One hot evening at the end of August I was walking up South Michigan Avenue with an Irish-American linguist on the way to eat in a German-American restaurant. The news was filled with reports on the NATO bombing raids against the Bosnian Serbs, but no one on the street seemed to care that an American President had declared death and devastation against a people whom neither he nor his principal advisors could locate on a map. Looking out at all the smiling faces of rich proletarians on their way home to thaw out the suppers that would complement an evening with Friends, I thought of how unfair we had been to blame the Germans who lived through the Third Reich, oblivious to the crimes committed by the Nazis.
The Germans did not know because they did not want to know, any more than their American cousins wanted to think about what their own generals were doing to Dresden, to Milan, to Hiroshima, any more than the well-dressed serfs out here on the streets of Chicago are willing to listen, even for a minute, to the crackpot on the corner denouncing the Serbian genocide. “We didn’t know; Peter Jennings never told us.”
You might want to argue that this indifference to foreign policy, criminal or not, is a sign of health, along the lines of “Lord give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change.” But there is a difference between serenity and this bovine placidity that blinds us to our own government’s criminal actions. A people this docile deserves the fate that is in store for them, when their rulers will turn their Balkans-hardened troops against them.
It is a dissociating experience, going between the CNN reports in my hotel room and the Symposium on the Balkans War sponsored by the Lord Byron Foundation. On the screen is a series of official spokesmen—fresh-faced kids boasting and gloating over what the richest and most powerful nations of the world can do to punish a million Orthodox Christians who have endured fire and sword, conquest and slavery for over 500 years, while down at the conference, one competent expert after another patiently explains the facts of the situation—facts that will never enter the pages of an American newspaper until it is too late.
Michael Shuttleworth, a diplomat and EC monitor, tells how he checked out a story that the Serbs were using Muslim patients in an asylum to clear minefields. After much effort, he discovers the truth, that brave Serb doctors and nurses have stayed close to the front in order to minister to their charges, but the journalist to whom he gives the story acts on the principle enunciated in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “This is the West, when the legend becomes truth, print the legend.”
It is hardly worth the effort to pretend that American newspapers are independent. Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post, was asked by Peter or Dan or Tom about the propriety of printing the Unabomber’s declaration, especially under pressure from Attorney General Janet Reno. Bradlee was painfully candid, explaining that there was nothing to be said, even supposing there ever had been, in favor of an independent press, adding that all that was really important was to serve the public interest, that is, doing what government officials tell you to do.
It is easy to forget that the original pretext for the NATO bombing was to punish the Serbs for the August 28 explosion in Sarajevo. American armies have never been reluctant to bomb civilians, and even if Serb mortar shells might be justified as a routine event in the siege of any city, the fact is that we do not actually know who is responsible for either of the explosions in Sarajevo. In the famous Markale marketplace blast, it proved impossible to pin it on the Serbs, and the U.N. seems to be backing off on the August incident that triggered the NATO bombing raids. Two of the U.N.’s own specialists, a Russian and a Canadian, expressed misgivings about the report blaming the Serbs. In fact, fairly early on the NATO commanders virtually admitted their error, when Willy Claes in an interview used the ominous phrase “assuming the Serbs are responsible.” In a recent article in the Nation, David Binder points out that Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke had threatened airstrikes three days before the Sarajevo explosion. Binder draws the obvious conclusion: “Clearly airstrikes had already been planned before Holbrooke set off for the Balkans to push President Clinton’s peace plan. Only a pretext was needed.” The secret was apparently not well kept, since even Martin Peretz had said, at least a week before in the New Republic, that it was time for President Clinton to take dramatic action.
If foreknowledge implies complicity, the Russians have gone further in claiming that the August explosion was a setup, known in advance to the West. ITAR-TASS—a source that is admittedly no more reliable than our own press agencies—reports that a “top Russian military intelligence officer said the two explosions at the Sarajevo market were masterminded by a Western secret service as a pretext for the bombings and were executed by Muslim field commander Rahim Delic.” Whom to believe, the Russian or the American official press? Ordinarily I’d say it’s a toss-up, but in this ease, where the Russians have not committed themselves, TASS is more credible.
The world becomes a very dangerous place every four years, when candidates must enter into macho-man patriotism contests—my saber’s longer than your saber. The Democrats—including the President—had been somewhat nervous over the prospect of a draft-dodger sending men into combat, but this summer, the administration was steadily drawn into a more aggressive position, openly applauding the Croatian advance and probably conniving at it beforehand, backing up a new peace plan with the threat of airstrikes and military aid to the Bosnian Muslims as well as an invitation to Muslim countries to replace withdrawing U.N. so-called peacekeepers, and now by a brutal bombing campaign that caused incalculable “collateral damage”—the polite military term for the murder of civilians.
