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Quoting “a senior official in the Clinton administration,” the Guardian of London claimed Monday in its main front-page story that the Pentagon is pushing for a ground attack on Yugoslavia to overthrow President Slobodan Milosevic. “Key figures in the Pentagon are proposing that the White House consider a full-scale armored invasion of Serbia in which Nato would capture Belgrade, topple Milosevic and haul the leaders of his regime before a war crimes tribunal,” wrote the paper’s Washington correspondent. The invasion would be launched from Hungary, he said. The report, like most others that have promoted the ground war option, contained the now familiar dampener that NATO still expects Milosevic to fall before a land invasion becomes necessary. More dampeningly still, the Daily Telegraph of London led Monday with the news that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, currently the most hawkish of the NATO leaders, failed to sway his allies in favor of deploying ground troops.
The press of each allied nation had a different take Monday on both the war and the weekend’s Washington summit. The main German newspapers led Monday on NATO’s new Strategic Concept, which includes “out of area” military deployment if Western interests are threatened. The conservative National Post of Canada welcomed this extension of NATO’s role but warned in an editorial that it should not be “a euphemism for global humanitarian interventions more properly handled by the UN.” Spain’s El Mundo and El País both led on NATO’s pledges of military and economic help to Yugoslavia’s neighbors in return for their support against Milosevic. In Italy, La Stampa of Turin led on Clinton playing “the Yeltsin card,” while Corriere della Sera of Milan splashed the news that NATO is ready to block even Russian tankers to enforce its oil embargo against Yugoslavia. In Paris, Le Figaro led on the cost of the war, warning that Europe is coming under pressure from the United States to pay a larger share of it.
An editorial in the Sunday Times said the oil embargo and the use of Apache helicopters against Milosevic’s tanks might yet obviate the need for a ground war, but a report from Albania in the Sunday Telegraph implied that the United States might never put the helicopters into the air. Reporter Tim Butcher wrote that “the final elements of the deployment are still not in place” and that there is no indication from any NATO source of a willingness, yet, “to employ the Apache in Yugoslavia where its low-flying tactics will expose it to ground fire.” He said that “the level of paranoia” about the Apaches, which are being protected by 3,000 U.S. troops, suggests that they are intended to break Serb morale without actually engaging in battle. “The Albanian press has had a field day, reporting that they are armed with nuclear weapons,” he added.
(Last Friday, the independent Albanian daily Gazeta Shqiptare claimed that the Serbs have started using chemical and biological weapons against the Kosovo Liberation Army. It said that a shell containing radioactive materials and neurotoxins had been fired Thursday near the Kosovo-Albanian border and paralyzed a KLA soldier. Traces of “altropine,” an antidote to chemical weapons, had been found by the KLA on the bodies of dead Serb soldiers, it added.)
In a commentary in the Sunday Telegraph, military historian John Keegan accused media commentators of becoming dangerously obsessed with what politicians such as Clinton and Blair are saying about the progress of the war instead of focusing on what is actually happening in the field. “Last week’s euphoric discussion of the significance of the deployment of 24 Apache helicopters shows how unrealistic media assessments of the evolution of Nato’s war effort is,” he wrote. “The United States lost 5,000 helicopters in Vietnam, out of a helicopter force many times larger than that. It also did not win the Vietnam war.” In another example of Apache skepticism, the Sunday Telegraph’s defense correspondent pointed out that the Pentagon had promised April 4 that the Apaches would be getting “up close and personal to the Milosevic armor units in Kosovo” within days, while three weeks later Task Force Hawk is “still weeks away from performing any sort of combat mission.”
Writing in the paper’s “Review” section, Oxford historian Niall Ferguson said that the slaughters in Kosovo and at Columbine High School and the nail bomb attack last week in London’s black neighborhood of Brixton are all linked to one person–Adolf Hitler. “From beyond his unknown grave, Hitler has a hand in all these apparently unrelated events,” he wrote. Criticizing Clinton’s and Blair’s overuse of Third Reich analogies in their anti-Milosevic rhetoric, Ferguson said it would not do for them to say that the current airstrikes against Serbia are based on the lessons of the past.
In the 1930s, it was not Hitler’s opponents but rather his appeasers who, like NATO leaders today, exaggerated the effectiveness of air power. “Does anyone out there want to argue that Hitler could have been defeated by a policy of air strikes to ‘degrade the Nazi military machine’ without the deployment of ground forces other than in a ‘permissive’ environment?” he asked. “Invoking the memory of the Second World War, Clinton and Blair have picked a fight with one little Hitler [Milosevic],” Ferguson concluded. “They should not now be surprised if, even in the obscurity of Littleton and Brixton, they have to fight some even littler Hitlers, too.”
In a front-page story, the Sunday Telegraph revealed that Blair has regularly consulted Margaret Thatcher on the Kosovo conflict. In a number of telephone calls, all initiated by Blair and some lasting as long as 30 minutes, she urged him to “stiffen the spine” of the Americans, as she had done when she chided President Bush for going “wobbly” during the Gulf War.
In an editorial on the Littleton massacre, the Independent on Sunday warned against dismissing it as a problem unique to gun-crazy America. The problem, it said, is a wider one “to do with the increasing solipsism of the world in which our teenagers live.” Not only do they “retreat into bedrooms which seem as self-contained as an astronaut’s capsule, each with its own TV, stereo-system and wired-up computer,” but into an “increasingly self-referential and self-validating” worldview. The things that once linked teen-agers to the value systems of the rest of society have gone, as have “the frameworks of reality which placed social restraints on the individual’s freedom to think, say, do, or buy whatever is desired.”
Last Friday’s bombing of a Serbian TV station was much criticized in Europe over the weekend. Le Monde’s editorial Sunday said the action might be “terribly counterproductive” because it won’t change the minds of Serbs who believe Milosevic’s propaganda, but it will appear pointlessly destructive of human lives to those who don’t. It could also have “devastating” effects on Western opinion by giving the impression that NATO is only bombing buildings in Belgrade because it is incapable of taking on the Serb military units in Kosovo, where Milosevic appears “to have all the time he needs to empty villages, mine frontiers, bury his tanks and armored vehicles, and install artillery batteries opposite the KLA bases in Albania.”
In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post led Monday with what is said was “the biggest protest in Beijing since the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement began 10 years ago this month.” The story also made the front page of the New York Times and the Financial Times of London, which said that more than 10,000 members of a mystic cult called Fa Lun Gong caused acute embarrassment to security forces by virtually surrounding the compound where China’s leaders work. It said the cult “claims 100 million members and sees human corruption in everything from homosexuality to rock and roll and drugs.”