What the hell are we doing?

Apr 21, 1999 at 12:00 am

Do you realize what is happening? While you are reading these words, intelligent, highly trained Americans are deliberately bombing a small nation in Europe, killing and maiming thousands of people.

We are not, officially, at war with Yugoslavia. They have not declared war on us.

But we are bombing them. We have been doing this, every day, for nearly a month. We intend to continue doing it a lot longer — perhaps through June. We are spending billions of dollars to destroy bridges and buildings, and perhaps the occasional plane or tank.

Let’s suppose you make $50,000 a year. One cruise missile costs every penny you will make for 27 years. We are using up hundreds. We are doing this even though nobody in the United States, congressman or civilian, ever voted to bomb Yugoslavia. Nobody has even voted for a candidate who even hinted at war on Yugoslavia.

And we are doing it, even though our military experts agree it isn’t working.

Our bombing may — may — be doing big damage to the Yugoslav military machine. We don’t even know, despite the really cool action pictures released by the Pentagon censors. Truth is, anything either side claims in wartime is generally 50 percent bullshit, 25 percent more or less wrong and the rest mostly sheer speculation.

But everyone knows whatever we are doing is not stopping the brutal "ethnic cleansing" the Serbians who run Yugoslavia are carrying out against the Albanians who are — or at least were — a majority in the province of Kosovo.

NATO spokesmen admit as much. When the war started March 25, Clinton rashly promised we would never send in ground troops. Now, every day, the government gets closer to admitting well, yes, we are going to have to send in ground forces if we are to have any hope of a "favorable outcome." That means, presumably, returning the hundreds of thousands of Kosovars who are now refugees to their homes.

Fine. But what ground forces? Military analysts say it will take something like 200,000 troops (sounds low to me) to conduct a successful ground campaign.

But our shrunken post-Cold War military no longer has large numbers of troops at the ready.

Putting together such a force would take months, even with the help of our NATO allies. And where would we stage them? How long are we prepared to fight, and how many years are we prepared to stay when it is over, presuming we "win?"

Now, that is not to say we should not do it. On the contrary, I fear the world has to. Otherwise, not only will we sanction what the monster Slobodan Milosevic has done, we will be facing a problem that will make the Palestinian one look easy. This weekend, there were already 560,000 refugees who have fled. Some reports say there are another 700,000 wandering homeless and starving in the wilds of Kosovo itself.

What we have to do is restore them. Our government should have been honest with us. Naturally, Clinton wasn’t, possibly because he is incapable of doing so, but also in large part because he blundered into this war without fully knowing what he was doing, as a long and brilliant piece in the April 18 New York Times shows.

When the crucial decisions had to be made, his mind was mostly on Monica and impeachment, another proof Bubba should have resigned long ago.

Sigh. But what do we do now? Surprise: The Constitution provides a way to deal with situations like this. They call it a declaration of war, which is what we should have done here, and should still do. That way, our elected representatives get to debate the issue, vote, and the people come much closer to having an actual share in the decision.

Bafflingly, we now seem to have given up democracy on this most crucial point.

Ever since World War II, our wars have all been undeclared and at the sole discretion of the president. That made a tiny bit of sense when the war we most worried about was atomic and immediate, and the missiles could get here in 20 minutes.

That isn’t true here, however. What if President Clinton were to shock us all and do the right thing? Don’t bet on it; having survived impeachment, he has now completed the circle with a second send-up of the uncanny Wag the Dog; in the movie, to cover the president’s dalliance with a young girl, remember, we staged a fake war involving Albania.

Real Albanians are dying in Clinton’s version, and he may next pay the most uncanny homage to LBJ. The odds are good he may yet make a worse mess than Vietnam.

But hey — the stock market is great!

Pornography: Last week at a fund-raising dinner, Bill Clinton suggested magnanimously the hat be passed for the victims of Kosovo. The fat donkeys in the room coughed up a mighty $25,000. Then they donated $1.3 million to the Democratic Party’s campaign war chest. Where are the Khmer Rouge when we need them?

Pornography II: Pushed-out Ford chairman Alex Trotman made $69 million last year, as did DaimlerChrysler chair Bob Eaton. That means each could pay for 50 cruise missiles and have $4 million left to tip the caddie. We faithfully promise, when we find out, to let you know how many they bought. Here’s hoping your taxes arrived on time!