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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: How Long Until NATO Sees It's Lost?

The leadership of the U.S. military is haunted by the idea that Yugoslavia will become another Vietnam. They wonder how airstrikes can possibly stop door-to-door terror and ethnic cleansing - what exactly do you bomb, any suspicious-looking group of three or more people? They worry about killing or displacing civilians. They wonder how bombing Yugoslav Serbs will effect NATO peacekeeping efforts in neighboring Bosnia. They look suspiciously on U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's argument that "losing" Kosovo would have a "domino effect" throughout the Balkans - an argument that smacks of the Cold War in its grand, and flawed, geo-strategic thinking. They see no long-term vision for the Balkans - and wonder what the U.S. national interest was in waging war on another continent. And they note that a tool box filled with other diplomatic instruments, from economic sanctions to international tribunals against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, has gone ignored.

Defenders of the NATO bombing argue that NATO's authority was on the line, and that the Serbs had to be stopped in their ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo Albanians. It is a seductive argument - how long can one stand silent and witness killings?

But consider that unused tool box. The United States could have cajoled or bullied Russia into being more constructive in the Balkans. It could have sought UN input. Instead, U.S. President Bill Clinton - a man who decades earlier had evaded his call to serve in the military in Vietnam - casually opted to start a Balkan war. The White House had already bombed three nations in six months - Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq - and, like an incompetent handyman who uses a hammer for every task, found the cruise missile the most congenial of tools.

Should the bombing continue? Should NATO send in ground troops? It is ironic that the chaos and violence the bombing has fostered now provide an argument for widening the war - in the name of restoring order.

If bombing campaigns are necessary to prop up NATO as an international force, then NATO is not worth that price and ought to be disbanded. If bombing is supposed to check ethnic cleansing, then it isn't working.

Sending in ground troops has more logic - troops can police this mess in a way bombers can't. But it is a dangerous logic: Would troops be peacekeepers in Kosovo, or combatants bent on capturing Belgrade?

In Vietnam, the alternative to escalation was recognizing defeat. So it is in Yugoslavia: The defeat is already there - the bombing was always a bluff - and now the only question is how many lives, how many days or months or years, will be wasted until it is acknowledged.