The Clinton administration did not try to disguise its motives. In mid-August, senior White House officials were telling the New York Times that Mr. Clinton did not “relish going into the 1996 election hostage to fortune in the Balkans.” The problem was Senator Dole’s threat to override the President’s veto of the resolution lifting the arms embargo. Clinton had to act before the end of the congressional recess. Other officials explained that the President had to preempt Bob Dole before Congress returns from summer recess—since Dole had promised to override Clinton’s veto of legislation lifting the arms embargo on the Muslims. The day after the bombing started. Senator Dole backed off on his threat.
Do not imagine for a minute that the Republicans will be content to be left behind. The party’s leaders are itching for a showdown, with Clinton even more than with the Serbs. The leading Republican saber-rattler is Senator Bob Dole, who has spent several years denouncing President Clinton, former President Carter, and all the other appeasers who stand in the way of the crusade for democracy that Senator Dole would like to launch upon the Balkans. Perhaps a better word would be jihad, since the Senate Majority Leader wants to help the Albanian Muslims of Kosovo, the Serbian Muslims of Bosnia, and the Muslim rebels in Chechnya. There is only one part of the world where Mr. Dole does not defend Muslim dissidents, rebels, and terrorists, the same part of the world that is immune to the Republicans’ promise to cut foreign aid. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” and no one would accuse any American senator of letting consistency get in the way of fund-raising.
The situation is complex. The Republican Party has been, at least in recent decades, a staunch ally of Israel, and Israel’s friends in the United States have contributed handsomely to Republican as well as Democratic campaigns. Israel’s decision to back the Bosnian Muslims seems bizarre, given the realities of history. Many Jews know that Serbs have been their only protectors in the Balkans, and some—both in Israel and the United States—have heroically tried to put a stop to the propaganda, but why should there be any love between Israel and the sons of Nazis, on the one hand, and, on the other, an Islamic fundamentalist regime?
One answer lies in Israel’s precarious position in the Middle East. It is highly convenient, for diplomatic and propaganda purposes, to support Muslims in Europe in order to defuse the charge that Israel is anti-Muslim and in order to establish some basis for collaboration with Arab states, and one must not discount the influence of the U.S. State Department upon Israel’s Labor government. There is also the seductive attraction offered by the holocaust analogies that have been so shamelessly employed by the Muslims’ American PR agents. Martin Peretz knows about as much about the Balkans as I know about quantum mechanics, but he knows he is in favor of bombing the Serbs, because, as he says, “Jews recognize a genocide when there is one.”
The importance of Israel’s decision to sell out the Serbs should not be underestimated; it not only adds respectability to the holocaust analogy, but it also offers incentives to political saber-rattlers who count on support from American Jews. From the perspective of American Jews, the terrible irony is that the Republican Party has had a long-standing friendship with Croatian Nazis in the United States. A recent book, The Secret War Against the Jews, supplies convincing evidence that the Eisenhower administration deliberately facilitated the immigration of Nazi refugees, particularly from Croatia, at the same time that the COP was forming a so-called ethnic division primarily devoted to creating an ex-fascist ethnic opposition to Jewish influence. The creator of this ethnic division was Richard Nixon, who later promised to establish a permanent ethnic council within the GOP, and this promise was kept after the 1972 election when George Bush was chairman of the RNC. During Bush’s tenure, “The Croatian Ustashi became an integral part of the campaign structure of Republican politics, along with several other Fascist organizations.” Croatian Americans are not the only source of funds. Rumor has it that rich Muslim states have not been content with shipping money to Albania and arms to Bosnia, that they have also managed to buy into the American media and to make campaign contributions to American politicians. Not so long ago, this was difficult. Fritz Mondale actually had to give back a campaign contribution from an Arab-American group. What a nightmare. A politician who can’t take money is like the proverbial eunuch in a harem. But now, with Israel taking in Bosnian Muslim refugees and American Jewish groups comparing Mr. Karadjic to Hitler, it is completely safe to wallow in Arab oil money.
These things are very difficult to track down—and dangerous even to hint at. What seems to confirm the persistent stories of the flow of Albanian money into the campaign chests of certain prominent politicians is the undeniable and otherwise inexplicable level of support for the Albanians in Kosovo, who have been practicing ethnic cleansing against the Serbs for 100 years. Clinton has threatened war, if the Serbs “invade” Kosovo, even though Kosovo is part of Serbia. Bob Dole, on the other hand, is almost monomaniacal on the question, and when he and his staff visit the region, I am told, the Senator refuses to meet with any Kosovo Serbs. It is simpler, apparently, to hear only one side of the story.
There are also sources of Albanian money closer to home. Albanian gangs have become expert in sophisticated burglary of jewelry stores and other high-income businesses. One Albanian arrested in California said he was raising money for the Albanian lobby.
Jerry Brown is absolutely right that the American government is bought and sold by interest groups, and the most dangerous sector of public venality is the foreign lobbying that goes on, not just in trade policy but even in matters of war and peace. So long as politicians are allowed to take bribes from foreign governments under the guise of campaign contributions from lobbyists and educational associations, American parents had better be prepared to send off their sons and daughters to die for the Emir of Kuwait or the Emir of Bosnia.
