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Western Press Review: Commentators Perceive Different Kosovos

By Don Hill and Floriana Fossato

Prague, 5 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - Commentary in the British, French, and U.S. press today and over the weekend make it appear that each national press is seeing a different Kosovo conflict. Selections from the British press generally adopt a militant voice, from the U.S. press a critical tone, from the French, a querilous one.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton should be more forthcoming, U.S. should send more aid to Kosovo

The New York Times says in an editorial that the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton will need to be more forthcoming with the American people if it expects public support, or needs to broaden U.S. exposure. The newspaper says: "When democracies send their military forces into combat, citizens need to know as much about the battles as sensible security precautions permit. [This] is a responsibility the [U.S. military has] so far largely failed to meet." The Times says: "The decision to limit NATO briefings to broad generalities comes from General Wesley Clark, the American commander of alliance forces in Europe. Pentagon briefings have offered more target and damage information but have been frustratingly short on important specifics. The air offensive has not gone well in the first ten days, and the American people should not be denied a full account of the reasons."

On Sunday, The New York Times editorialized that the administration is being stingy likewise with its aid to hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanian refugees. The editorial said: "Clinton must order the Pentagon to organize a U.S. airlift of supplies to the region and send troops to the border region to help distribute the aid and to construct temporary shelters." It said: "Because of the brutality of Milosevic's troops, the conflict in Kosovo has created a refugee crisis in the Balkans that threatens to destabilize the region. Dealing with it, and preserving the lives of hundreds of thousands of desperate people, are no less important than crippling the Serbian military in Kosovo."

ATLANTA CONSTITUTION: Yugoslavia has lost opportunities for equality

In the Atlanta Constitution, commentator Martha Ezzard laments the loss of opportunities that followed the collapse of communism in Yugoslavia. She writes: "Yugoslavia was unique as a communist country because its strongman leader, [Marshall Josip Broz] Tito never cared much for the Russian communists. Before Tito died in 1980, he tried to give the ethnic minorities -- including the Albanians -- equal status with the three original constituents of Yugoslavia, the Croats, Serbs and Slovenes. But he could not give them equal economic power or make their numbers equal. Slobodan Milosevic capitalized on the political dominance of the Serbs in the Yugoslav federation. He traded what he had lost as a communist leader for a vicious nationalism. He exacerbated old hatreds."

NEW YORK TIMES: Air strikes are just show business

Consistent Clinton critic, William Safire, writes in a New York Times commentary that NATO's destruction last week of the Interior Ministry in downtown Belgrade was a mere piece of American show business. Safire writes: "The target site was chosen because it symbolized infrastructure." He says: "[The missile's] target was not so much the Serbian population, but the watching world -- to offset the pictures of refugees in misery by showing that a fierce NATO was really letting the war criminals have it. This is the Third Way in foreign policy. One way remembers the Munich analogy, and aims to stop Milosevic in Kosovo lest internal aggression become the way of the world. The opposite way remembers Vietnam and avoids quagmires at all cost."

Safire says: "Nobody is better equipped to sell this than Bill Clinton. He believes he knows something that the idealists and the hawks and the Never Again set do not know: the American public will no longer sustain a war with casualties. Who wants to die for the credibility of NATO?" The commentator adds: "But in fact he is, in Churchill's phrase, resolved to be irresolute. The course we are staying is not to defeat the Serbian expulsion of a million human beings, but merely to diminish the capacity of Milosevic to do what he has already shown himself to be quite capable of having done."

NEW YORK TIMES: U.S. public may be ready for more involvement

Another New York Times commentator, Anthony Lewis, writes that the U.S. public may be nearly ready to go much further in Yugoslavia, if only Clinton will show the courage to lead them that way. Lewis wrote yesterday: "U.S. policy toward the terrorism of Slobodan Milosevic has been constrained in the past by our public's wariness of military involvement abroad. We remember Vietnam and Somalia. But that political-psychological calculus may have changed, I believe, under the impact of the Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. Most Americans do not want to temporize with Milosevic. We want to finish the job."

Lewis said: "Bill Clinton is the man who has to prove that Milosevic is wrong. If he speaks firmly and consistently, if he acts decisively, he will have the support of the American people -- and of Congress. Senate Republicans who matter, from John McCain to Richard Lugar, are urging him to be tough. If Americans had the illusion that peace and human decency can be defended in this world without pain and casualties, the illusion is fading. What we need now is leadership."

WASHINGTON POST: Military involvement is necessary

The Washington Post seemed to illustrate Lewis' point in an editorial yesterday. The newspaper said: "A horrendous and -- somehow -- unanticipated human tragedy is taking shape in Kosovo under the hammer of Slobodan Milosevic's latest ethnic cleansing program." The Post concluded: "President Clinton began the NATO bombing with the goal of reducing the Serbian military forces arrayed against the Kosovars. He has made a necessary recalibration of purpose to provide for the refugees' care, return and future safety. It is a large purpose and it will not be achieved easily. But to see the pictures of helpless and pathetic Kosovars -- the survivors -- pouring out of their villages, languishing in misery and abandonment along the borders, is to understand that it must be done."

