BOOK REVIEW

Gen. Clark: Kosovo war was 'coercive diplomacy'

By John Catalinotto

What can we learn from reading the words of the class enemy? Only with that question in mind is it worthwhile to open up Gen. Wesley K. Clark's "Waging Modern Warfare."

Gen. Clark commanded NATO's war against the people of Yugoslavia in 1999. Serious opponents of this aggression consider Gen. Clark a war criminal for his role both in planning the war and in aggressively pushing for bombing targets that led to civilian casualties.

Within months after NATO troops occupied Kosovo, however, Washington dumped Clark from his command. Now retired, he finished writing his version of the Balkans war in 2001. In his book he analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. military in the 21st century.

As might be expected from someone the Pentagon "retired" before his time was up, the general uses the book to defend his own decisions. The book is also self-serving in the broader sense of justifying NATO's war against Yugoslavia. Here Clark never gets beyond the same propaganda U.S. politicians and spokespeople used against Slobodan Milosevic and the Serb government during the 1999 war.

This heavy-handed treatment of the events makes the first 415 pages of the 461-page book less than enlightening. These pages contain repeated references to his frustrated attempts to use Apache helicopters inside Kosovo, a desire that kept getting shot down by mysterious forces in the Pentagon who apparently were fearful the Apaches would also get shot down.

While Gen. Clark openly pushed for wider bombing targets in Serbia and preparation for a ground war in Kosovo, he was not the stereotypical right-wing militarist. He fit right in with the Clinton administration's foreign policy.

He also claims a close relationship with Javier Solana, a Spanish social democrat and one-time NATO opponent who became NATO's civilian head during the war. He is aware of the problems once-communist Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema and the German Greens leader Joshka Fischer had keeping the rank-and-file of their parties lined up behind the imperialist war effort.

Gen. Clark frequently met Milosevic in negotiations. Indeed, he threatened the Belgrade leader that NATO would bomb Serbia "good" if Milosevic refused to submit. Clark complains that Milosevic prevaricated in an attempt to "stall" the NATO bombing attack without surrendering Yugoslavia to the West. Hardly a war crime.

Imperialist character
of NATO's war

In the most useful and only interesting section of the book--the final 46 pages of "Conclusions"--he gets down to an admission, only slightly veiled, of the colonialist or imperialist character of the war.

The Kosovo war, he writes, "was coercive diplomacy, the use of armed forces to impose the political will of the NATO nations on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, or more specifically, on Serbia. The NATO nations voluntarily undertook this war." In that regard, he says, it "was much more like the interventions of an earlier era," before World War II. By this Clark means the period of open colonial rule by the Western European powers, the U.S. and Japan.

Trying to bully the world this way, however, has its own risks. "Events proceed from diplomacy backed by discussions of threat, to diplomacy backed by threat, to diplomacy backed by force, and finally to force backed by diplomacy."

Can the war makers be stopped?

With the eventuality of this war in mind, Gen. Clark discusses U.S. and NATO weak nesses. The Pentagon, he writes, is well prepared with different scenarios of war in the Persian Gulf or Korea.

Clark doesn't explain that U.S. imperialist interests are greatest in these areas--oil in the Middle East and a strategic land base in Asia--and that a ruling-class consensus backs these war plans. He complains that Pentagon reluctance to move troops and materiel from these two areas made it harder for him to wage war in Europe.

The greatest weakness of the U.S. military, however, is the reluctance to accept casualties, a legacy of the U.S. defeat by a people's army in Vietnam. It was considered a triumph of the war against Yugoslavia, Clark writes, that no U.S. combat casualties were reported.

Politicians and generals alike feared that a political revolt and mass demonstrations would follow any news of U.S. casualties--even of planes being shot down. This fear prevented NATO from threatening a land war from the beginning, it delayed planning for that war and it apparently stopped the deployment of Apache gunships in Kosovo, according to Clark.

The NATO command was pushing the Big Lie that this was a "humanitarian" war to help ethnic Albanians. Yet the only military action was to bomb mainly civilian targets in Serbia, a strategy that met growing resistance in Europe.

For future wars, Gen. Clark wants more "precision" weapons, but he also insists it will be necessary to send troops in on the ground and that there must be some tolerance of casualties.

According to Clark, despite NATO's overwhelming force it was unprepared to take the required steps once the Yugoslav people and leadership surprised the Western powers by holding out. He had his own doubts that NATO--and especially the Pentagon--would have dared a land war.

There is a lesson here for the anti-war movement, which in Western Europe and the U.S. fell short of what would have been possible had more forces seen through the anti-Serb and anti-Milosevic propaganda. All-out support for Yugoslavia against imperialist attack would have encouraged the people's continued resistance and tested NATO's weaknesses.

That the U.S. is "the only superpower" does not mean its ability to repress a people's war is unlimited. Perhaps that's the only important lesson of "Waging Modern Warfare."

 posted: June 27 2001

 

Background and analysis.

 

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