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A Bad Precedent

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Not to labor the obvious, but by now everyone surely knows to disbelieve anything the Clinton administration or NATO says about its war of aggression against Yugoslavia.

Slobodan Milosevic may have accepted NATO’s demands, which could lead to an end to the bombing. But that doesn’t change the fact that this has been a dishonest and illegal war.

The war is illegal because Congress passed no declaration of war as required by the Constitution. Moreover, it also violates the War Powers Act, which requires any war not approved by Congress to cease after 60 days. President Clinton has defied the most fundamental law of this land. It’s too bad the country isn’t up for another impeachment.

He has lied consistently about the war. He has said that NATO forces are not assisting the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the Marxist-led paramilitary group that seeks to unite Serbia’s Kosovo province with Albania. Yet it is now widely reported that NATO has given air support to the KLA during an offensive in the province.

The president insisted for a long time that he had no intention of using ground troops, then in March casually mentioned that no options were ruled out. Meanwhile, the news media has been full of reports that preparations for a ground assault were being made and that the White was reassessing the effectiveness of the savage bombardment.

The president lied from the outset. He told us the war-though he never called it that-was necessary because Serb leader Milosevic rejected a peace accord. This is a rather old trick. Call something a peace accord, then anyone who objects to it is ipso facto a bad guy. It turns out that the Clinton administration insisted on terms were designed to be rejected.

Writing inĀ The Nation magazine, a former State Department expert on Yugoslavia says that U.S. officials told reporters during the Rambouillet negotiations that the administration “deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs could accept.” A foreign policy aide to the Senate Republicans heard the same thing from a reliable source.

Anyone who has read even a summary of the Rambouillet document would know that Milosevic could never accept it-unless forced. It would have required autonomy for Kosovo for three years. Then what? Most likely independence, and union with Albania to follow. The document would also have permitted NATO to station troops in Kosovo, which is Yugoslav territory. Name another national leader who would consent to the presence of foreign troops in his country.

Americans should be appalled that their government would look for a pretext to bomb country that had never threatened, not to mention attacked, the United States.

It looks as though Milosevic has now accepted provisions that are substantially the same as those in the Rambouillet draft accord, including the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo, return of the refugees, autonomy for the province, and demilitarization of the KLA. His acquiescence comes after an offensive by a revitalized KLA and weeks of brutal bombing that killed civilians and destroyed the nation’s infrastructure. Milosevic seems to have won a point or two: there is no three-year term for the autonomy or referendum on Kosovo’s status, leaving it unclear what will happen in the future when the Albania Kosovars push for independence. Also, the occupying forces will be Kosovo only and under a UN, not NATO, flag, although there will be “essential NATO participation.” Former Yugoslav president Dobrica Cosic said the parliament’s approval of the terms was an “extorted decision.”

Significantly, Milosevic, recently indicted for alleged war crimes, will remain as head of the Yugoslav government. This will no doubt disappoint the hawks, who will surely lament that the United States can’t send the ground troops into a “nonpermissive environment.”

President Clinton and his supporters will herald this turn of events as a great victory for him, NATO, and the civilized world. It is far different. It is a victory for the proposition that the United States and its allies may police the world with impunity, not only to keep nations from invading other nations, but also to impose settlements on civil wars within countries.

This is precedent will be invoked again and again in the coming years -whenever a president needs a distraction from his domestic troubles.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.