THE TIMES, LONDON: Allies must persevere

Britain's comentators sound more combative. The Times, London, urges the West to keep its nerve and to persevere. The newspaper says in an editorial: "Ten days after its military intervention began NATO is only now beginning to inflict the scale of damage necessary to alter Serbian calculations. The shift to Phase Three, an intensive bombardment directed at the entire infrastructure of the Serbian state, has brought obvious results."

The editorial says: "The next two weeks are of fundamental importance to NATO," and concludes: "There is still time for an air barrage of sufficient accuracy and scope to make all the difference. NATO has begun to alter the calculus of this conflict. Strong nerves are needed this week to ensure that this advantage really counts."

THE INDEPENDENT: NATO is unprepared for the long haul

The Independent (F806) warns that the end isn't in sight. It says editorially: "It is obvious that we are entering a potentially long haul. Yet Britain and its NATO partners are fearfully unprepared for a long and bloody European war." It says: "But if the Kosovar Albanians are to be returned to their homeland against the will of Serbian forces, troops will be needed on the ground."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: NATO has handled the air war incompetently

"No Retreat," the Daily Telegraph (F800) says in an editorial's headline. The editorial goes on: "The air campaign against Yugoslavia has been conducted incompetently by the Western powers, but it is too early to conclude that it is doomed to failure. Phase Two air strikes against Serb tank and artillery units in the conflict zone in Kosovo have scarcely begun".

The editorial says: "Finally, however, precious time has been lost as a result of the desultory way in which NATO, operating under constraints imposed by the Clinton Administration, has set about war with Serbia." It concludes: "It is not just Kosovo that is at stake. Yesterday was the 50th birthday of NATO. If the alliance gives in to a murderer leading an impoverished country of 10 million people, it does not deserve to have a 51st birthday. The international order will start to unravel with unimagineable consequences for the world."

THE GUARDIAN: Milosevic's actions must be reversed

In an editorial, The Guardian (F808) trumpets: "Serbs Must Be Ousted." It says: "We cannot swear that what [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic is doing will be quickly stopped, because the air campaign may not be sufficient for that end, but we can and should say that it will be reversed, down to the last household of the last family in the remotest village, and down to the restoration of the last rooftile on what used to be, and will again be, their home."

THE GUARDIAN: Will the United States hold up?

Commentator Peter Preston writes in The Guardian (F810) about doubts that America's will is a match for Britain's. He says: "A slew of headlines asks the same question, Will America crack? Is [U.S. President Bill] Clinton's blunder -- as the Daily Mail would have it -- thinking America cares about Europe? There is a simple answer to that. No, America won't crack over Kosovo. Yes, America does care, and will be made to care more. But the real question, alas, is rather deeper. What good will come of so much unflinching involvement?"

THE GUARDIAN: Russians accept anti-NATO, anti-Western line

Guardian correspondent James Meek in Moscow (F811) writes that Russians are accepting their leaders' propaganda line that the NATO allies are bombing Yugoslavia for the meanest of self-interest motives. Meeks says: "Ineffective as Russia's sabre-rattling has been, the country's media and its ruling class have had one success. They have created in the Russian consciousness a history of the Balkans conflict radically different from the Western version."

He continues: "Theories aired on the street, in newspaper columns and on TV include -- NATO wants to take over Kosovo as a military base. President Clinton need to prove his strength after the Lewinsky embarrassment. The United States wanted to demonstrate its might to the world. The United States wanted to test weaponsry. The United States needed to get ride of excess weapons to create jobs. And Western nations were rehearsing a conspiracy to use force to prevent developing countries from stealing their markets."

LIBERATION: West's defeat in Kosov can be reversed

The French newspaper Liberation says today in a commentary by Cedric Allmang that the West has suffered defeat in Kosovo, but a defeat which can be reversed. It says: "Either reality on the ground -- defeat -- is to be accepted, or NATO will have to start a real counterattack, a war to reconquer Kosovo (with all the difficulties of justifying that) in the news media and from a diplomatic point of view". The writer says: "The European Union, too, will have to start supporting about one million refugees lacking absolutely everything." The commentary concludes: "The issue now focuses on how to transform a military, economic and human defeat into a diplomatic victory."

LE MONDE: French leaders are too quiet on Kosovo bombings

Le Monde (F210) editorializes with bitter irony, "Quiet. We're Bombing." Le Monde complains of a curious silence by French leaders as NATO bombed Belgrade' center in what Le Monde calls: "a serious act, bearing immense political, symbolic and media implications." The editorial says: "Lacking have been the political explanations that the French people have the right to expect, since France's military forces are more involved in the Balkan operation than they were in the Gulf." The editorial warns: "Wars cannot take place without taking into account each state's public opinion. [The silence thundering from the French] executive branch on the issue can only make one suppose that this is a U.S. war uniquely, not a European --or a French -- one."