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COLUMN LEFT / ALEXANDER COCKBURN

The Charge of the Laptop Bombardiers : Those who urge bombing the Serbs and arming Bosnia delude themselves as to the result.

May 10, 1994|ALEXANDER COCKBURN | Alexander Cockburn writes for the Nation and other publications

W e have been witnessing, over the past three months, one of the most astonishing displays of high-minded warmongering since the cream of Europe's intelligentsia of the left cheered their respective nations into the carnage of World War I.

For more than a year, each new twist in the terrible saga of Bosnia has brought a belligerent spasm from an extraordinary coalition, stretching, in the United States, from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Review of Books.

In the New York Times, Anthony Lewis, the Tamerlane of the armchair warriors, urged NATO to tell the Bosnian Serbs, "For every shell that falls on Maglaj, 10 bombs will be dropped on your military headquarters in Pale." (Gen. William Westmoreland must read such lines with an ironic smile.) Scarcely less urgent in their demands to throw gasoline on the ethno-religious conflict have been conspicuous members of the liberal left and self-professed socialists, as with a call to bomb the Serbs from the late Michael Harrington's Democratic Socialists of America.

This dementia has a sinister momentum. Just as, after World War II, liberals pioneered Cold War politics, so too now do their heirs urge a course of Western policy calculated to exclude Russia from any constructive politico-military initiative. The crucial Russian role in bringing about disengagement in Sarajevo is studiously ignored. Russian offers to send a large peacekeeping force to Bosnia are left to hang, while all real decisions are monopolized by NATO.

The only way to save the U.N. peacekeeping role and, more important, the lives of Bosnians, is to have a much larger U.N. peacekeeping force, with Russian troops matching the Western contingent and no corresponding influx of Americans. For any Serb, the NATO forces are now irrevocably aligned with the Croatian-Muslim confederation.

There are excellent reasons for any sensible person not to want U.S. ground troops involved. Such troops are always commanded by officers answering to the Pentagon and not to the U.N. chain of command, unless such a command is itself entirely subordinate to the Pentagon.

Bill Clinton bears grievous responsibility for Bosnia's travails. He has consistently kept alive the Bosnian leaders' hopes that the West would forcibly intervene on their side to assert their control of all the territory they claim. Here's where Clinton and all those along the "bomb the bastards" coalition join hands.

It is true that the Muslims have endured the worst suffering and dislocation in the former Yugoslavia, but those who urge that the killing field be leveled by lifting the arms embargo and arming the Bosnian government should realize the implications of their call. The project of President Alija Izetbegovic and the Muslim military faction that controls him is to reconquer the whole of Bosnia. This can be done only by driving large numbers of Serbs and Croats from their homelands--echoing the bloody evictions suffered by Muslims--indefinitely extending the horrors by which additional thousands of Muslims as well as Serbs and Croats would die.

The "arm the Bosnians" crowd has bought into the claim that the Izetbegovic government represents the will of all the Bosnian communities and is legitimate--despite the refusal of the Serbian third of Bosnia's population to have anything to do with it--merely because the NATO powers gave it diplomatic recognition in 1992. All the fraught problems of how best to construct a post-Yugoslav Bosnia--problems best entrusted to an interim U.N. protectorate--are swept aside by the laptop bombardiers with their terse advisories to rain down explosives or rush in arms.

Their hysterical campaign has met with scant opposition. Among the few critical voices has been that of Simon Jenkins, a British journalist writing in the weekly Spectator. Jenkins, who gave us the useful term laptop bombardiers , noted that the bombing of Gorazde "met a need, indeed a craving, for a wider war in Bosnia that seems to lie deep in the subconscious of the Western media." This is true, too, of most Western liberals. And what will they say when Macedonia, or the whole of the Balkans, goes up in flames?

We don't need appeals for bombs from liberals (whose calls for "precision strikes" display a remarkable failure to learn from 20th-Century military history) but pressure for a political settlement among all the Bosnian communities, a settlement that will necessarily involve compromise by each party and that could involve both temporary partition and confederation.

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