Courtesy Reuters

A Perfect Polemic: Blind to Reality on Kosovo

During the war over Kosovo, most criticism of NATO's efforts fell into two categories. Principled critics understood that important U.S. interests were at stake and that the cause was just but questioned the way NATO conducted the war. Rejectionist critics simply saw no reason to be concerned about the expulsion or murder of a whole people on NATO's doorstep. Since the war ended, the principled critics have largely shifted the focus of their skepticism to postwar challenges, urging the allies, appropriately, to make good on their pledge to seek a more tolerant Kosovo, a democratic Serbia, and a stable, integrated southeastern Europe. Most accept that President Clinton's strategy ultimately succeeded: ethnic cleansing was not only reversed but reversed in a way that kept NATO together, prevented the destabilization of neighboring countries, and kept Russia engaged without sacrificing NATO's stated goals.

But to the rejectionist critics, NATO's success remains an inconvenient fact that cannot be allowed to get in the way of preconceived notions. Michael Mandelbaum's article places him squarely in this category ("A Perfect Failure," September/October 1999). His broadside refuses to see the slightest redeeming feature in ending Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's brutal and destabilizing campaign of atrocities. It is built on sweeping assertions that crumble on examination, unsupported assumptions about U.S. Kosovo policy, and predictable digressions on everything from NATO enlargement to Haiti to Iraq -- all leading to a bitter and overly personalized trashing of Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. The only unifying principle I can discern in this attack is, "If the Clinton administration is for it, it must be wrong."


Start with Mandelbaum's most fundamental assertion: that NATO failed because the people of Kosovo and the Balkans "emerged from the war considerably worse off than they had been before." This is a breakdown of logic so elemental that it boggles the mind. Imagine if Mandelbaum had been around to apply the same standard to the end of World War

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