Two ways to look at war

Posted: Mar 30, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON--There are two ways to look at war. One school sees it as a temporary emergency, the result of bad people taking control of important countries and wreaking havoc. The other tends to see conflict as endemic, ingrained in human nature and the perpetual striving of peoples for power and dominion. Liberals, with their belief in the perfectibility of human nature, tend to believe the first. Dour conservatives tend to share Ambrose Bierce's definition of peace as ``a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.'' The liberal view borrows its prestige from a pretty major example, World War II. The problem, however, is that the Clinton administration deployed the idea indiscriminately to any place it wanted to intervene. It was this logic that got us into Haiti, for example. Some evil generals, it was explained, were doing terrible things to the country. Our goal was to get rid of them, restore democracy, and fix things up. So we invaded, sent the bad guys into exile, and brought back the ``democratically elected president,'' Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Six years later, Aristide held a sham election, sent his thugs to physically attack the opposition, and had his senate call for the arrest of the head of the opposition alliance. Haiti remains the impoverished, murderous dictatorship it was when our troops arrived. A more serious example--at least we could get out of Haiti with no one noticing--is the Balkans. The Clinton rationale for deploying our military in Bosnia and then Kosovo hinged on the notion that Serbia, misled by its nasty ruler, Slobodan Milosevic, was the root cause of Balkan instability. ``The source of the problem,'' explained Clinton the day before beginning the bombing campaign in Kosovo, ``has been that the leader of Serbia has tried to dominate the former Yugoslavia by starting wars in Croatia and Bosnia in the last decade, and stripping from Kosovo ... self-government.'' Well, we have just run a fairly good historical experiment: We are rid of Milosevic. Serbia is run by democrats. And yet the Balkans are on the verge of another explosion. Macedonia, the single most peaceful ex-Yugoslav republic, is now in an incipient civil war. From NATO-liberated Kosovo, guerrillas have attacked Macedonia, ostensibly in the name of civil rights but clearly in the hope of detaching its Albanian-populated region (Macedonia is 30 percent ethnic Albanian) to Kosovo and a Greater Albania. The pity is that this was all utterly predictable. ``An independent Albanian Kosovo will surely seek to incorporate the neighboring Albanian minorities--mostly in Macedonia,'' wrote Henry Kissinger in February 1999. Other realists, such as National Interest editor Owen Harries, expressed similar objections. I wrote (Feb. 26, 1999) that ``NATO intervention ... would sever Kosovo from Serbian control and lead inevitably to an irredentist Kosovar state, unstable and unviable and forced to either join or take over pieces of neighboring countries.'' The Albanians did not wait for their Kosovar state. They have already struck. And peaceful Macedonia, some of whose soldiers went into battle this week in sneakers, is a poor candidate to fight a deadly counterinsurgency. This conflict was never caused by one country or one man. Yugoslavia, after an interlude of quiet imposed by totalitarian repression and fear of the Soviet Union, has reverted to its centuries-old state of convulsive ethnic and religious conflict. What to do? Unfortunately, getting out is not an option. Even though the original commitment was folly, once a superpower makes a commitment to Balkan stability, its very presence creates a new national interest--credibility--where there was none there to begin with. We have two options: deputize and ``Vietnamize.'' (A) Deputize the Europeans to do the dirty work. NATO has just announced that a British-Scandinavian unit in Kosovo will deploy near the Macedonian border. This makes sense. While we're stuck with peacekeeping because of our previous commitment, an escalation to counterinsurgency is absurd. It is the Europeans' front line, not ours. They ought to man it. (B) In Vietnam, we tried to get out by getting the locals to replace our soldiers. In this case, ironically, the locals are Serbs. We've already ``Vietnamized'' one part of the conflict by allowing Serbs to return to a border region that had become a center of activity for the Albanian guerrillas. Macedonia is a harder case, but in the end it may be Serbia that will guarantee the security of its fellow Slavs in Macedonia. There is little more that we can do about this quagmire. But it should be a lesson the next time a president comes to the American people and asks for intervention in a local war, on the grounds that if we could only get rid of the bad guys, peace and light will reign. Sometimes that is true; most times it is not.