Home The Editorial Page Politics Contributors Contributors Recommended Links About HPLeft Contact Us

Kosovo and Iraq

In their campaign to sell an invasion of Iraq, the talking points of Bush Administration supporters now involve bringing up the example of President Clinton's bombing campaign to end Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. They point out that Clinton embarked on this policy without first going to the United Nations, and hence Democrats and anti-war activists are being hypocritical by criticizing the Bush Administration's promise that they will invade Iraq with a “coalition of the willing” if the U.N. fails to act. Putting aside the Bush Administration's heavy-handed, gun-to-the-head attitude towards U.N. deliberations, and their dubious case that any military option needs to commence in Spring 2003 (rather than at some later date, by which time the entire Security Council might be brought on board any resolution, like Fall 2003), the comparison with Kosovo is seriously off-base in one absolutely crucial area.

When Clinton finally decided to act in 1999, and put an end to Serbian attempts to ethnically cleanse Kosovo, these efforts were intended to cauterize a deep, tragic wound among the states that once constituted the former Yugoslavia. In coming to the defense of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, Clinton was directly making a point about United States intentions towards Muslims worldwide, just as President George H.W. Bush was making a similar point by intervening in Somalia in 1992.

The Kosovo operation was, at worst, impact-neutral in the ongoing battle against Islamic terrorism, and potentially, a huge positive. Why? Put in terms that Bin Laden and his followers would understand, it was an instance of "crusaders going to war against other crusaders to rescue Muslims". In fact, if Dubya, Wolfowitz and company had any marketing savvy at all, they'd be trumpeting Clinton's campaign in Kosovo (as well as H.W. Bush's rescue mission in Somalia) throughout the Muslim world as testimony of the United States' good intentions towards Islam. They're not doing that at the moment – probably because many of these same Iraq hawks were against Clinton's humanitarian intervention in Kosovo, evidently content to allow the Serbians to repeat in that province the same process of ethnic cleansing we watched in horror in Bosnia a few years earlier. Moreover, the Bush Administration's ongoing spin campaign against all things Clintonian doubtless makes such a strategy unthinkable, even if it were thought to be in the best interests of the United States. In comparison to Kosovo, a March Madness invasion of Iraq is likely to be anything but impact-neutral vis-a-vis the war on terrorism. Without widespread international support, especially among the states in the region not receiving dramatic increases in U.S. foreign aid, a clear and convincing case having been made as to why Hussein needs to be forcibly removed before that support can be assembled, and an extremely swift yet orderly transition to civilian rule in Iraq, Bush's proposed attack is likely to create a surplus of anti-Americanism in the Islamic world - and with it, more people willing to end their lives while killing United States citizens.

Matthew Carnicelli, © 2003. All rights reserved.