The Book Club

An Appalling Rewriting of the Historical Record

My computer is now in a London repair shop, so I’m far from my notes, and will have to give an off-the-toppa-my-head response to your letter of last night.

Two days ago, I raised the question of whether Clark’s reading of the Bosnia and Kosovo crises was biased. I think it is, and that’s why I’m glad you’ve mentioned the hard-liner march in Republika Srpska that Clark tried to thwart. Anytime he’s thwarted, Clark craps all over the person who thwarted him. Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was considerably more sensitive than Clark to the issue of how a democracy is supposed to behave (and hence, more sensitive than Clark to what constitutes “modern war”), gets the treatment. Clark talks about how much faster than Shinseki he got promoted, etc., etc. (Pardon the broken computer, or I’d’ve quoted.)

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This could be dismissed as the self-serving yap-yap of a careerist. But the Kosovo operation was one in which American lives were potentially at risk–and we’d have lost thousands of men (and women) if Clark’s 200,000-troop invasion had been approved. So I’m rather appalled at the way the historical record gets rewritten here. Your account of the march in Republika Srpska is one example. Another is Clark’s attempt to leave the impression there was no coordination between the Croatian infantry assault on Serb positions in the Krajina in 1995 and American air attacks. Other participants have bragged that a coordinated assault was what “brought the Serbs to the table” in Dayton–so why does Clark cover it up? Incidentally, I think this Croatian assault was one of the more sickening incidents of the whole 10-year war. It was focused not on Serb military positions (which our bombing was there to take care of) but on neighborhoods where Serbs had lived for 500 years. It was as pure an example of “ethnic cleansing” as anything that happened in Bosnia–as anything that happened during the whole Balkan conflict, in fact. We weren’t the actual cleansers, but we provided the air support for those who were.

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Then, similarly, Clark claims that the late-war (June 1999) mountain assaults by the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) were undertaken independently of American war aims. This is crap. Basically, 40 or 50 days into the air campaign, we were confronted with a failure. We were bringing all NATO’s resources to the table, and we were losing the war. So we recognized the need to do two things: 1) start bombing civilians, and 2) introduce ground troops.

Both were impossible under the New Military Logistics of “modern war”–differently put, they would have created a PR crisis. So we handled 1) by introducing new targets. Clark glosses over this about-face in target selection–which sickened all our European allies except Britain–as if it were merely a matter of quantitative expansion of pre-existing target lists. It was not. The change was qualitative. We first broadened the category of regime-allied hacks until it embraced the dozens of independent journalists we killed in the Serbian radio tower in Belgrade. Then we hit the civilian electricity and water supply.

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Objective number 2) was even harder to fudge. European governments were willing to send infantry but would not have done so without American leadership. And there was no (political) way to send American forces. The Clinton administration was aware of polls that showed Americans were against the war even assuming no casualties. Congress had voted against it. (Curious that Clark doesn’t give a shit about any of this.) So the politically sensible alternative was to use Albanian forces–racist, imperialist (look at what’s going on in Macedonia as we speak), fascist (it’s worth looking at the New York Times’ Chris Hedges for their direct emulation of the German SS), and mafia-linked (their Frankfurt cell runs roughly half the heroin traffic in Europe)–to do our dirty work. The UCK waged the ground war that NATO troops, for political reasons revolving around human rights, could not. This may have been (militarily) sensible–but why does Clark lie and say there was no coordination? When the State Department’s Jamie Rubin embraced the UCK’s Hashem Thaci on the main street of Pristina after the war, it was not as if they had just met.

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This alliance with Albanian racists and fascists turned out to be militarily sensible as well. It drove the Serbian police and army–albeit not artillery–out of sheltered positions, so they could be killed with anti-personnel cluster bombs, which is basically the strategy we used in the Gulf War. That is, far from being the apostle of “modern war” he claims to be, Clark in the latter days of the Kosovo conflict was refighting the last one. OK, so he’s deluded–fine. But 400-some-odd pages into the book, I still couldn’t figure out why he insisted on lying about it.

I’ve enjoyed venting a bit about our shameful Kosovo operation with you, Debra. And I can’t help but wish our national security were in the hands of people like you, and not those of people like Wesley Clark.

Best,
Chris

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