So, What Do We Do Now?

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Dear Owen:

This is the last of my missives in this exchange, and I confess that I think you the better debating tactician–I feel that I spend more time answering your questions than analyzing your responses to mine. Let me begin, therefore, by pressing you on your last paragraph–i.e., your solution to the crisis.

You seem to think that a negotiated settlement (conducted under Russian auspices) with an international force should lead to a partition of Kosovo, in which the desirable parts end up in Serb hands, and the rest in the hands of the Kosovars. Some immediate questions come to mind: What makes you think Milosevic will accept this? Do we bomb him indefinitely until he does? If you were a Kosovar, would you go back under the protection of a U.N. force (remember Srebrenica!) or would you wait, no matter how miserable you were, or would you refrain unless NATO troops were there to guarantee your safety? If the Kosovars don’t go back (and there are three quarters of a million outside the country, and thousands more pouring out daily), do we force them to go back? What are the consequences for regional stability if they don’t go? Should the United States be willing to commit troops to an open-ended peacekeeping mission? And given that this outcome (which may be the best we can get) flies in the face of our proclaimed objectives, what do you think the long-term consequences of this adventure will have been?

This last point seems to me central. If I have not been clear to this point, let me say that I think the courses of action open to us–indefinite bombing, a ground campaign, or a quick move to a compromise deal of the kind you have outlined–all look bad. The only operational question is which one is the worst. The difficulty in the current debate (and I say this with some feeling, coming back from testifying to the House Armed Services Committee today), is that very few of the interlocutors are willing to concede as much, and to admit that even their preferred strategy still leaves an awful mess.

As for your other points: 1) You and I share the same view of NATO. In which case, why are we arguing about a supposed “mystique” or aura which we both have long believed to be phoney? 2) Regarding national sovereignty, my only point is that it never has been, and cannot be an absolute principle in the making of foreign policy, partly because only fools make foreign policy by principle alone, and partly because it opens up the way to a principled acceptance of evil. Prudence is the watchword. 3) Similarly, I may have spoken too light-heartedly when I wrote of allies existing to be coerced, but surely we agree on the difference between regarding a coalition as a means (which is what I think) rather than an end in itself (which is how the administration seems to conceive it), or as an inflexible arrangement run by strict rules of democratic procedure (principle again!). 4) Andy Bacevich and Bob Killebrew have different approaches to a ground campaign because there are, in fact, multiple options and because they come from different backgrounds–the heavy and the light U.S. Army, respectively. The point is that both think that one is feasible, and without turning Kosovo into a desert.

I have enjoyed this discussion. I only wish that the discourse in the halls of power were conducted this way; alas, I am virtually certain that it is not.