After ethnic Albanian guerrillas initially rejected the peace settlement fashioned by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a friend of hers told Newsweek that “She’s angry at everyone—the Serbs, the Albanians and NATO.” Another Clinton administration official raged: “Here is the greatest nation on earth pleading with some nothing-balls to do something entirely in their own interest—which is to say yes to an interim agreement—and they defy us.”

With such hubris infecting the Clinton administration, it should come as no surprise that it has so badly bungled policy concerning the Serbian province of Kosovo. The administration set its sights on going to war with Yugoslavia and occupying the province. This is misguided in the extreme.

The administration is attempting to impose an artificial settlement with little chance of genuine acceptance by either side. It is micromanaging a guerrilla conflict, likely spreading nationalistic violence throughout the region. It is involving America in an undeclared war against a nation which has not threatened the United States or any American ally. It is encouraging permanent European dependence on America to defend European interests with little relevance to America. Most importantly, it puts American troops at risk without any serious, let alone vital, American interest at stake.

The situation in Kosovo is tragic, but it is not unique. Washington unreservedly supports Britain, Spain, and Turkey, for instance, in dealing with violent separatists, has placed no pressure on Macedonia to offer autonomy to its ethnic Albanians, and ignores mass violence most everywhere else around the globe, from Burundi to Rwanda to Tajikistan. At least twice as many people died in January in Sierra Leone as in Kosovo last year, and as many people died in one three-day battle between Tamil guerrillas and the Sri Lankan government last fall as in Kosovo in all of 1998.

While Slobodan Milosevic is a demagogic thug, the one constant of guerrilla insurgencies and civil wars is their brutality—by both sides. If the Serbian government has caused civilian casualties in Kosovo, its conduct does not exist in a vacuum. Last June, an American diplomat in Belgrade told me: “If you’re a Serb, hell yes the KLA is a terrorist organization.” Even ethnic Albanians admit that the Kosovo Liberation Army has targeted Serb policemen and other government employees, as well as Albanian “collaborators” and Serbs viewed as abusing Albanians. Each cycle of violence has spawned another.

In practice, Washington seems prepared to use military force under three conditions: Those being killed are white Europeans; the perceived aggressor is not a U.S. ally; there is extensive media coverage of the conflict.

This makes a mockery of the humanitarian pretensions of President Clinton and other Western leaders. If our concerns are humanitarian, why is the administration ignoring the brutal civil war in Turkey, where some 37,000 have died over the last decade as the Kurds seek the right of self-determination? The Turkish government has destroyed Kurdish villages and ruthlessly restricts the civil liberties and political freedoms of Kurdish sympathizers. Yet the administration has voiced no outrage, proposed no bombing, demanded no occupation. To the contrary, Washington supplies the weapons Ankara uses to repress Kurdish separatists and apparently helped Turkey capture rebel head Abdullah Ocalan. There is much to criticize about Ocalan’s PKK, of course, but one could make similar judgments regarding the KLA.

The administration appears to be driven by what former British diplomat Jonathan Clarke has termed the “instinct for the capillary.” Developments in China and Russia will have a significant impact on shaping the future world order. The United States remains at risk of being sucked into a war on the Korean peninsula. American economic prosperity could fade if Japan’s economy collapsed. All of these issues deserve the administration’s focused attention. A Balkan civil war does not.

The experience in Bosnia, a nation which exists only in the imagination of Western officials, should serve as a caution. Bosnia “animates our policy towards Kosovo,” Nicholas Burns, U.S. ambassador to Greece, told me during a recent trip to Athens. Burns said that the Clinton administration “learned a very bitter lesson in the Bosnian war, that if diplomacy is not often coupled by the threat of force or the willingness to use force in an unstable environment like this, diplomacy is often ineffective.”

Though the United States has spent $12 billion and occupied Bosnia for more than three years, the Dayton Accord is a bust. As the Cato Institute’s Gary Dempsey puts it, “Reintegration is grinding to a halt.” Nationalists dominate politics, and refugees are not returning home; there is little homegrown economic growth.

There is also little local support for this “country” in which the U.N.’s High Representative, Carlos Westendorp, has chosen the currency and the flag, and has even dismissed the elected president. There is no end in sight for an American troop mission which was originally supposed to last just a year.

Intervention in Kosovo is even more perverse. Not only does the West have no answer—its autonomy proposal satisfies no one and will be enforced only through yet another interminable occupation —but the two sides are not ready to quit fighting.

The administration’s unprincipled humanitarianism perversely encourages intensification of the fighting. Ethnic Albanian leaders understand the importance of positive media coverage. Dr. Alush Gashi, an advisor to Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, admitted to me last June that the prospect of NATO intervention “depends on how we look on CNN. People need to see victims in their living rooms.” The Albanian diaspora also recognizes the importance of political lobbying. Thus, instances such as the “massacre” in Racak, which appear to be the ugly but normal violence surrounding insurgencies (the U.S. government committed far worse in suppressing Filipino independence a century ago), are manipulated by foreign parties and domestic interests for policy ends—in this case, American intervention.

The administration obviously believes that NATO can push Yugoslavia hard enough to force autonomy, without pushing so hard as to yield independence for Kosovo. This is an illusion. If the United States largely eliminates Serbian authority within Kosovo and creates a military shield for slow-motion Albanian secession, the result is likely to be increased pressure for not only an independent Kosova, but a larger Albania, incorporating Kosovo, the nation of Albania, western Macedonia, and perhaps much more.

When I visited Kosovo last June, I did not find a single ethnic Albanian interested in autonomy. Although many were cautious when discussing the possibility of a greater Albania—obviously the question arises, which group would end up in charge?—they freely criticized Macedonia’s treatment of its Albanian minority. And virtually every television satellite dish was turned toward Tirana.

