June 14, 1999
KOSOVO: A PYRRHIC VICTORY
Wait a military minute. We spend 4 billion bucks, risk our Green Berets' and jet jockeys' lives, and the Ruskies do an end run and march into Kosovo before us?
They get the parades, flowers and cheers that were beamed by television around the world -- and we pick up the tab. This just doesn't add up. But come to think of it, nothing in the "war that wasn't a war" makes much sense.
Let's review the deal. President Clinton does a peace dance with indicted war criminal Slobodian Milosevic, a guy he called Hitler, in which Milsovevic stays the main man. Kosovo still belongs to him. Serb soldiers, the ones who drove out the refugees, will be at the border welcoming them back home.
Humm? Things have changed since President Truman's, when Hitler put a bullet in his brain rather than face Harry's stern music. If he'd played war under Clinton rules, he'd have been allowed to give Ike the keys to Berlin while the Nazi army passed in review and then quietly retired to a sunny dictator-friendly South American state.
Had I submitted an outline of how the operation went down as a proposal to a book editor, I'd have gotten the Big R - rejection - with a note saying "We don't do Air Power humor" or "Catch 22's already been written" or "Sorry, your imagination's in overdrive. No military operation could have been this bad."
But that won't be the spin coming out of the White House and the Pentagon until Hillary grabs the headlines by kicking off her pre-2008 presidential election campaign with her go at the Senate.
The veteran Clinton spin team - which flimflammed Monica into a stalker, Paula into trailer-park trash, and labeled Bill's womanizing and the selling of secrets to China as dirty tricks by right-wing extremists - will ram a hype hose down the nation's throat and turn the water all the way up.
The war that wasn't a war will be spun into a great victory, a combination of our Revolutionary War, V-J Day and Desert Storm.
But when our flyers and soldiers and sailors start leaking to the press, you'll see a triumph it was not. The conflict was not only badly bungled, it was the military mismatch of history.
It was like a wrestling match between Little Orphan Annie and Jesse Ventura - the little redheaded kid being Serbia and Jesse being a muscle-bound NATO. Annie weighed in with a fourth-rate 1960s army, backed by 10 million people from a primarily agricultural state the size of Ohio whose economy pumps out less dough than Coney Island on a rainy day. Jesse hit the scales with the most powerful military machine in the history of the world, 800 million supporters hailing from 19 mostly rich industrialized countries.
After 78 rounds, Annie is still standing and singing "Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya tomorrow!" while Jesse, who has had to spend too much energy preventing his 19 supporters from stabbing him in the back never got in a decisive hit.
When Serbia left Kosovo, its forces going out looked as good as NATO's military machine did coming in. The bombed and blasted Serb Army vehicles and soldiers were parade-ground sharp. Their trucks and tanks were clean and well maintained, and their soldiers' gear, uniforms and haircuts looked ready for a tough first sergeant's inspection. No one looked battle-rattled or had that vacant 1,000-yard stare that comes from a few too many nearby hits.
After all those bombs and missiles and all of NATO's glowing reports about battle damage inflicted on the non-white-flag-waving Serbian Army, 11 MiG fighters rose from an air base in Kosovo on the day the peace deal was final. They wagged their perfect, unruffled wings and headed north. After such a pummeling, how could 11 jet fighters, almost more than Great Britain used in the war, remain unscathed?
Eventually, the analysts will tell us the final score. But one thing for sure is that the Cold War is back and Russia again has a bunch of missiles pointed our way.
Their politicians say they didn't authorize the stealth maneuver to parade in Kosovo. Which means the generals, the guys who control the nuclear-tipped missiles, are really in charge. Sleep well. Enjoy the "victory" while it lasts.