In his article “A Just and Necessary War,” published in the New York Times on May 25, President William Jefferson Clinton summarized the case for his war against the Serbs. He elaborated on his “vision,” arguing that the bombing of Serbia was the response to “the greatest remaining threat to that vision; instability in the Balkans fueled by a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing.”
Clinton’s piece, predictably, teemed with the lies and distortions that are by now his hallmark; the article’s misstatements began with the very first words: “We are in Kosovo with our allies . . . ” We were also told that he is defending Kosovo against Milosevic’s “Greater Serbia” and that, before the bombing, “we exhausted every diplomatic avenue for a settlement,” but when the Serbs’ premeditated offensive began, “we had to act.” The President concluded that, had it not bombed Serbia, “NATO itself would have been discredited for failing to defend the very values that give it meaning.”
While Clinton’s various assertions about the background to his war were long ago discredited, he should be commended for his overdue admission—contained in the title of his piece—that it is indeed a “war” that he is waging. That war is both unjust and unnecessary, of course, but Clinton’s claim that NATO (read; America) is defending its “values” in this war therefore merits special attention. What values? NATO is attacking not only Serbian buses, hospitals, trains, and TV stations, but also the “very values” that have given the West its meaning for centuries. It is attacking the very concept of the nation-state and the notion of the rule of law.
The War of Clinton’s Legacy is the defining moment of our civilization and the supreme test of its chances for survival in the coming century. If Clinton wins, we all lose. If Serbia “wins” (i.e., keeps Kosovo and is not occupied by NATO), there is hope for America, too. The Serbs are the allies of the real America in this war; the attack against Serbia is a leftist-internationalist conspiracy to destroy the nation-state and thereby to demolish the very concept of the nation as we know it. It is being waged by the most corrupt administration in American history, by a group of people who are anti-Serb because they are fundamentally anti-American.
The concept of national sovereignty within an international system based on a balance of power among the major actors has formed the basis of Western politics, liberalism, and the rule of law ever since the Peace of Westphalia (1648). All of this is being replaced by the emerging Clinton Doctrine, a carbon copy of the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine, which was used as a pretext for the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The Brezhnev Doctrine introduced the concept of “limited sovereignty”: that, by virtue of its membership in the “socialist community,” a nation surrendered its sovereignty, which could be violated because the preservation of the monolithic unity of the communist block was the greatest good. In the same way, Clinton is using an abstract and ideologically loaded notion of universal “human rights ” as the pretext to violate the law, tradition, and all established procedures of international relations. Both doctrines have the same objective: to negate the nationstate, to subvert the law, and to provide an ever-present alibi for the interventionists if and when they decide to march into Prague or bomb Belgrade.
This doctrine was applied by the Soviets in Berlin in 1953 and in Hungary in 1956, but only over Czechoslovakia in 1968 was it defined. The Soviets claimed that those who had entered the “socialist community of nations” accepted that the U.S.S.R.—”the leader of the socialist camp”—was not only the sole enforcer of the rules but also the sole judge of whether and when an intervention was warranted.
Thirty years later, when the order was given for the U.S. Air Force and its assorted European minions to attack Yugoslavia, it was not issued following a declaration of war by Congress for “the common defense of the United States,” Nor was the order given by the President as a means of repelling a sudden attack on America by a foreign aggressor, or as a measure intended to rescue Americans abroad from unexpected peril. The attack did not even follow the pattern set in Korea and Vietnam (that is, it was not initiated by unilateral presidential action). On March 23, the order to commence hostilities was given to an American general by NATO’s secretary’ general, who directed the supreme allied commander of Europe to initiate air operations in order “to support the political aims of the international community.”
We are not dealing merely with another instance of postmodernist newspeak, but with a fully developed theoretical concept. The Clinton Doctrine is rooted in the bipartisan hubris of Washington’s foreign policy “elite,” tipsy on its own brew of the “world’s last and only superpower” and “indispensable nation.” Albright, Berger, Cohen & Co. have their preferences wrapped in the rhetoric of the interests of the world, not of America itself For the world’s sake, we must take up the burden of “benevolent global hegemony,” as the world’s chief guarantor of peace, executor of justice, and champion of democracy and freedom.