Not all bribery, however, is foreign. Domestic firms have obvious stakes in imperialist policies. The end of the Cold War was a disaster for the war industry. The Republican Contract with America calls for increases in “defense” spending and a new commitment to missile defense. In January, Senate Republicans called for an end to defense cuts. A freeze in defense spending will be fatal to any attempt to cut the budget (and the GOP’s electoral strategy is heavily dependent upon budgetcutting), hence the scare language about unpreparedness—so reminiscent of JFK’s nasty tactics in the 1960 election.
This spring, the New York Times ran a heartrending story to arouse sympathy for lobbyists: “Republicans Rule Lobbyists’ World With Iron Hand” using “strong-arm tactics that are blunt even by Washington standards.” But as little as we sympathize with these victimized lobbyists, their current plight is a clear indication of what really drives congressional budgets.
Let us add it up; bribery from foreign and domestic sources, abject ignorance of history and foreign languages, self-serving political gamesmanship; more simply—greed, stupidity, and lust for power—the basic elements of what George Bush called the New World Order. All that oilman George Bush really meant to imply by his feckless phrase was that American power would be used to make the world safe for multinational business corporations. Former CIA director Stansfield Turner almost says as much in an article in Foreign Affairs (Fall ’91), where he argues that “economic strength should now be recognized as a vital component of national security” and suggests that the American government should “provide economic intelligence to specific American corporations.”
The tactics of the transnational business elites differ vastly in degree, but not in kind from the neighborhood mob’s efforts to corner prostitution, gambling, and drugs. What does the local mob do, if some rival insists on acting independently? The friends of Bugs Moran found out one St. Valentine’s Day here in Chicago, when they were gunned down by the Capone mob. So did Saddam Hussein. Republican Senator Richard Lugar not only vigorously supported the Gulf War and is urging a repeat performance, but he is one of many Republican senators who favor extension of NATO protection to most or even all of Central and Eastern Europe. What Lugar fears most is what he calls “renationalization”—that is, the assertion of any national sovereignty that conflicts with American interests. This is now the primary role of NATO, according to the foreign minister of Belgium: “To prevent at all costs . . . the rekindling of nationalism as a result of a renaissance of the nation-state,” and this statement is quoted with approval by our own Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. European Command.
Americans may think they pay taxes to support a huge defense establishment in order to defend the United States, but our own political and military leaders say the opposite is true: our main goal, apparently, is to deprive every other people in Europe of their right to self-government and self-determination, on the grounds that it is dangerous to the global economy. Anyone who loves his country and his people more than he loves money constitutes a threat to the international order. For the giant oil and computer companies and media conglomerates, nationalism is necessarily a dirty word, because nations like to have control of their own resources; some of them pass protectionist laws sheltering their own businesses from cutthroat international competition; they may even have health, safety, and environmental regulations that interfere with profits. The way around these national barriers is through gigantic scams like NAFTA, GATT, and European Union. The very idea of a people determined to go its own way is the internationalist’s worst nightmare.
Forget about the Serbs. I like them for personal reasons; there is no reason—apart from national honor—why you should care one way or another about these strange peoples who might just as well live on Rora Tonga or Mars as in the Balkans. But what does it mean for us as Americans, when our own ruling class, despite the collapse of communism, is determined to persist in waging perpetual war for perpetual peace? For us the outlook is very dim. Both parties are in favor of war, and only a few very Red Democrats favor the kind of defense cuts that could restore fiscal sanity to the federal government. The militarist regime imposed on us during World War II is never going to be dismantled, and the corporate welfare lavished on defense contractors will continue to empty our pockets and drain value from our dollar. Worst of all, a regime that whets its appetite for blood on Serbs, Iraqis, and Somalis has already’ shown that it has no reluctance about turning its guns against its own citizens. So far the assassins have been drawn from the ranks of the BATF and the FBI—soldiers who might better be described as ineffectives, rather than effectives. But with the emasculation of the Posse Comitatus Act, it will not be the armed geeks of the BATF kicking our doors in or burning us with the occasional tank or fully armed reconnaissance plane. Before long, we will be staring down the wrong side of the barrel of a gun wielded by soldiers of an all-volunteer army and Marine Corps that more and more resemble an army of Hessians, global rent-a-cops hired out by the world’s police-state:
From the Halls of Montezuma,
to suburban Kankakee,
They will fight their country’s battles
against guys like you and me.
Editorial note: Before going to press, a London Times story cast further doubt on NATO’s report about the Sarajevo shell. French and British experts had “warned the U.S. that the mortar was Bosnian” but were overruled by a “senior American officer.” On another front, the disingenuous NATO Secretary General Claes has been charged with taking bribes from an Italian defense contractor.