The KLA has made its agenda clear. Last year, spokesman Jakup Krasniqi said his organization was “fighting for the liberation of all occupied Albanian territories,” including the western section of Macedonia, whose population is one-fourth Albanian, “and their unification with Albania.” Many residents of Albania, from which KLA recruits and supplies are flowing into Kosovo, and much of the international Albanian diaspora, from which financial support comes, also support this wider agenda. Indeed, the Albanian American Civic League (founded in 1989 by former New York Congressman Joseph DioGuardi) includes on its website ( a map showing a Greater Albania which includes Kosovo, western Macedonia (along with its capital, Skopje), southeastern Montenegro (along with its capital, Podgorica), northern Greece, and southern Serbia (north of Kosovo). It is a breathtaking agenda.

While the KLA may have signed on the administration’s dotted line in Paris, that doesn’t mean any, let alone all, of its different factions have changed their ultimate objective. Even the moderate Kosovo political leadership is unlikely to accept autonomy, whatever the formalities of any agreement. During my visit last June, Dr. Gashi told me that “independence is inevitable.” Implementation of the Rambouillet agreement would merely become a new starting point for the struggle for Albanian independence.

For this reason, Greece, the nation closest to the conflict, is extremely uncomfortable over NATO intervention. In private meetings during a recent trip to Athens (which preceded March’s bombing), I found that officials at every level went out of their way to emphasize their opposition to Western military intervention. One top foreign ministry official complained that “if force was [sic] used it would have spillover consequences for us.” Such concerns are also voiced outside of government, by members of the conservative New Democracy party, academics, businessmen, and journalists.

A former diplomat and conservative member of parliament, Petros Molyviatis, says the important thing is “not to allow the change of external frontiers. If we do, it could blow up the Balkans.” Unfortunately, the administration’s plan makes this more, rather than less, likely. The United States is aiding the very group most likely to spread instability southward into Macedonia and Greece. Milosevic is a brute, but he is no Hitler; his ambitions are limited to his own country’s province of Kosovo. Those of the KLA are not.

Traditionally, war has been thought to be a tool of last resort. But this administration has implemented the most militaristic program in at least two decades. President Clinton might have some justification for his many interventions if he could point to some successes. But U.S. policy has consistently failed. Somalia was a disaster, reconciliation is a fantasy in Bosnia, Haiti now enjoys a presidential instead of a military dictatorship, Iraq remains recalcitrant, and U.S. threats have changed nothing in Kosovo.

More fundamental, however, is the principle. What is the standard for making war? What justifies the extreme step of unleashing death and destruction on another people? In the past, it has been a military threat against the United States or an ally. Yet Yugoslavia has done nothing against America or any of its allies. Let us grant that Serbian treatment of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians has been atrocious: so has the behavior of two-score other governments in a variety of conflicts around the globe. Is war the right remedy in these cases?

There are other considerations as well. By leading NATO into a campaign against the Serbs, the U.S. government is encouraging permanent European dependence on America to defend European interests. NATO was created a half-century ago to provide a defense shield behind which the Europeans could rebuild. The alliance was never intended to provide a permanent subsidy, especially one to populous and prosperous states, after the opposing hegemonic threat had disappeared. Dean Acheson assured Congress that Washington’s troop presence would be only temporary, intended to protect the war-torn nations until they could stand on their own. In 1951, Dwight D. Eisenhower, NATO’s first supreme commander, argued that the United States should “set clear limits” on the length of time it would maintain forces in Europe. A decade later, he warned: “Permanent troop establishments abroad” will “discourage the development of the necessary military strength Western European countries should provide for themselves.”

In a European conflict such as this one, America should set the Europeans free to make their own decisions and bear the resulting consequences. Let the members of the European Union, with a combined GDP of eight trillion dollars, population of nearly 400 million, and armed forces of more than one million, sort out the problems of the Balkans if they believe doing so to be worth the cost.

While Yugoslavia obviously poses no direct threat to the United States or any ally, President Clinton has argued that there are indirect dangers: Failing to act risks another continental, if not global, conflict. Contended former German Foreign Minister Haus Kinkel: “Everything must be done to insure that another awful conflagration does not explode in Europe.”

This was, of course, the same argument used for Western intervention in Bosnia. Yet the Yugoslavian civil war, running from Slovenia through Bosnia, lasted longer than World War I without expanding beyond Yugoslavia. The lesson is obvious: It is better for surrounding states to remain aloof rather than to intervene in ethnic strife, thereby building firebreaks rather than transmission belts for war. It is a paranoid fantasy to imagine Serbia alone inaugurating such a conflict. Serbian legions will not be marching on Ankara, Athens, or Tirana, let alone Berlin, Moscow, or Paris.

Only if other states join in could the war become a serious one—yet even if the conflict in Kosovo spilled over into Albania and Macedonia, no major power would join the conflict. The worst case would be a Greco-Turkish war, but both countries have made clear both privately and publicly that neither is interested in intervening in the Balkans. In fact, Ankara and Athens are far more likely to exchange blows over the Aegean islands, Cyprus, or territorial sea claims.

The most important point, however, is that any resulting instability is a European, not an American, problem. The United States has a vital interest in preventing a hostile hegemonic power from dominating Europe. Washington does not have even a minor interest in preventing Europe from having to deal with the Balkan conflict left over from the Cold War. Instability on the periphery of Europe has other consequences— economic and cultural, for instance—but they are minimal, and to paraphrase German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the Balkans are not worth the bones of a single healthy American rifleman.