“The international community” is now equated with the United States just as the Fraternal Alliance was identified with the Soviet Union. Never mind that China, India, and Russia are not on board: This “community” is of a mystic kind, blessed by the Absolute Good of democracy, human rights, and open markets. Mere numbers —of states or of people in them—do not matter. As for the democratic credentials of a government, they are easy to establish. According to the Clinton Doctrine, democratic governments act in accordance with “the will of the international community,” When they do otherwise, they become ipso facto undemocratic, and liable to punishment.
What form will the Clinton Doctrine take? The rules are simple: Washington is the prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. Legal formalities are passé, and moral imperatives—never sacrosanct in international affairs—are replaced by situational morality, dependent on an actor’s position within the superpower’s value system. The less logic and predictability on this point, the stronger the position of Washington. Deviants should, and do, feel constantly under threat. Minions who submit are able to enjoy the blessings of Double Cheeseburgers, Chuck Norris movies, and credit-assisted purchases of F-16s.
The resulting edifice hinges on the continuing technological and military superiority of the United States, not on its moral authority or political magnetism. America is obeyed because it is feared, not because it is liked. This enables the regime in Washington to act as it deems fit, without legal or moral restraints and with total impunity. Its minions are painfully aware that it is more advisable to share in the triumph of brute force than to attract suspicions of disloyalty. They are thus additionally corrupted by being cajoled to become America’s accomplices, rather than its mere vassals. The victims are expected to understand that resistance is futile; the alternative, from last March onward, is to get “Serbianized” (in the same sense that Koventrieren was used by the Germans in the aftermath of the Luftwaffe’s visit to Coventry in 1940).
Not all is lost, however. As a Russian commentator has pointed out, the Clinton Doctrine suffers from the same problem as the Brezhnev Doctrine before it. However costly for the defender, each act of resistance—Afghanistan in 1979, Serbia in 1999—undermines the attacker’s modus operandi. If resistance is shown to be possible, America’s image of hegemonistic invulnerability—which allows it to ignore or violate international law, traditional morality, elementary logic, humanity, common decency, and justice—is also subject to doubt. An act of resistance may shame others into action—or at least into free thought, which is even more dangerous—in defense of their forgotten rights and subdued sovereignty.
The monolithic gloss applied by America’s allies, like that of Brezhnev’s allies in the Warsaw Pact, conceals a potential volcano of popular discontent. After 1968, just beneath the drab surface, anti-Sovietism was rampant throughout the Soviet bloc. The mood in Germany, France, Italy, and Greece is remarkably similar today. The rot which is so comprehensively embodied in the Clinton presidency may take its toll sooner than we think. Behind Washington’s façade of arrogant might, there is a morally bankrupt, intellectually challenged quasi-elite, incapable of producing anything good, beautiful, or true—not a sound base for the imperial project. But foreign policy reflects domestic policy, and the acquittal of William Jefferson Clinton by the U.S. Senate—ostensibly a domestic issue—has global implications. If he got away with all that at home, there is nothing he is not capable of doing abroad—especially now that he is neurotically obsessed with “his legacy.” The lives and property of hundreds of thousands of Serbs and Albanians are nothing compared to the recovery of Clinton’s “credibility.” To paraphrase Madeleine Albright: “[T]he price, we think, is worth it.”
Observing the sadistic pulverization of Serbia is painful, but at least it should lessen our anguish over the ongoing collapse of the “civilization” capable of doing it. There is some relief in that. NATO’s war should make us less upset over each new minaret in Bradford or Berlin, each new course in literary deconstructionism at Yale, and each new recruit to the “gay” bars in San Francisco. This is less and less a civilization worth saving. From this “post-Christian,” demographically moribund, spiritually arid, sexually ambiguous, utterly crippled shadow of its former self, only more lies and more humanitarian bombings are to be expected. So be it. From the distant descendants of the encroaching new barbarism, there may yet emerge—one day in the new millennium—new cathedrals, new Shakespeares, and new Bachs.