What this war is really about

Marcus Gee

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, Wednesday, May 26, 1999 COMMENTARY

Belgrade -- Hats off to Lieutenant-General Michael C. Short of the United States Air Force. Thanks to Lt.-Gen. Short, NATO's claim that the air war in Yugoslavia is not directed at civilians has been stripped of its last shreds of credibility.

When he sat down for an interview with The Washington Post last weekend, the general made it plain that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is trying to do much more than just hurt the Yugoslav military when it bombs bridges, power plants and water-pumping stations. It is trying to break the will of the Serbian people and foment an uprising against President Slobodan Milosevic.

Here is what he said about how he hoped Serbs would react to the devastation of their country. "If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, 'Hey, Slobo, what's this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?' And at some point, you make the transition from applauding Serb machismo against the world to thinking what your country is going to look like if this continues."

There you have it, straight from the man in charge of the air campaign. This is no longer a short-term air strike against the Yugoslav government, as it began, or even a long-term campaign against the Yugoslav military, as it became. It is a war of attrition against the whole Serbian nation. The aim is to make ordinary people so miserable, so afraid and so discouraged that they will rise up in anger against Mr. Milosevic and force him to pull out of Kosovo. If NATO's generals can't do the job, the Serbs will do it for them.

You have to be here to understand how absurd that is. People in Belgrade are simply amazed at the boneheadedness of the NATO strategy, and when I ask people what they think of it, they sputter with outrage, frustration and incomprehension.

A good part of the population already opposes Mr. Milosevic; so those people need no incentive to dislike him. The idea that they might be bombed into disliking him more is laughable. People here are so angry at the bombing, and so involved with the daily struggle to survive under a bombardment, that they have little time or inclination for politics.

Even the fiercest critics of the government find the bombing repugnant and ridiculous. After fighting Mr. Milosevic for years, they feel they are being punished for his crimes. While bombs fall all around them, he is safe in a bunker somewhere, more powerful than ever. "I am the mother of a son," one bright-eyed young woman said yesterday as her three-year-old played on the floor. "We are suffering, Milosevic isn't. He has all the cards."

Yet that is just what the allies appear to be saying. Newsweek magazine reported this week that U.S. President Bill Clinton had authorized a plan to use the Central Intelligence Agency to destabilize Mr. Milosevic. As if the systematic destruction of Yugoslavia's infrastructure were not enough, the plan reportedly includes a scheme to train Albanian rebels to carry out a campaign of sabotage in Serbia. Asked about the plan, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman said, "I wouldn't be surprised if we were using it here as part of an effort to bring the war in Kosovo home to the people, the civilians in Belgrade, so that they pressure Milosevic to break and make an agreement with NATO."

Okay, so here is the plan. We rain bombs on their heads for a couple more months. Then we send Albanian terrorists to blow up what's left. Then we tell them to rise up en masse against a man whose ruthlessness we have compared with Hitler's.

Thank you, Senator Lieberman. Thank you, General Short. Now we know what this war is really about.

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