims of Milosevic's dictatorship

In the Danish daily Aktuelt, a Croatian voice is heard. Slavenka Drakulic, a writer who lives in London, contends that the Serbs in Yugoslavia bear responsibility for what is being done in their name. She writes: "The Serbs themselves have the responsibility for allowing one and the same man, Slobodan Milosevic, to have ruled for over ten years. Even though their political responsibility can be minimized because of the heavy Communist legacy, the lack of a democratic tradition and of a clear political alternative, their moral responsibility remains the same." Drakulic concludes: "There are two simultaneous tragedies unfolding in Yugoslavia. One is the suffering of the Albanians in Kosovo. And the other is the Serbs' autism, their refusal to accept the political and moral responsibility. Milosevic will probably go down in history as a war criminal. But the Serb people do not consist only of innocent victims of his dictatorship and of NATO's bombs."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: NATO must achieve victory at all costs

A great British name soars hawkishly over the Kosovo question, Winston S. Churchill, member of Parliament and grandson of the World War Two prime minister, writes in the Wall Street Journal Europe: "NATO's leaders must address the question, What if bombing alone fails to defeat Milosevic. If they do not, Mr. Clinton risks being remembered as the architect of the downfall of the most successful alliance the world has ever seen. He and his NATO colleagues would do well to recall the words of my grandfather in his first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons, on May 13, 1940 -- 'You ask what is our policy. I will say it is to wage war with all our might, with all the strength that God can give us.... You ask what is our aim. I can answer in one word. Victory! Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road."

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