Today's Papers

Balkin’ in the Balkans

The second day of the NATO air campaign against Serbia leads everywhere. At most of the papers, under blazing headlines announcing punishing war action are subheads indicating that the punishment isn’t working. For instance at USA Today, under DEFIANT SERBS HIT AGAIN it’s “‘Systematic’ bombing raids fail to sway Milosevic” and at the Washington Post, it’s KEY SITES POUNDED FOR 2ND DAY over “Kosovo Ground Fighting Spreads; Serbian Forces Fire Into Albania.” The New York Times puts the whole mixed message in a single headline: NATO STRIKES GO ON AS SERBS STEP UP CAMPAIGN. As does the Wall Street Journal: NATO HITS SERB FORCES AGAIN AS YUGOSLAVIA REFUSES TO YIELD.

The papers report that the second day of airstrikes, also done at night, continued to focus on Yugoslavia’s air defense system. The NYT reports that during the Thursday raids, unlike the day before, no Yugoslavian fighter planes came up to do battle–instead an SA-6 missile was launched but missed. (Nobody notes that this is the missile that bagged Scott O’Grady over Bosnia.) The WP reports that because the Serbs are holding back their surface-to-air-missile inventory, NATO commanders think it could be days before they have the air supremacy they need to fly close ground attack missions in Kosovo. The Los Angeles Times says that right now, about 20 percent of targets are facilities of the Yugoslav army and Serbian security police, and that this percentage will go up as NATO establishes air superiority. With the Pentagon offering little concrete about the NATO air missions (the WSJ says the military is being “miserly”), a standout is the LAT’s citation of a British general’s tale of how some of his country’s fighter planes couldn’t carry out their mission against an ammo dump because battlefield smoke interfered with their guided bombs.

The papers note that thus far, the airstrikes have only seemed to step up Serbian efforts to crush Albanian resistance in the Kosovo region. And to have stirred up anti-NATO and anti-American sentiment–Serbian rioters rushed the American embassy in Skopje, Macedonia. What exactly is going on is unclear because so many western journalists were ordered to leave Yugoslavia on Thursday. Which makes the reporting by the LAT’s Paul Watson from the Kosovo city of Pristina all the more valuable. Watson describes how just hours after the bombs and missiles fell on Wednesday night, Serbian police rousted journalists, and fired at least one round and ordered several reporters out of their rooms at gunpoint. They were, he reports, working from a faxed blacklist.

The coverage sifts through the administration’s statements about the Kosovo operation’s purpose. The main line is that the goal is for Slobodan Milosevic to stop warring on the Kosovar Albanians, but several papers quote NATO commander Wesley Clark saying that his alliance is willing to destroy Yugoslavia’s military so that it can’t war with the rebels. Both the WP and the LAT detect in Clark’s remarks the hint that Milosevic himself could become a NATO target, but neither paper comments that that would violate U.S. policy against targeting a head of state.

The coverage also unveils the first after-action polls. The USAT poll finds 46 percent of Americans approve, and the NYT reports that the CBS News poll registers 50 percent approval. That poll also shows that 52 percent say peace in Yugoslavia is not worth the price of American casualties.

According to the WSJ, not everyone in the military is thrilled with the lid the Pentagon has clamped down. “We’d love to tell our story,” one officer is quoted as saying. The uniforms blame Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Shelton and Defense Secretary Cohen. Oh, and of course, the media, for not complaining more about this. And it’s not just the Pentagon that’s stopped talking. The Journal also reports that Fidelity Investments, the nation’s number-one mutual fund company, has notified 30,000 of its customers that they will no longer be able to reach a human being to obtain fund balances, stock quotes or other such routine information. The reason? They call too much to see what’s going on with their money.