Liar’s Poker

A significant problem with the NATO action in Kosovo, commentators have noted, is that while bombing alone seems unlikely to curb Serb aggression, President Clinton has explicitly stated that ground troops will not be sent in (except, once the conflict ends, as peacekeepers). Why should Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic back down when Clinton has already made clear the limits of the United States’ willingness to fight? The answer, Chatterbox believes, is that Clinton is counting on Milosevic to know that he, Clinton, is a liar. According to this theory, Clinton understands that the legacy of Flytrap is that no one will believe anything he says ever again. Rather than mope about this sad state of affairs, Clinton is incorporating it into his foreign policy. To appease Republicans who are wary of the Kosovo action, Clinton can say ground troops won’t be committed–knowing full well that neither the Republicans nor Milosevic will believe him! Because the Republicans want to support the NATO troops while the war is being fought, they won’t call Clinton on it; but Milosevic, knowing Clinton’s penchant for telling whoppers, will fear a full-scale invasion if he doesn’t withdraw his troops from Kosovo. Thus will peace be restored to the Balkans.

–Timothy Noah