Although the 2016 presidential election is still in the primaries phase, contenders have already brought up America’s failed foreign wars. Hillary Clinton is taking flak over Libya, and Donald Trump has irked the GOP by bringing up Iraq. But what of Kosovo?
The US-led NATO operation that began on March 24, 1999 was launched under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine asserted by President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. For 78 days, NATO targeted what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – which later split into Serbia and Montenegro – over alleged atrocities against ethnic Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo. Yugoslavia was accused of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” as bombs rained on bridges, trains, hospitals, homes, the power grid and even refugee convoys.
NATO’s actions directly violated the UN Charter (articles 53 and 103), its own charter, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 1980 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. The war was a crime against peace, pure and simple.
Though overwhelmed, Yugoslavia did not surrender; the June 1999 armistice only allowed NATO to occupy Kosovo under UN peacekeeping authority, granted by Resolution 1244 – which the Alliance has been violating ever since.
US Secretary of State at the time, Madeleine Albright, was considered the most outspoken champion of the “Kosovo War.” She is now a vocal supporter of candidate Clinton, condemning women who don’t vote for her to a “special place in Hell.”
Clinton visited the renegade province in October 2012, as the outgoing Secretary of State. She stood with the ‘Kosovan’ government leaders – once considered terrorists, before receiving US backing – and proclaimed unequivocal US support for Kosovo’s independence, proclaimed four years prior.
“For me, my family and my fellow Americans this is more than a foreign policy issue, it is personal,” Clinton said. Given the Kosovo Albanians had renamed a major street in their capital ‘Bill Clinton Avenue’ and erected a massive gilded monument to Hillary’s husband, her comments were hardly a surprise.
She is unlikely to be condemned for those remarks by her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. While arguing that Congress should have a say in authorizing the intervention, Sanders entirely bought into the mainstream narrative about the conflict, seeing it as a case of the evil Serbian “dictator” Slobodan Milosevic oppressing the unarmed ethnic Albanians. He saw“supporting the NATO airstrikes on Serbia as justified on humanitarian grounds.”
One Sanders aide, Jeremy Brecher, resigned in May 1999 arguing against the intervention as it unfolded, since the “goal of US policy is not to save the Kosovars from ongoing destruction.”
Trouble is there was no “destruction.” Contrary to NATO claims of 100,000 or more Albanians purportedly massacred by the Serbs, postwar investigators found fewer than 5,000 deaths – 1,500 of which happened after NATO occupied the province and the Albanian pogroms began.
Western media, eager to preserve the narrative of noble NATO defeating the evil Serbs, dismissed the terror as “revenge killings.” NATO troops thus looked on as their Albanian protégés terrorized, torched, bombed and pillaged across the province for years, forcing some 250,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma, and other groups into exile.
After George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, his administration adopted the Clinton-era agenda for the Balkans, including backing an independent Albanian state in Kosovo. None of the Republicans, save 2012 contender Ron Paul, have criticized the Kosovo War since.
Billionaire businessman Donald Trump actually has been critical – though back in 1999, long before he became the Republican front-runner and the bane of the GOP establishment. In October that year, Trump was a guest on Larry King’s CNN show, criticizing the Clintons’ handling of the Kosovo War after a fashion.
“But look at what we’ve done to that land and to those people and the deaths that we’ve caused,” Trump told King. “They bombed the hell out of a country, out of a whole area, everyone is fleeing in every different way, and nobody knows what’s happening, and the deaths are going on by the thousands.”
The problem with Trump, then as now, is that he is maddeningly vague. So, these remarks could be interpreted as referring to the terror going on at that very moment – the persecution of non-Albanians under NATO’s approving eye – or the exodus of Albanians earlier that year, during the NATO bombing. Only Trump would know which, and he hasn’t offered a clarification.
Though he has the most delegates and leads in the national polls for the Republican nomination, the GOP establishment is furious with Trump because he dared call George W. Bush a liar and describe the invasion of Iraq as a “big fat mistake.” According to the British historian Kate Hudson, however, the 2003 invasion was just a continuation of the “pattern of aggression,” following the precedent set with Kosovo.
Last week Secretary of State John Kerry reluctantly branded the actions of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria “genocidal” towards the Christians, Yazidis, Shiites and other groups. He cited examples of how IS destroyed churches, cemeteries and monuments, and murdered people simply because of who they were.
It was March 17, eight years to the day since 50,000 Albanians began a three-day pogrom in Kosovo, doing the very same things – while their activists in the US were raising funds for the very same John Kerry, as he ran for president as the Democratic candidate.