The New York Times op-ed page has a piece by retired General Wesley Clark headlined: “To Get a Truce, Be Ready to Escalate.” The Times summarizes Clark’s wisdom: “The threat of force might get talks over Syria moving, as it did in Kosovo.”
Clark opines as if the military campaign which he headed was a stellar moral and strategic success: “In 1999 in Kosovo, the West used force as leverage for diplomacy. There, a limited NATO air campaign began after diplomatic talks failed to halt Serbian ethnic cleansing. The bombing lasted 72 days, and plans for a ground invasion of Serbia were under way when Mr. Milosevic finally bowed to the inevitable.”
It is stunning that anyone who showcase Clark as a wise man – considering the fiasco that he unleashed in the Balkans. For instance, NATO repeatedly dropped cluster bombs into marketplaces, hospitals, and other civilian areas. Cluster bombs are anti-personnel devices designed to be scattered across enemy troop formations. NATO dropped more than 1,300 cluster bombs on Serbia and Kosovo and each bomb contained 208 separate bomblets that floated to earth by parachute. Bomb experts estimated that more than 10,000 unexploded bomblets were scattered around the landscape when the bombing ended.
NATO worked overtime to explain away its “mistakes.” On April 12, a NATO pilot sent a missile into a passenger train on a railway bridge, killing 14 people. Clark took to the press podium to show the video from the nose of the missile, emphasizing that the pilot was focused on the bridge, “when all of a sudden, at the very last instant, with less than a second to go, he caught a flash of movement that came into a screen and it was the train coming in. Unfortunately, he couldn’t dump the bomb at that point. It was locked, it was going into the target and it was an unfortunate incident which he and the crew and all of us very much regret.” The video was endlessly replayed on Western television stations, driving home the point that, with the speed of modern missiles, there was sometimes nothing pilots could do to avoid catastrophe.
However, in January 2000, the Frankfurter Rundschau revealed that the video was shown at the NATO press conference at triple the actual speed, thus making the attack on civilians look far more inevitable than it actually was. NATO officials had become aware of the deceptive nature of the video several months earlier but saw “no reason” to publicly admit the error, according to a U.S. Air Force spokesman.
On April 14, 1999, NATO bombs repeatedly hit a column of ethnic Albanian refugees a few miles from the Albanian border, killing 75 people. NATO spokesmen initially claimed that Serbian planes carried out the attack and used the incident to further inflame anti-Serbian opinion. Five days later, NATO spokesmen admitted that the deaths had been caused by NATO forces. NATO then released the audio tape from the debriefing of a pilot identified as involved in the attack.
As Newsday reported, “According to officials, the American pilot was selected because he gave a graphic account of Milosevic’s forces torching a series of ethnic Albanian villages near the Kosovo town of Dakojvica Wednesday. The pilot told how he selected a three-truck military convoy for a laser-guided bomb strike when he saw it pulling away from a village where fires were just starting.”
However, this gambit backfired when high-ranking military officers protested that NATO, at Clark’s urging, had released the tape of a pilot who had nothing to do with bombing the refugee column. The pilot’s words were a red herring to distract attention from the carnage inflicted on the refugees.
The main achievement of the war was that, instead of Serbs terrorizing ethnic Albanians, ethnic Albanians terrorized Serbs; instead of refugees fleeing south and west, refugees headed north.
Unfortunately, few Americans paid close enough attention to the Kosovo war to recognize the danger of permitting the U.S. government and military commanders to go crusading with bombs dropped from 15,000 feet.
Thus, Clark is treated with respect when he recommends unleashing the same recipe for carnage in Syria.