After retired Gen. Wesley Clark testified at the United Nations international criminal tribunal in The Hague -- where former Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic is being tried on 66 charges, including crimes against humanity -- Clark boasted to The New York Times that he is the only Democratic presidential hopeful "who's ever faced a dictator down. I'm the only one who's ever testified in court against one."
Now, Clark can boast that he's the only Democratic hopeful to testify against a dictator who quickly thereafter was elected to his country's parliament, as happened Sunday. (Not that Milosevic or Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj -- another U.N. tribunal defendant/electoral victor -- is likely to serve in office. As U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said Monday, "Milosevic is otherwise engaged in The Hague.")
Milosevic's electoral success should give pause to those who argue that the United Nations should preside over a trial for another dictator -- Saddam Hussein. Despite its good intentions, the United Nations has managed to botch several elements of Milosevic's prosecution.
To start, the United Nations' refusal to consider the death penalty has to be balm to Milosevic. A lawyer by training, Milosevic is representing himself in The Hague, knowing that the absolute worst that can happen to him is a sentence of life in prison. Even if the 62-year-old former dictator is convicted, he could be eligible for parole, if he lives long enough. In U.N. hands, Milosevic has little to fear.
In fact, Milosevic is probably safer awaiting trial in The Hague than he would be if he were free on the streets in Belgrade, where a popular uprising swept him from power in 2000.
The trial's broadcasts in the former Yugoslavia probably helped Seselj and Milosevic win in the polls. (Seselj's party won 27.5 percent of the vote, more than any other party, while Milosevic's Social Party won 5 percent.) The court is so feckless that both men were able to campaign for office despite a Hague prohibition on campaigning.
Whether it's true or not, many Serbs believe that the United Nations has wrongly concentrated on prosecuting Serbs, while undercharging Kosovar Albanians.
Thus, the tribunal erred when it indicted four members of Serbian security forces close to the election. Rebeka Bozovic, deputy president of the Liberal Party, complained to The New York Times, "My genuine belief is that (U.N. prosecutor Carla) Del Ponte was the best head of an electoral campaign that (Seselj's) Radical Party could ever have had."