March 1, 2004
In 1994, when President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 American troops into Haiti to restore Jean-Bernard Aristide to the presidency, there was widespread support for a mission aimed at restoring democracy and relieving the misery of the Haitian people. It also seemed to herald a new day in the post-cold war world, when American invasions were not automatically synonymous with supporting some Latin American caudillo or South East Asian despot.
With the exception of the isolationist Right, virtually every voice in the political spectrum cheered the policy of "liberal intervention." The use of American power to make good things happen was a heady drug.
Unfortunately, an addictive one.
Although there is no question that the 1994 intervention was good for Haiti, military intervention has turned out to be fraught with problems, particularly when it is wielded by one country.
Liberal Interventionism Ran Off the Rails
It is tempting to pin the problematical aspects of the policy on the Bush administration and its coterie of aggressive, neocon policymakers. But the fissures in "liberal intervention" began showing up long before the Republicans took control of the White House.
The Yugoslav war is a case in point.
On the surface the rationale for an intervention seemed straightforward. Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic was a thug who was oppressing Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Or at least that was how the war was sold. On the ground things were a little more complex, as they often are in the Balkans.
Milosevic was certainly a thug, but so was Croatia's President, Franjo Tudjman, and we were fine with him. Milosevic did, indeed, oppress Albanians in Kosovo, but the Kosovo Liberation Army was hardly representative of goodness and democracy. Many KLA members--including most the leaders--were no less thuggish than Milosevic, and according to Interpol, deeply engaged in Europe's largest drug ring.
Was there cause for military intervention? Could there have been a resolution short of war? We will never know, because the Serbs were presented with an ultimatum at Rambouillet designed to start a war.
The Americans demanded that Serbia surrender its sovereignty, exactly what the Austro-Hungarian Empire demanded of Serbia following the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. Back then the Serbs said no and the Austrians launched World War 1.
"Rambouillet," argues Dan Goure of the conservative Center for Strategic and International Studies, "was not a negotiation, it was a setup, a lynch party."
Was Yugoslavia "liberal intervention" like Haiti? Questionable. There was a human rights crisis in Kosovo, but it was the war that kicked off the worst aspect of it, the forced expulsion of Albanians from Kosovo. And unlike Haiti, in Yugoslavia the U.S. and NATO went for the jugular. Power plants and water pumping stations were bombed. The electrical grid and energy systems were flattened, and transportation networks were systemically destroyed. The bombing campaign was a direct violation of articles 48, 51, and 54 of Protocol I, Part IV, of the Geneva Conventions. In short, a war crime.
The allies also saturated the country with depleted uranium and cluster bombs. Needless to say, the victims of the war were primarily Serbian civilians.
The Yugoslav war was where "liberal intervention" ran off the rails. The first sign of that was when the Clinton administration sidelined the United Nations and used the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) instead. The U.S. dominates NATO in a way that it could never hope to dominate the UN, and that fact allowed the U.S. military to carry out the kind of war it wanted, a war the UN might well have put the brakes on.
Not a NATO or UN War, But Another U.S. Affair
In the end it was hardly even a NATO war. The …