David H. Hackworth
January 26, 1999
KOSOVO: DON'T GO THERE
Troopers from U. S. Army units in Europe are sharpening their bayonets; U.S. Navy ships, on station in the Adriatic Sea, are prepping their Tomahawk missiles; and U.S. jet-jockeys in Europe are doing their pre-strike drills.
Will Serbia's Kosovo province be Bill Clinton's next military quagmire? Will this primitive land which has nothing to do with America's national security be our next Vietnam?
Bosnia -- just one of Clinton's current tar pits -- was supposed to be an in-and-out-and-over one-year commitment. Instead, we're going on four. The Bosnian swamp's already cost over 12 billion bucks and almost ruined three of our best heavy Army divisions, and there's no end in sight. On the human side, there have been more than 100 U.S. casualties, from arms ripped off to broken bones and more than a dozen body bags filled.
Kosovo promises to be an even hotter and more dangerous mission than Bosnia. The Serbs may defend their sacred homeland ferociously, and if we intervene in our misguided global RoboCop manner, American blood could really flow. Kosovo is to the Serbs as Jerusalem is to the Jews and Mecca is to the Muslims. Kosovo's a full on-going civil war that's been on the boil for decades. Perhaps the major lesson of the Vietnam War was not to take sides in an insurrection.
Kosovo belongs to Serbia. Albanian terrorists armed and supplied from an across-the-border sanctuary want to change the present management. They don't think Serbian-born Albanians should be governed by Serbian-born Serbs, just as in the early 1960s, the North Vietnamese didn't think South Vietnamese should be ruled by the Saigon government. Back then, the Vietnamese northerners operating from cross-border sanctuaries armed and trained the southerners, kicked up the ante by infiltrating in regulars, and eventually we, without any deep reflection on the consequences, eagerly galloped to the rescue. The result: disaster. The major lesson learned: Don't get mixed up in somebody else's family squabble.
The question is: What right does Clinton have to attack an independent nation -- Serbia -- whose troops and police are fighting insurgents in their own land?
In 2020, Southern California will be predominately Hispanic. Imagine if California-born Hispanic leaders following the Kosovar rebel scenario convinced their followers that the home of the Rose Bowl Parade was theirs. They could argue, "This land belonged to our forefathers long before the English settled Jamestown. They came with guns and took it from us. We're taking it back and: A) Rejoining Mexico; B) Creating a new republic called Aztlan; C) Forming a Commonwealth similar to Puerto Rico."
Hollywood, Disneyland and the mighty aircraft arm of the Military- industrial-congressional Complex, along with a whole bunch of non-Hispanic born-in-Southern California folks wouldn't be too happy with this idea. Of course, they'd scream to Washington. "Save us!"
And five will get me ten that the U.S. president would react exactly as Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic is acting now. "It's our land and we will defend it." Imagine if Aztlan next invited Mexico to help it fight for self-government?
While we're imagining, what if the USA sticks its military nose into Kosovo and the Serbs ask their first cousins, the missile-rich Russians, to help them out? During a War Game at the U.S. Army's War College, the Ruskies and Yanks locked horns over the Balkans. The men from Moscow blew away our satellites and "the war" ended in a draw. History is replete with war games becoming wars.
As with our Iraqi tar pit, I doubt we'd get too much help from our European pals. Sure, Clinton's foreign policy twin, Britain's Tony Blair, would pony up a few toys and boys, but the French, still mindful of their defeats in their counterinsurgency campaigns in Indochina and Algeria, would be reluctant players. And the Germans, who well remember the five years of costly defeats and the loss of 700,000 men suffered by their elite World War II army at the hands of the Serb partisans, wouldn't be too eager for a rematch.
The military solution won't work in Kosovo. Let's pray that Clinton's military advisers do what their predecessors failed to do regarding the Vietnam War: Stand tall and speak out so that Kosovo won't be another veterans wall waiting to be memorialized.