April 5, 1999, Monday
HEADLINE: WE HAVE LOST THIS FOOLISH WAR;
INSTEAD OF ADMITTING THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS CONFLICT, OUR LEADERS HAVE
CONSISTENTLY LIED TO US
BYLINE: Robert Fisk
IT HAS all gone horribly wrong. Indeed, if the initial objectives are
recalled, then we have already lost this war. And it is not only the
tragedy of Biblical proportions on the Balkan mountainsides that
proves the futility of what we have done. Nato, remember, was supposed
to stand by the Rambouillet peace accords, force Slobodan Milosevic
accept limited autonomy for Kosovo and end the slaughter and "ethnic
cleansing" of the Kosovo Albanians. Then Nato troops were to move into
Kosovo in order to protect the Muslim Albanian and Serb populations.
And what has happened?
Rambouillet is in ashes. Serbia is refusing to budge after 13 days and
nights of air raids. Those we pledged to protect are being driven from
their homes in the greatest act of depopulation in Europe since 1945.
The 12,000 soldiers who were meant to look after the Kosovo Albanians
are now doing just that - but in the wrong country, Macedonia. The
Serb civilians of Kosovo, whom they were also meant to protect, are
now being bombed by us. The destabilisation of the southern Balkans,
which we went to war to prevent, is now well underway.
And, instead of admitting the truth, our leaders consistently lie.
At first, we were told that the Serb leader would be forced to end
"ethnic cleansing". The opposite has happened and now we are told -
Robin Cook, no less - that Milosevic will be made to "pay the price",
which is not the same thing at all. Nato promised to attack only
military targets and, for as long as it thought it could crack the
Serb military, that is what it did. But now it is doing just what the
Americans did in Iraq - spreading the war to civilian targets, to
bridges and electricity stations and factories and refineries, under
the spurious excuse that these are also of use to the military. Of
course they are - just as roads and railway tracks and water mains
of use to the military. And as we get more desperate, they may well
the next target.
"This was never an operation that was planned for only two or three
days," Nato's spokesman James Shea told us on 26 March.
Really? So why were we not told this before we went to war? Why were
we not told of the possibility of weeks of air raids and the wholesale
abandonment of the Albanian civilian population of Kosovo if Milosevic
did not give in? Why do we only now learn about the prospect of a
"long war", perhaps lasting four years? And why, for God's sake, did
no one - not President Clinton, not Nato's Secretary General Solana,
nor Robin Cook, nor General Wesley Clark - realise the bombing must
supported by ground troops?
How on earth did Clark come to believe that the Serbs would give up
easily? Did he mistake the Yugoslav army for the Serb militias of
Bosnia? Did he think that bullies are always cowards and will
therefore give in? Did he not realise that only a real threat of
ground invasion might force Milosevic to agree to the Rambouillet
accords in time?
Over the past two weeks, we have been told other lies: that it would
have been even worse if Nato had not bombed Serbia - and that we knew
Milosevic had planned the total "ethnic cleansing" of the Kosovo
Albanian population before we went to war. Clearly, the first
statement - from President Clinton himself - is rubbish.
With Serb paramilitaries butchering their way across Kosovo and poised
to drive out every last Albanian, it could not possibly be worse. And
if we knew that Milosevic had planned this, why did Nato not provide
fighting ground troops in those precious weeks following the original
In the past few days, our defence analysts have been hard at work to
explain the continued war. Not only is it intended to make Milosevic
"pay the price" for his brutality, but any faltering now would damage
the credibility of Nato itself. You bet it would. Almost two weeks
ago, we thought we had gone to war to save the Kosovo Albanians. Now
it turns out that we are at war to save Nato. And yes, yesterday was
Nato's 50th birthday, marked by a blazing oil refinery, an electricity
station burning itself out in northern Belgrade and hundred of
thousands of Kosovo Albanians freezing on the mountainsides of
Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia.
We should not be surprised. We asked the Kurds and the Shia Muslims
Iraq to rise up against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and, when they did as
they were told, we abandoned them to the torture chambers of Iraq.
This time, we asked the Kosovo Albanians to sign the peace accords
Paris and praised the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Now they
are on the run, we can do no more than bomb the Serbs from the air.
There was a telling moment last week when a senior RAF officer stood
up at Nato's regular briefing to tell journalists that the KLA "has
not been defeated" but was "regrouping" in order to "take up the armed
struggle" once again. What is this nonsense?
That a Nato officer should seek to support the KLA in such a way
proved two terrifying things: to the Serbs, that the KLA was a fifth
column (and thus worthy only of execution) and, to us, that Nato now
regards this ragtag bunch of ill-disciplined ex-Marxists as its
foot-soldiers in Kosovo. The substitute army for the Nato soldiers
will not be sent into Serbia.
The Nato briefings become ever more sinister. At each one, a new and
ever more ghoulish story is produced for journalists - the mass
execution of intellectuals one day, the rape of young women the next,
the killing of fathers and sons in front of their families, the
setting up of concentration camps. These stories may well turn out
be true - I suspect the truth may be worse - but the effect is
pornography-by-press-conference, with spokesman "Jamie" Shea acting
the East End club doorman touting the evening's horror story and his
RAF colleague playing the role of manager, promising us that the show
will go on.
And so it will until every last Kosovo Albanian has been driven from
his home, or until MI5 or the CIA engineer the secession of Montenegro
or the overthrow of Milosevic. And all the while, the promises
continue: "We shall attack his murderous forces in Kosovo: we shall
strike at the nerve centres of his decision-making machine" (British
Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson). Nato is showing "unflinching
resolve" in the battle against the "unbelievably brutal actions of
Milosevic's special police and army" (Air Marshal Sir John Day).
Tony Blair is suggesting that the Serb leader may face a war crimes
indictment. Do they think Milosevic will be frightened by all this?
After his supporters killed and raped their way through far more
Muslims in Bosnia than they have in Kosovo, we treated him as a
peacemaker. He was invited to the Dayton conference, he was regarded
by Washington and by the Foreign Office as "a force for stability in
the Balkans" (as Saddam was in Iraq after he invaded Iran). Milosevic
was one of "our" dictators - or at least a man with whom we could do
But now he has joined our list of "beasts" - we remember Saddam and
Gaddafi although, oddly, Osama bin Laden has dropped off our Satanic
radar screens for the present. We believe Milosevic can be "defanged"
or "declawed", or that we can, in the words of the Sun on the first
day of the war, "Clobba Slobba".
Alas, history is not like that. Nato thought that within three days
its bombing campaign, it would have 200,000 Serbs on the streets of
Belgrade demanding Milosevic's removal. Instead, tens of thousands
Serbs now gather on those streets for daily pop concerts to
demonstrate their hatred of Nato.
There are many words to encompass the events of the last 13 days:
brutality, vanity, arrogance. But above all, folly is the word that
comes to mind. Maybe we will find another persecuted population to
"protect" next year.
They had better watch out.