Our flighty Bill Clinton has had himself another one of his 10-day topics. The Prexy’s fickle attention having been caught by the Colorado high school murders, he has flitted onto gun control and is expatiating on the subject with all the tremolo and corn-pone compassion that has endeared him to us, lo, these many years of stock market prosperity.
He wants guns kept out of the hands of the young, the feeble-minded, the impressionable and the intemperate. By cracky, if there be a person in need of some gun control, it is the aptly nicknamed Billy the Kid, who has bombed no fewer than five countries, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Serbia-Kosovo, since the old draft squirmer got himself a hat with scrambled eggs on the visor, entitling him to play Commander in Chief.
The results he has obtained from letting fly with so many firecrackers have been mixed–that is, mixed bad, mixed very bad and mixed downright awful. For instance, his seven years of intermittent bombing and strafing of Iraq has, in combination with his various embargoes, netted nothing. If it has harmed Saddam Hussein, who, until Slobodan Milosevic displaced him, was at the top of the world’s worst dictator list, nobody is telling us. We are, however, hearing persistent stories of woe from the Iraqi people, who suffer from the ill luck of having this third-class monster rule over them.
If it is true that Iraqi children have sickened and died by the hundreds and/or thousands as a result of our inept efforts to bag Saddam, how long are we justified in causing such pain? Seven days, let alone seven years, is a long time to be bombing and strafing. Is it enough to say each time a bomb goes astray and kills and maims “innocent civilians,” that we apologize and didn’t mean to do it? Do these bombs ever reach the guilty parties? So is it enough for Madeleine Halfbright to repeat each time we kill that it’s Saddam’s fault? Is that good enough? The man who triggers the bomb, the nation that orders it up, has no culpability, even though this goes on year after year?
Not that I can define what a war crime is, but however it is defined, the question arises, is it morally permissible to fight war crimes by committing them? Do we leave it to the ethicists to pronounce whether or not bombing Afghanistan was (a) a necessary and meritorious feat; (b) a despicable act but not rising to the level of war criminality; or (c) an act deserving of a trial before an international court?
However the question may be answered, a pattern of hasty, sloppy staff work and angry incompetence is evident in Sweet William’s lethal forays. You may recall the reason given for bombing Afghanistan was to kill Osama bin Laden, the bankroller of terrorists who, until recently, had been deemed by the State Department to be a confederate of the Kosovo Liberation Army, lately our ally. Of late, stories have been appearing in the public prints to the effect that the reach and power of this terrorist, who has been credited for half the acts of political violence committed these past 10 years, may have been vastly overestimated.
I can no longer remember the specious rationale Mr. Clinton used for Pearl-Harboring Sudan. Newspaper accounts subsequent to the attack gave us to understand that he did not sink the Sudanese navy, but destroyed the only working pharmaceutical factory in that benighted place. Similarly, Ron Hatchett, a former Air Force officer and Balkans specialist, now teaching at the University of St. Thomas and working for KHOU-TV, Houston, reported on C-Span after a visit to Serbia that Mr. Clinton’s bombs have ruined the only plant in that country that makes insulin. (The Yugoslavs paid for his trip.) He also said that the air war has taken out such things as a plant supplying heat and hot water to a workers’ housing development and a vacuum cleaner factory. Clearly, whatever happens to Mr. Milosevic after this horror show ends, the Albanian and Serbian people, without transportation facilities, without a power grid, without factories, will, without homes, be living in a desert.
More immediately, when Mr. Clinton and his sidekick, Tony Blair, sent their bombers over Serbia, it triggered Mr. Milosevic’s driving hundreds of thousands of Albanians from their homes to live the terrifying life of modern political expellees. Up to now this is the single worst collateral damage done by the bombing. Until the bombing began, the murder rate in Kosovo was roughly equivalent to that of the District of Columbia, but the bombs set Mr. Milosevic free to do his damnedest and he has.
But the bombing was botched. If it were to be done, it should have been a Thor-like attack which, in one first, fell blow, vaporized what those NATO spokesmen call “Milosevic’s war machine.” War machine? This war machine is about one-tenth the size of Saddam Hussein’s war machine and we know how ferocious that war machine turned out to be. In characteristic Clinton fashion of never doing enough and never doing it boldly, the chance was lost to land a knockout punch that might have prevented Mr. Milosevic from mounting his drive against the Albanian population.
Instead, “We are training them [the Yugoslavs] to live with air attacks,” said General Charles Horner (retired), who directed the Desert Storm air war in 1991. He is quoted in a Washington Post article by William M. Arkin, a close student of military matters. Mr. Arkin lays out how the Air Force was frustrated by Bubba and Bambi and the other NATO politicians and how it was required to conduct a witless campaign the results of which can be seen at any hour on any television set.
More horrors are to come. Mr. Arkin has said that as supplies of cruise missiles and laser-guided ordnance are consumed, more use will have to be made of such weapons as cluster bombs. By definition, cluster bombs are anything but a sharpshooter’s bullet. Using them is a form of carpet bombing. They scatter their bomblets over a considerable area; the bomblets themselves can be set to blow up some time after they fall or they may be detonated by the vibrations of a passing car or truck, according to Paul Watson, the Los Angeles Times correspondent whose work in Kosovo these last weeks should win him a Pulitzer Prize if there is any justice, which, of course, there isn’t. What if the bomblets blow up when handled by children? Oh, well, it’s only collateral damage in the end, isn’t it?
As to the injuries they inflict, Rade Grbic, a surgeon and director of the main hospital in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “I have been an orthopedist for 15 years now, working in a crisis region where we often have injuries, but neither I nor my colleagues have ever seen such horrific wounds as those caused by cluster bombs … They are wounds that lead to disabilities to a great extent. The limbs are so crushed that the only remaining option is amputation. It’s awful, awful.” Between 300 and 400 cluster bomb casualties have been recorded in Pristina alone.
The much-heralded Apache helicopters will, we are informed, soon take off and force the Serbians to give up. From NATO’s lips to God’s heinie on that one, but isn’t it quaint that the deus ex machina which is to end ethnic cleansing in Kosovo is named Apache? If they ever move in the much-debated ground force, will it be Operation Trail of Tears?
Since Serbia, a small nation with few people and no allies, cannot be expected to hold out much longer, this shameful business ought to end soon. If it doesn’t, the best hope is to get Bill out of the White House and dating again.
Follow Nicholas von Hoffman via RSS.