The U.S./NATO Bombing in Kosovo

Matt declares that it is a “myth” that “NATO is not a ‘positive force in the world.’” How an opinion can be a “myth” he doesn’t explain, but to support his opinion to the contrary, he declares that the NATO interventions in Kosovo and Libya were “successful”. I don’t necessarily disagree, depending, of course, on how one defines “success” and what the actual goals were. For example, one purpose of the Kosovo campaign seems to have been to redefine NATO in the post-Cold War era in a way that gave it relevancy for pursuing U.S. geostrategic goals rather than being dismantled. In this regard, yes, it was a very “successful” operation. As I previously pointed out, “the illegal bombing of Kosovo in 1999 … was characterized in the West as a ‘humanitarian intervention’, despite the fact that it resulted in an escalation of the ‘cleansing’ and other atrocities on the ground in the former Yugoslavia and a higher civilian death toll in its first three weeks than had occurred during the three months prior”. Matt doesn’t deny this fact. Actually, he begins his response to this with a “Yes”, which would seem to indicate his agreement, and then he proceeds to point out that “over 500 civilian deaths were recorded from the NATO bombing campaign” and that there were “13,000 Kosovar Albanians who were killed by other elements” on the ground. The Human Rights Watch report he cites for these figures doesn’t appear to support the latter, but let us presume it is correct. The report affirms in its introduction the fact of “intensifying violence on the ground” following the start of the NATO bombing campaign. But then, inexplicably, Matt asserts that I “maneuver away from these disgusting facts by falsely accusing NATO of causing more problems than it was solving”. On the contrary, emphasizing these disgusting facts is the very thing that proves my argument.

Matt takes the further step of citing a Foreign Affairs article declaring that thanks to the NATO bombing, a “humanitarian disaster” was “averted” and ethnic cleansing was “reversed”—a repetition of the standard official account Matt clings to, despite the facts just noted. To cite a few additional facts, as Noam Chomsky documented in his book The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo, in the year before the bombing, 2,000 people had been killed and several hundred thousand had become refugees, according to NATO, most of the victims being ethnic Albanians. According to U.S. intelligence, the number of internally displaced was 250,000. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a similar figure of 230,000. But after less than two weeks of bombing, the UNHCR reported that 350,000 refugees had fled Kosovo just since the bombing began, and by the time it stopped put the number of refugees at 671,500. As I noted previously, NATO Commanding General Wesley Clark said it was “entirely predictable” that the atrocities on the ground would escalate as a consequence of the bombing. “The military authorities fully anticipated the vicious approach that Milosevic would adopt, as well as the terrible efficiency with which he would carry it out”, he said. On the purpose of the bombing, Clark stated, “We were operating, however, under the instructions from the political leadership.  It was not designed as a means of blocking Serb ethnic cleansing.  It was not designed as a way of waging war against the Serb and mob forces in Kosovo in any way.  There was never any intent to do that.  That was not the idea.” The Chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss, observed that, “Our intelligence community warned us months and days before that we would have a virtual explosion of refugees over the 250,000 that was expected as of last year, that the Serb resolve would increase, that the conflict would spread, and that there would be ethnic cleansing.” Goss also commented, “One of the consequences surely would be that if you stick in this nest, you’re going to stir it up more, and that was one of the things that might have happened and in fact that is one of the things that did happen because Milosevic did in fact, instead of caving in, he reacted by striking back harder against the Kosovars, harder, more quickly, more ruthlessly.” The intelligence community’s predictions in that regard “were very accurate”, Goss boasted. All of this led BBC reporter Gavin Hewitt to remark, “A NATO campaign intended to protect the Albanians appeared to accelerate their misery. Western governments were shocked by the speed and brutality of a forced exodus, but the White House accepts that some ethnic cleansing was expected.”

But never mind the actual, uncontroversial, admitted facts. The NATO bombing “averted” a “humanitarian disaster” and “reversed” ethnic cleansing, and that is all Americans need to know about the matter.  This is what we are supposed to believe unquestioningly, blindly, obediently, and anyone who suggests otherwise may be easily dismissed as “reactionary”. “If this is Hammond’s idea of a botched intervention,” Matt comments, “it’s hard to imagine what he would consider successful.” If knowingly acting in a manner that predictably escalates the atrocities on the ground that the bombing is ostensibly intended to prevent is Johnson’s idea of a “successful” so-called “humanitarian” intervention, it is hard to imagine what he would consider a failure.

