Ehrlich errs in calling for bombing halt

This Just In...

May 21, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

BOB Ehrlich, the Republican congressman from Baltimore County, says he's "concerned with regard to the humanitarian crisis taking place in the Balkans," but thinks the NATO bombing should stop because of a "lack of a clear U.S. strategic interest." Translation: It's terrible what the Serbs have done to the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, but unless we have an oil pipeline or a Microsoft corporate campus to protect, let's save bombs and money and get out of there.

The statement Ehrlich issued this week called for a halt to the bombing -- just what the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, would like.

Ehrlich's reasoning: The 8-week-old NATO mission does not meet a Reagan-established standard for "strategic interest," so we shouldn't "expend our assets."

But wasn't that true eight weeks ago? If we don't have a "strategic interest" now, we didn't have one then. Ehrlich should have opposed U.S. involvement from the start. What took him so long?

Actually, it's mildly amazing that a Gilman-Princeton lad can't find a "clear U.S. strategic interest" in a stable Europe. Maybe he should look for one in a history book. I suggest the chapter on World War II.

Of course, there's always the humanitarian argument, though to a Reagan Doctrinaire that's almost no argument at all -- an emotional argument at best.

Ehrlich calls suspected ethnic cleansing by Serbs "an abomination." But apparently an abomination doesn't qualify as sufficient reason for bombs. In fact, Ehrlich seems more concerned with what NATO bombs did to the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade than with what Serb forces did to untold innocents in Kosovo during the purge of the past two months.

Fact of the war as we know it: Compared to the globally telecast videotape of NATO destruction in Yugoslavia, equally graphic evidence of widespread atrocities in Kosovo has been difficult to come by. Just yesterday, however, the State Department released a video taken by an ethnic Albanian villager showing three rows of graves dug for old men who allegedly had been massacred by Serbs. State Department spokesman James Rubin says there are eyewitnesses to the atrocities and even more graphic videotape. The Sun reported yesterday that war crimes prosecutors are using some of NATO's most secret intelligence to build cases against Yugoslavia's top political and military leaders, including Milosevic.

Which gets to another part of Ehrlich's statement.

Handling Milosevic

"I believe," the 2nd District congressman said, "the U.S. and NATO must move toward peace by revisiting diplomatic options toward an acceptable resolution that guarantees safe passage of Kosovar refugees back to their towns and villages as supervised by a multinational force."

Nothing wrong with that. That's pretty much how President Clinton summed up our objectives yesterday in the Rose Garden. But neither he nor Ehrlich mentioned the matter of Milosevic's role in the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. We're hot to get the Serbs out, and the Kosovars back in. But what's the plan for dealing with Slobo?

Last week, in a speech to World War II combat veterans, Clinton said: "Though this ethnic cleansing is not the same as the ethnic extermination of the Holocaust, the two are related -- both vicious, premeditated, systematic oppression fueled by religious and ethnic hatred. Nine of every 10 Kosovar Albanians now has been driven from their homes, thousands murdered, at least 100,000 missing, many young men led away from their families, over 500 cities, towns and villages burned."

Clinton compared Milosevic to Hitler.

If that's the case, then why don't we aggressively pursue Milosevic for war crimes? And, if this war is to end quickly, with a negotiated settlement, how can it end with a war criminal still in power? How can we even negotiate with him?

Here's the deal

"That's the difficult part," said Ron Shapiro, the Baltimore attorney, sports agent, and founder of the Shapiro Negotiations Institute, when I asked for his thoughts on a settlement in the Balkans. The best model for negotiating a peace between old enemies, he said, was Jimmy Carter's work in brokering a Middle East accord at Camp David 20 years ago. While many of the same principles would apply in fashioning a Balkans resolution, and while Shapiro sees signs of movement toward ending the conflict (the role of the Russians, in particular), the complicating factor, he said, is Milosevic.

"I'd have a lot of trouble negotiating [with Milosevic] if, in fact, he has led a genocide against the Albanians in Kosovo," Shapiro said. "I'd have to have that as a point on the table -- accountability for genocide. But how are you going to get [Milosevic] to the table if doing so is tantamount to a death notice for him?"

In his book, "The Power of Nice," which is full of advice on how to negotiate win-win deals, Shapiro concedes that "sometimes no deal is the best deal."

That's fine in business and baseball maybe. But how does a war end quickly without a deal?

And how does this one end without Milosevic being a party to a settlement?

Short of sending in ground troops to nab him, or Slobo coming out of hiding and giving himself up, or his own people throwing him out a window, or a NATO bomb landing on his dome, we're stuck with the guy. We need him to broker a settlement. But we shouldn't grant him immunity. If that's the deal, then it's no deal.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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