The current situation in Kosovo makes the Vietnam War look like one of simple clarity. Then the stakes were crystaline: The United States had intervened in a civil war that had broken out shortly after the evacuation of Dutch and then French colonialists. Pacifists and leftists could agree our country had no business being there and so, finally, did the majority of the American people. We were also in the throes of a military draft that generated a good deal of the anti-war sentiment.
Nixon succeeded in weakening the movement by all but abolishing mandatory service and instituting a so-called voluntary army that still consists of professional combatants. Under these circumstances, Americans can be kept safely distant from the American foreign policy and from its consequences. We can afford to support our government because, in Rwanda, no less than in Kosovo, most of us don’t feel the war’s effects on the streets or in their homes.
Still, the Administration worries about letting any of our troops get captured or hurt because support for its action is soft. Since Clinton and his entourage have not bothered to offer a full justification of US intervention, serendipity can produce instant meltdown of support. Given Clinton’s luck, that will probably happen. That’s why the Secretaries of Defense and State keep telling us there are no plans for sending ground troops. The war remains abstract and, for this reason, politically safe.
So the problem remains: If Communism is not an issue, why are we in Yugoslavia? In contrast to the bloody record of war in Central and Latin America and Asia and especially in Africa since the late 1980s–there are more than a dozen going on right now in these regions–the great powers have decreed that killing Europeans is unacceptable, even if they do it to each other. The strategic goal is to maintain a poor, debt-ridden and fragmented Eastern Europe and the Balkans from which can be extracted everything from oil and cheap labor to scientific talent. It seems to be working.