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First Casualty

April 1, 1999

Clinton gave three reasons for his military intervention in the heart of Europe. A quick look shows them to be models of the state disinformation we've come to expect in wartime.

First, he says he is dropping bombs to prevent the spread of war. But this is straight out of Orwell. Escalating war does not prevent its spread. It encourages it. It brings about more property destruction, suffering, and death. It inflames tempers, entrenches positions, sows indelible hatreds, and draws others into long-lasting conflicts.

Second, he says he wants to curb the ability of Milosevic to build up his defenses and enforce Serbian territorial claims. This line was copyright at the beginning of the ten-year war on Iraq. Substitute the name Saddam and it's a perfect fit. This policy plays right into the hands of the respective country's leader, making him more popular than ever and unifying the people against the foreign aggressor. Incidentally, how many days before we hear that Serbia is building "weapons of mass destruction"?

Third, Clinton says he wants to underscore the credibility of Nato. The truth is that Nato has had no credibility since the collapse of the Cold War took away its official reason for existence. The entire world now sees this organization for what it is: a fig-leaf for US imperialism. Nato has become a threat to peace in Europe because the US believes Nato must fight wars to preserve US hegemony.

The conflict in Kosovo comes down to this: Serbia believes that the territory belongs to it, and bases this claim on history dating back at least 600 years. Serbia cites the presence of ancient churches and monasteries central to the Serbian Orthodox faith in Kosovo, which in turn are wrapped up tightly with Serbian nationalist feelings. On the other hand, Kosovo is today inhabited by a Moslem population that demands the right to self-determination.

Which principle should prevail: the claims of history or the political rights of the majority in a polyglot territory? Look at American history. Both the claims of history and the rights of the majority were solidly in favor of Southern secession. But the US decided on union by force. Ever since then, the US has generally opposed secession, not only at home but around the world.

The US tried to keep the Soviet Union together when Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukranians, Estonians, and all the rest were demanding the right of independence. In the same way, the US backed unitary Nigerian, Congolese, and Rwandan states against tribal secessionist impulses.

Currently, the US backs Britain against the claims of Irish and Scottish nationalism, France against Breton and Corsican nationalism, Italy against Lombardian nationalism, Spain against Catalan nationalism, Russia against Chechnyan nationalism, and Mexico against secessionists in Chiapas.

Will the US now reverse its current position against all these regional majorities subjugated by alien nation states? Of course not.

Only during the first world war did the US back self-determination, when the fanatical Woodrow Wilson used this venerable principle as a weapon against the multinational monarchies he was dead-set on destroying. It was political propaganda, both then and now.

The Clinton administration says it supports the Kosovo Liberation Army. In truth, this support is narrow and temporary. The analogy is the support the US provided to the Kurds in Iraq. This support was quickly withdrawn when the US believed it had achieved its real objective, which was to punish anyone who dared question the right of the US to run the world.

The hypocrisy is nowhere as clear as in US opposition to Kurdish demands for separation from the Turkish government. The US sees Turkey as a reliable vassal, so the US turns a blind eye to ethnic oppression of the most brutal sort. It turns out, then, that the principle is not that downtrodden ethnic groups ought to have autonomy, but that the US ought to manage the entire map of the world.

And how well does the US do this? In the same region the US is now bombing, the Clinton administration enforced a unified, multicultural Bosnia, where US troops are permanently stationed, against the pleas of every ethnic group that resides there for independence. This is the peace of a prison camp. It also deprived Serbia of an area with a Serbian majority, an act which inflamed the present crisis.

Ironically, Bosnia also provides a model for what the US would like to do across the region: become an occupying force that overrides everyone else's rights at the point of a gun. The US government has come to view itself as a god-like figure that will purge the entire world of ancient claims and prejudices, and selectively impose a deracinated ideology of democratic equality. This is nothing short of millennialist insanity.

So who is right in the present dispute? The Kosovo independence movement that claims to be speak on behalf of the Moslem majority, or the Milosevic government that claims to represent the Christian Serbian majority's desire for a Serbian-controlled province?

The short answer is: this is not for the US government to decide. Indeed, the US has no position that squares with reality. It says that Kosovo should be neither independent nor Serbian. The "peace agreement" Clinton hails was nothing but a blanket permission for Nato as a permanent occupying force, which is why Milosevic rejected it.

But Clinton says if he doesn't drop bombs and settle border disputes, we would repeat the errors of the past. Really? It was US involvement in Europe that turned a limited conflict into a global one in the first world war. The later attempt to punish its opponents and redraw borders helped bring Hitler to power. And it was US refusal to choose diplomacy over terror that deepened and widen another ghastly global bloodbath, to be followed again by a disastrous redrawing of borders and the fastening of communism on half of Europe.

Yet here we go again, imposing sanctions, lobbing bombs, and redrawing maps. We are not learning from the errors of the past but repeating them. Clinton's missiles have already caused irreparable damage. Orthodox Christians are horrified that the US would back the claims of Moslems, and we can now add Serbians to the growing list of groups that have sworn eternal enmity to the US world empire.

When we consider the original American vision—of a peaceful, commercial republic would be a beacon of freedom, trading with all and staying out of the endless quarrels of the Old World—we can only be utterly alienated from the regime that rules a country conceived in liberty. It is clearer than ever that the US warfare state must be dismantled, so that it can no longer threaten the world, or trample on true American ideals.

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Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.

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