What's Left

September 17, 2003

The Butcher of Belgrade

By Stephen Gowans

"There are an awful lot of people," a retired four-star general told the Washington Post, "who believe Wes will tell anybody what they want to hear and tell somebody the exact opposite five minutes later."

Maybe that's why documentary filmmaker Michael Moore fell hook, line and sinker for former General Wesley [Wes] Clark's claim that he's opposed to war.

Clark, of course, isn't opposed to war -- not in any fashion that counts, and anyone who thinks a career military man who fought in Vietnam and led NATO's 78-day war on Yugoslavia is opposed to war must be doing a practicum in bamboozling the public, or has been bamboozled himself.

Clark's alleged antiwar credentials were apparently established by a few reservations the former general expressed about the Pentagon's tactics in Iraq, as in "I would have done it differently," so to say Clark is opposed to war is like saying the former executioner is opposed to capital punishment because if he were still in charge he would have used a noose, not the electric chair.

FAIR, the media watchdog, dug up some of Clark's former columns on the war in Iraq.

"Let's have those parades on the Mall and down Constitution Avenue," Clark wrote on April 10th in The Times of London.

"American military power," he crowed, the next day, in the same paper, "especially when buttressed by Britain's, is virtually unchallengeable today."

"Take us on? Don't try!"

Wow! You can't get much more antiwar than that.

To say this is astonishing, is to say too little. Paeans are being sung to Clark, almost all of which point (as part of the positive press he's receiving) to his commanding the NATO forces that spent two and a half months bombing Yugoslavia in 1999. There's absolutely nothing about the Kosovo campaign that is heroic, praiseworthy, or antiwar -- though you'd think, the way it's bandied about, it's the icing on the cake of a dream liberal Democrat presidential candidature. Americans, it seems, even self-described antiwar liberals, are irresistibly drawn to military figures.

They're also drawn to military figures who aren't particularly good at being military figures. Clark's Kosovo claim to fame was an unrelieved military flop. After weeks and weeks of bombing, Clark only managed to destroy a handful of Serb tanks.

What he did manage to destroy quite liberally, however, were bridges, roads, factories, schools, hospitals, homes, petrochemical plants, electrical power stations, an embassy, and a radio-TV building, none of which had anything to do with the Yugoslav military, or its presence in Kosovo, and all of which were civilian targets, presumably safe from attack...or at least that's what the articles of war -- which US commanders are not particularly attached to -- say.

Absent in the rhapsodies about the former warrior is that the entire Kosovo campaign was a criminal exercise, illegal from the start, and carried out in contravention of articles of war prohibiting destruction of civilian infrastructure. It's like reading a profile of the German general who planned the bombing of Guernica, the small Basque village in Spain, on behalf of Francisco Franco, and being told, "He commanded German forces in Spain in 1937," and nothing more.

There were 1,600 civilians killed or wounded at Guernica, some cut down as they fled burning buildings, and there were hundreds, if not thousands of civilians killed by Clark's bombers, many dying equally, if not more, gruesome deaths. The obloquy "Butcher of Belgrade" is a fitting tag for Clark, though NATO's propagandists have seen to it that the title has been welded fast to the person of Slobodan Milosevic, the federation president the war was intended to oust. Milosevic had too little interest in hooking up with NATO, and too much interest in state and socially owned assets (not the kind of guy Wall Street and the US foreign policy establishment could warm up to), not to have been a target.

On the other hand, Zoran Djindjic, champion of privatization and neo-liberal economics--and a much more sympathetic figure to American progressives--was the kind of guy people looking for new investment opportunities could cozy up to, and so he, with the liberal support of the State Department, US-backed NGOs, and billionaire financier George Soros, found himself prime minister, doing to the Serb economy, what L. Paul Bremer, another Washington servant,  is doing to Iraq's.

More flabbergasting than the hosannas sung about Clark is that Milosevic can be abducted (an illegal act arranged by Washington's boy, Djindjic), clapped into a former Nazi prison at The Hague, and indicted on what only the weakly naive would not suspect of being trumped up war crimes charges -- and by a NATO-controlled tribunal that has no legitimate basis in law -- while Clark, a man whose war crimes are abundantly evident, is feted by Michael Moore, the most visible member of the US Left.

Equally astonishing is that anyone who dares even question the legitimacy of The Hague Tribunal, the fairness of the trial, or the charges against Milosevic, runs the risk of being accused of apologizing for a butcher by the same people who are willing to overlook the abundant war crimes of a man for whom the name "Butcher of Belgrade" fits like a glove. There's something deeply disturbing and Chauvinist in this.

Back in 1999, Moore thought sanctions should be used to drive the nasty Milosevic from power, all the better to make way for "democratic" reformers, like Djindjic, who would then deliver the Yugoslav federation into the hands of Western business interests. It's doubtful that Moore was aware of what Djindjic and the neo-liberal Democratic Opposition of Serbia was about, but he, like American progressives generally, are as irresistibly attracted to any outfit that calls itself "democratic" as they are to military figures who declare themselves liberals. The lesson in this is that if you want to makeover your country as a neo-colonial possession of the United States, all you have to do is tag yourself with name "democratic" and Moore and his bunch will throw their weight behind you, and later will lavish praise on the US commander, should he be a Democrat and decide to run for president, who leads the assault on your country to bring it into Washington's orbit and you into a position of prominence as chief auctioneer overseeing the selling off of your country's assets. US imperialism has many friends.

Liberators?

"Dead-enders, foreign terrorists and criminal gangs." That's who US  Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says are behind the attacks on US and British occupying forces in Iraq.

How about ordinary Iraqis?

The boys in the backroom have been telling Rumsfeld and his cabinet colleagues that the natives are restless.

"[R]ecent polling in Iraq by the State Department's intelligence branch...[has found] significant levels of hostility to the American presence," reported The New York Times today.

"[R]ecent intelligence assessments tend to cast [the conflict in Iraq] mainly as an insurgency in which the key variable will be the role played by ordinary Iraqis."

Gee, and Wesley Clark, Moore's antiwar liberal, called the Anglo-American march on Baghdad a "Liberation-- the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions."

But then generals have a habit of saying things like that. General Stanley Maude told the people of Baghdad, "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors, but as liberators."

That was in 1917. Maude was British. Iraqis were as sceptical of British claims of liberation then as they are of American claims now.

The British were eventually booted out.

Asking Israel not to assassinate Arafat is anti-Israel

The UN Security Council resolution expressed concern about 'the escalation in extrajudicial executions and suicide bombing attacks [in the Middle East], all of which [had] caused enormous suffering and many innocent victims.'"

"It demanded a halt to violence in the area, 'including all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction'; a demand that Israel cease its threats to deport or assassinate Mr. Arafat; and an expression of support for the peace plan known as the road map."

The US vetoed the resolution.

The New York Times called it an "anti-Israel" measure. Apparently, telling Israel it can't assassinate Arafat is "anti-Israel."

Washington almost always vetoes resolutions that seek to restrain Israel's behavior. Calling on Israel to obey international law, is "anti-Israel." Asking Tel Aviv to respect and safeguard the rights of Palestinians is "anti-Israel."

You don't need a program to figure out whose side Washington -- or the New York Times -- is on.

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