That all the plausible outcomes to the Clinton administration's Kosovo policy are negative is a clear sign that the president and his aides aren't too adept at strategy and geopolitics. By way of example, they seem to believe that the future of Kosovo is more important to the security of Europe in the 21st century than the future of U.S.-Russia relations, which the administration has all but jettisoned on behalf of the Kosovo Albanians.
How much trouble are we in? As things stand, the least likely near-term result of NATO's war-making will be Serbian acquiescence to the Rambouillet accord. Instead, Serb brutality has accelerated because of NATO actions, and even around-the-clock bombing can't soon stop that brutality. The president, therefore, will have to reconsider using ground troops. After all, since our own actions helped cause the escalation of carnage now in progress, passivity in the face of it would set a new standard for fecklessness.
A NATO occupation of Kosovo, however, is very unappealing. Aside from the cost of achieving it, the prospect reminds one of the proverbial dog who, once he catches the car he's been chasing, can't figure out what to do with it. Once occupied, NATO could give Kosovo, or part of it, to the Kosovo Albanians--but we say that's not our policy. It could fight both the Serbs and the Kosovo Albanians to force their adherence to the Rambouillet accord, but since neither side sincerely endorses it, and since it's only an interim arrangement, this seems a bizarre thing to do. Or NATO could just sit in a cross-fire at the provincial border for a decade or so, at a cost of $1 billion to $2 billion a year and who knows how many casualties.
Isn't there another choice between a politically futile and counterproductive bombing campaign on the one hand and an all-ways-lose occupation on the other? Indeed there is a way to buy at least a chance for a stable peaceful settlement in Kosovo and simultaneously save U.S.-Russia relations.
The president should send Vice President Al Gore to Moscow with a proposal to co-sponsor an ad hoc military mission to bring peace to Kosovo. Others could join too, but the co-sponsors of equal weight would be Russia and the United States. The military mission underway would cease being a NATO operation, which is good because the Balkans was an unfortunate place to bet the reputation of the alliance in the first place.
How would it work? We'd promise the Russians to limit the bombing until the joint occupation force could be brought to readiness; simultaneously, we would urge the Russians to pressure the Serbs to stop their attacks on the Kosovo Albanians as soon as possible.
Why might this work? Because the Serbs sees Russia as their ally should push come to shove, which is why Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is welcome in Belgrade right now. If that ally is removed, Serbian confidence in ultimately prevailing would be sharply undermined.
Why would the Russians go along? Partly because they're fed up with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, but also because the Russians desperately need U.S. and allied financial help, whether through the International Monetary Fund or by other means. It would appeal as well to Russia's wounded Great Power pride.
Letting the Russians share credit for a Balkans' settlement may be the best and only way to save ourselves from a protracted commitment to a very "hard" place. Only if Milosevic sees that the United States and Russia have made a deal over his head, and if he thinks Serbian face can be saved through Russian co-sponsorship of a new peace conference, will he call off his dogs and throw in the towel. Only if Russian interests in the Balkans are acknowledged will Moscow become part of the longer-term solution to the problems there instead of an obstacle to it.
Engaging the Russians in stopping the butchery in Kosovo is thus a way to repair potentially serious damage to U.S.-Russia ties and stop the war. Keeping it stopped won't be easy, but it'll be easier if the Russians are both pressing and reassuring the Serbs as we are pressing and reassuring the Kosovo Albanians.
As it is, the Clinton administration's resort to force is disconnected from any plausible political strategy to end the carnage and protect those we say we wish to help.