The Breakfast Table

NATO’s Incompetance

Dear Clive,

I find the NATO propaganda extraordinary. They are much more concerned about domestic opinion than about what actually happens on the ground.

Yesterday they bombed a bridge and nine civilians were killed in a train crash. They solemnly intoned that NATO does not target civilians; they only get killed as “collateral damage.” Therefore, NATO is quite different from Milosevic. Yet the destruction of infrastructure has devastating effects on civilians–in Iraq, hundreds of thousands have died because of the lack of basic facilities as a result of years of bombing on and off–probably for other reasons as well. In any case, if you’re an ordinary Serb, you don’t make fine distinctions between being killed deliberately or being killed as a result of “collateral damage.”

Wesley Clark, who seems incapable of a single coherent sentence, said yesterday that NATO is “winning.” What can he mean? It seems to me that NATO has already lost, since, as you say, they failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, which was the original aim of the exercise.

They all insist that if ground troops are sent to Kosovo as a result of agreement, they must be NATO-led, even if under a UN or OSCE umbrella, because only NATO has the efficient command structure. This bombing campaign seems to me to have proved their total incompetence. They thought it would just last a few days before Milosevic caved in. Then they thought they could protect Albanians from the air. Apparently they had no idea that the ethnic cleansing would be so swift and efficient. Then they seem to have been surprised by bad weather. (By the way, friends in the area tell me that on some of the occasions when they explained their failures by bad weather, the weather was lovely.) Did you hear about the posters in Belgrade when the F-117 was shot down? “Sorry, we didn’t know it was supposed to be invisible.”

After yesterday’s meeting they are talking about how to protect the 700,000 people wandering around homeless and in hiding inside Kosovo. But they seem bereft of ideas.

The only positive thing that is happening is the German initiative. Schroder has invited Kofi Annan to the Brussels meeting of foreign ministers. But I am not that hopeful. There seems to have been a hardening of opinion on both sides, each side following its own logic. NATO is trying to prove its credibility, as a defensive alliance, as you point out, but not as a moral champion. Milosevic seems to be moving toward a war with Albania, so that the very thing Western leaders feared–changes of borders–may have been provoked by this war.

Kosovo has pushed everything else off the news. Otherwise the Scottish elections would be very fascinating. I saw a very wooden performance by Donald Dewar yesterday–will Labor win? And if not, what then?