Slade is right!

It doesn't happen very often that I completely agree with Skeletor, but Slade Gorton is absolutely right this time.

Gorton, on the floor of the Senate, railed against the resolution that passed 58-41 on March 23 supporting Clinton's air attacks on Serbia and Kosovo. He called it "this Senate's Gulf of Tonkin resolution," referring to the Senate resolution that suckered America into the disastrous Vietnam conflict. And after only a week, we are seeing the broad outlines of what kind of legal, political, military, and moral catastrophe can result from a world superpower that annually spends hundreds of billions preparing to kill and virtually nothing on preparing to peacefully resolve conflict.

The American impulse to attach itself to conflicts when and where it chooses, anywhere in the world, and try to impose its own solutions by virtue of superior firepower, has its limits. We're seeing them clearly. It's like the old truism about "for someone who only uses a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." In this case, the US logic—if you want to call it that—was that to prevent a larger conflagration, we were going to soak the entire area in gasoline and apply flame.

Guess what's happened? The fire is spreading faster and more fiercely than anyone—on this continent, at least—predicted. Kosovar refugees are streaming out of the region in breathtaking numbers, reporting atrocities NATO is helpless to stop now that monitors are withdrawn. Bosnia, Macedonia, and Montenegro are all on the verge of getting sucked into the fireball. The tyrant Milosevic is now in a much stronger position domestically, with even pro-democracy groups uniting behind him, because his paranoid rantings about how the world is out to get Greater Serbia are now demonstrably true. (We also managed this with Saddam's claims that UN inspection teams were riddled with US spies. By golly, turns out he was right. How can we make such lunatics look so sane?)

The hypocrisy of the US and its European allies in their anxiety to bomb is fairly transparent to much of the rest of the world. Only a few hundred miles away, the US provides weapons, money, and training to NATO ally Turkey in its strikingly similar repression of the Kurds. Back in the Balkans, the Kosovars waged a vigorous nonviolent campaign against Serbian oppression for eight years, with strikes, boycotts, mass mobilizations, and alternative institutions, to the yawning indifference of the Western world. Then, last year, a fringe group calling itself the Kosovo Liberation Army started fighting, and we paid attention—and started trying to impose a US-mandated solution, without the agreement or even negotiation of either side. No wonder we didn't get anywhere. Negotiation hasn't failed; so far, between the warring parties, it hasn't been tried.

A rapidly escalating war

So what we have at this writing is a rapidly escalating war that the US has no clue, militarily or politically, how it will extricate itself from—let alone win. We're not even sure what we're fighting for, since the KLA never asked for our armed intervention (and judging from the results, wisely so). It's hard to tell, because the track record is that when shooting starts, the Pentagon and State Department, with the happy cooperation of the networks and big papers, start lying to us; but the absence of encouraging reports is sure telling. So is the absence of the usual, pull-together-behind-the-commander-in-chief foreclosure of debate once hostilities start; polls still show the public almost evenly divided on the appropriateness of this war. There's clearly not much popular or political support for escalation, no matter how often we paint Milosevic as the newest worse-than-Hitler. It's a clich鬠but Gorton's comparison to the quagmire of Vietnam is apt. This is a prescription for death. Lots of it.

Where to go? Well, for one thing, ground troops aren't the answer, any more than they were in Vietnam. Russia and Greece are calling for a ceasefire, over our unrelenting hostility. Here's a radical suggestion: Let them broker one. We've had our turn, and we made things worse. It would do this country good to simply step aside and acknowledge that it is not the final arbiter of all arguments in all places at all times.

Finally, as good as Slade has been on this issue, and as bad as Patty "I'll do anything for Bill" Murray has been in her sycophancy, it's hard to shake the feeling that their stances have less to do with principled positions than with party politics and the 2000 election. Like Al Gore? Vote for bombing. Hate Al Gore? We're making a mistake. The suspicion is that if it were Bush instead of Clinton, the positions would be reversed. That sort of horse trading in peoples' lives is breathtakingly arrogant and irresponsible. If I were in Belgrade or Baghdad and felt that my life was at risk to improve Al Gore's election chances, I'd hate America. And a lot of people do, for exactly that sort of reason.

There's only one way out of this escalating mess. Stop the air strikes. Go back to the negotiating table. And let someone other than the schoolyard bully do the negotiating.

 
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