The U.S./NATO Bombing in Libya

Matt similarly dismisses my observations that the U.S./NATO intervention in Libya served to prolong the conflict and escalate the violence on the ground, declaring this, too, to be a “myth” and one of my “most ridiculous assertions”. Ergo, he thinks that Gaddafi would not have crushed the armed uprising in a matter of weeks if the U.S./NATO had not intervened. Calling this “ridiculous” seems an odd argument coming from someone who supports the intervention, particularly given how it was a principle argument used by those who favored the bombing at the time.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, for example, wrote in the New York Times on March 13 that the rebels were a “ragged groups of brave volunteers who barely know how to use the weapons they have” and so “need action that will change the situation on the ground”. Arming the rebels was not enough; bombing was required, or it would be “quite likely that Colonel Qaddafi will have retaken or at least besieged Benghazi, the opposition stronghold” by the time arms arrived. In Foreign Affairs on March 16, Robert E. Hunter wrote that Qaddafi was “now closing in on a final campaign to defeat the rebels”, a fact he cited to argue in favor of U.S/NATO intervention. On March 18, a day after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone to protect civilians, the New York Times reported on how the Obama administration had pushed for intervention because Qaddafi’s forces were “turning back the rebellion that threatened his rule”. The administration’s position “was forced largely” by “the crumbling of the uprising”, which “raised the prospect that Qaddafi would remain in power”. The bombing began on March 19, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Times observed that the rebel forces had been “battered and routed”, but as soon as the U.S./NATO bombs started falling on Libya, the armed rebels “began to regroup”. Michael W. Doyle argued in favor of the bombing, commenting in Foreign Affairs that “Qaddafi probably would have been able to conquer the rebel capital Benghazi with his air force, artillery, and armor, but the commencement of allied intervention will destroy the air force and protect the civilian population”—as well as the armed rebel opposition, the distinction being deliberately obfuscated by most commentators at the time—“from large-scale ground attacks.” Near the end of March, General Carter F. Ham announced that “The regime still vastly overmatches opposition forces militarily” and “possesses the capability to roll them back very quickly. Coalition air power is the major reason that has not happened.”

As the bombing commenced, President Obama declared that if the U.S./NATO did not act “Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized….” These were the consequences, then, that the intervention were ostensibly intended to prevent. Matt Johnson, apparently, thinks that the bombing was “successful” in doing so (unless he was referring to some other unmentioned goal). If so, it is a delusional belief. It is difficult to know how many people were killed in the conflict. Prior to the bombing, estimates of the numbers killed by Gaddafi’s forces in the thousands were offered by opposition sources, parroted widely in Western media, but unverifiable. Human Rights Watch provided a conservative estimate of about 300 confirmed deaths since the rebellion began towards the end of February. One month after the bombing started, the opposition claimed that the death toll had risen to 10,000. By the end of April, the U.S. State Department estimated that as many as 30,000 had been killed in the escalating violence. There were atrocities by both sides. The UNHCR reported in August that rebel forces were targeting sub-Saharan Africans. The Western-backed rebel forces, whose ranks included members of al-Qaeda, engaged in massacres, executing Qaddafi loyalists and black Africans. By the end of August, the opposition claimed the death toll was as high as 50,000. The rebels ethnically cleansed whole towns, such as Tawargha, where the residents were mostly black. Rebels “forced the entire population of some 30,000 to flee and looted, vandalized and burned down their homes and properties”, Amnesty International noted in a later report. By mid-September, according to Amnesty International, tens of thousands of civilians had been made refugees and over 672,000 foreign nationals had fled the country. 4,500 Libyans had fled to Egypt, and another 187,000 to Tunisia. In October, Qaddafi was captured and executed. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that mass graves were being uncovered, and towards the end of the month what “appeared to be one of the worst massacres of the eight-month conflict”, as the New York Times described it, was discovered in Sirte, where, according to Human Rights Watch, 53 Qaddafi supporters had been executed by rebel forces. A Times investigation involving visits to more than 25 strike locations revealed that scores of civilians had been killed by NATO bombings, despite denials. A report from Human Rights Watch said that at least 72 civilians had been confirmed killed in NATO airstrikes, one-third of them children. According to the U.N., the rebels held some 7,000 people prisoner. Amnesty International reported that prisoners were being tortured and dying while in custody. Mali was destabilized as thousands of fighters fled there and the country was flooded with arms. Chaos and lawlessness reigned in Libya as rival militias claimed authority in areas across the country. A year after the rebellion had begun, Amnesty International reported that the militias were “out of control” and committing “widespread human rights abuses with impunity”, including arbitrary detentions, torture, revenge attacks, and forcible displacement. The British security service, MI5, warned that Libya now offered “a permissive environment for al-Qaeda”, which had established the country as a base of operations. The transitional government held its first elections last month in a vote that was made more difficult, the Times noted, due to the “prevailing lawlessness”. Frederic Wehrey noted in Foreign Affairs that the election resulted in “an Islamist landslide” and warned of the danger that “armed militias could destabilize the state” as “low level violence” continued in the west and south of the country. The Libyan Observatory for Human Rights reported that “The human rights situation in Libya now is far worse than under the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi”. Another Times article noted that “Mali today looks a bit like Libya did in early 2011, except with a more obvious jihadi presence”, and that “Mali is only one example of the spillover from Colonel Qaddafi’s ouster”. Yahia H. Zoubir in Foreign Affairs commented that Libya’s neighbors feared that the conflict “would pry the lid off Tripoli’s sizeable weapons cache and lead to the dispersal of arms across the region. It turns out that they were right to be worried.” A “weapons bonanza” has resulted from the conflict, as well as “disappearing money, and a wave of refugees”. With newly acquired arms, jihadist groups are destabilizing Algeria. The fallout in Mali has led to hundreds of thousands more refugees fleeing that country, placing “a heavy burden on countries that can barely sustain their own populations, which are suffering from drought and hunger.” Zoubir concluded that it is “doubtful that NATO’s celebrated ‘successful operation’ will bring prosperity to the new Libya and stability to the region.”

But never mind the facts. It is a “myth” that the U.S./NATO intervention served to prolong the conflict and escalate the violence on the ground, according to Matt Johnson.