VITAL SIGNSrnFOREIGN POLICYrnBeat the Drumrnby Scott McConnellrnThere arc some foreign-policy questionsrnthat require all the wisdomrnAmerica’s leaders can summon —andrnsome good luck as well. Responding tornChina’s emergence as a military and economicrnpower, for instance, may prove asrndifficult for the international system asrncoming to terms with Germany’s rise wasrnin the last century, with the consequencesrnfor getting it wrong even morernsevere.rnBut until the last few years, no sensiblernAmerican would have considered thernBalkans such a question, or indeed a majorrnissue at all for the United States. Therncomplexity of the ethnic configurahons,rnthe depth of their historic enmities —rnthese were at least generally known tornmost American students of diplomacyrnand were captured in various aphorismsrnand historical vignettes: “Not worth thernbones of a single healthy Pomeranianrngrenadier” (attributed to Otto von Bismarck);rn”An area which produces morernhistory than it can consume locally” (attributedrnto Winston Churchill). Or myrnfavorite, from Churchill’s Balkan envoyrnFitzroy Maclean’s account of a 1944 conversationrnwith the prime minister, whenrnthe two discussed the implications of therncommunist leanings of the Yugoslav partisansrnthen receiving Allied aid.rn”Do you intend,” [Churchill]rnasked, “to make Yugoslavia yourrnhome after the war?”rn”No sir,” I replied.rn”Neither do I,” he said. “Andrnthat being so, the less you and Irnworry about the form of Covernmentrnthey set up, the better.”rnIn short, even for Europe’s major powers,rnthe region was considered a strategicrnbackwater whose capacity to destabilizernthe continent was directly proportional tornhow much outside attention those powersrngave it. The United States, separatedrnby half a continent and an ocean, hadrneven less reason to become immersed inrnBalkan tangles —a judgment held byrnmost Americans unhl the late 1990’s.rnIn little more than two years sincernthen, pursuiirg policies that would confoundrnany of the American statesmenrnwho constructed the post-Cold War alliancernsystem and be beyond the comprehensionrnof any American leader of thern18th or 19th centuries, the United States,rnacting in consort with most of its NATOrnallies, launched two-and-a-half months ofrnbombing raids against a Serbian nationrnthat has never shown any hostilit}’ to thernUnited States or its allies, while forming arnde facto alliance with a nationalist guerrillarngroup (the Kosovo Liberation Anny)rnwhose ideological roots lay in AlbanianrnMarxist-Leninism. The KLA’s war aim,rnhardly a secret to those familiar with thernBalkans, was the secession of Kosovornfrom Yugoslavia and its linkage to Albaniarn— in other words, the kind of forciblernchanging of borders proscribed explicidyrnby the Helsinki Accords (to which thernLhiited States was a signator)) and by internationalrnlaw in general.rnTwo years after tlie bombing’s “success”rnin driving Serbian forces out of Kosovo,rnthe KLA had purged the province of mostrnof its Serbian population and initiated arnguerrilla campaign against Macedonia,rnanother small state with a restive Albanianrnpopulation. The Albanian “freedom fighters”rn—tire toast of Beltway interventionistsrnin 1999 —were no longer perceived asrnsuch, and Washington began to ease itsrnway toward security cooperation with thernvery Serb forces it had bombed two yearsrnbefore.rnIn the course of these acrobatics,rnAmerican policies generated considerablernrancor from Russia, a traditional allyrnof the Serbs, and China, whose embassyrnwas bombed by U.S. planes. Washington’srnwar thus ratcheted up tensions withrnits two most dangerous potential adversariesrnand even helped spur an unlikelyrnrapprochement between them. Thernbombing left behind considerable environmentalrndestruction (in part because ofrnthe massive use of “depleted uranium”rnshells), destroyed much of Serbia’s economicrninfrastructure, helped to overthrowrnSerb strongman Slobodan Milosevicrn(a positive development that mightrnwell have occurred anyway), and plantedrnthe seeds for a new guerrilla war. AsrnBritish observer Simon Jenkins put it,rn”NATO’s intervention will have partitionedrnthe whole of Yugoslavia along ethnicrnlines. . . . Slobodan Milosevic was notrnthe destabilizer of the region. The titlernbelongs to NATO.”rnHistorians seeking to understand whyrnWashington pursued such reckless policiesrnwill have to go beyond the officialrndocuments and memorandums.rnPsychohistory may have a role in explainingrnwhether Madeleine Albright’srnexperience as a Czech diplomat’s childrnin postwar Belgrade contributed to herrnseeming obsession with punishing thernSerbs (and only the Serbs) for murderousrnnationalist policies engaged in at variousrntimes by all the Balkan factions as Yugoslaviarncollapsed.rnMuch will be gleaned from the broaderrnclimate of foreign-policy opinion inrnWashington in the late 1990’s. On keyrnquestions this was remarkably homogenous,rndue to the fact that the two principalrnweekly political magazines, the NewrnRepublic and the Weekly Standard—thernfirst leaning Democratic, the second neoconservativernand pro-Republican—werernin full bipartisan accord. Indeed, withoutrnsuch agreement, without the two journals’rnstereophonic drumbeat exhortingrnthe United States to intervene against thernSerbs and fight them to victorious conclusion,rnit is hard to imagine the warrncould have been initiated or pursued sornfar. Most of Washington’s political classrnfelt simply uncertain about the region —rnsorrowful about its unrelieved turmoil,rngrateful for America’s strategic distancernfrom it.rnBut the clarity of the interventionistrnline, tire utter self-confidence with whichrnit was espoused by the two magazinesrnpushed many of those with reservationsrnto the sidelines. In a debate in which onernside knew what it wanted, and the otherrndidn’t sec any reason to think about thernissue very deeply, the former had a greatrnadvantage.rnKosovo first appeared on the Beltwayrnradar screen in 1998. The horrific Bosnianrnwar seemed to be dying down, afterrnmuch killing on all sides and a U.S.-brokeredrnpeace agreement that led to de factornpartition of the population along ethnicrnlines. In early 1998, KLA guerrillasrnbegan operations against Serbian targetsrnin Kosovo. The Weekly Standard quicklyrnSEPTEMBER 2001/41rnrnrn