"When a long train of abuses and usurpations ... evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government." — Thomas Jefferson
After 50 years of abuses and usurpations, Kosovars have exercised their right and duty to throw off Serbian despotism. In response, gangs of Serbs acting under orders from Slobodan Milosevic have waged a vicious campaign to suppress the Kosovars' quest for independence. In attacks on Kosovar villages, they have sorted out the women, the young and the old, murdered the remaining males and expelled the rest, knowing that exposure will kill many more. Able to stop this massacre, the United States chose first to talk and then to bomb. President Clinton should have known that neither strategy would work. The question now is: what to do about the killers?
Even Americans who have found images of murdered Kosovars deeply disturbing sometimes say, rightly, that we cannot fight oppression everywhere. But that is no reason not to fight tyranny somewhere. What makes Kosovo different from Rwanda? Nothing, really. But failure to act in that country is no reason to fail to act in Kosovo. Many observers have asked, what makes Kosovo different from Afghanistan or Tibet? Two of the main differences are that troops can reach Kosovo, and that Serbia lacks nuclear weapons. But there is an even more compelling reason why Kosovo should be our fight. Thomas Jefferson did not write, "All men are created equal — except Kosovars." The question is whether we are ready to apply Jefferson's universal propositions universally.
As a military strategy, bombing was sure to fail. Bombing did not make Britain surrender, did not defeat Germany and did not make the Vietnamese give up. Bombing leaves Milosevic the choice of whether to negotiate or murder, while making his defiance seem heroic to Serbs. If NATO were to commit ground troops, infantry could remove any such choice.
If we send in infantry, Americans will certainly die. But soldiers accept this sacrifice as part of their duty. I know I did as a soldier during the Vietnam War. As civilians, we must ask ourselves which we would rather see: Serbs gunning down defenseless Kosovars, or Serbs trying to shoot American soldiers, armed, trained and determined to shoot back?
We must face the choice that stands before us. In calling for the use of ground troops, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) is facing the choice. But in talking of "American credibility" he is also catering to illusions about the choice. When our credibility was said to be at stake in Vietnam, we lost, then faced the next crisis. When our credibility was said to be at stake in Iraq, we won, then faced the next crisis. We cannot end all crises in the world, but we can end this one.
Our objectives should be to secure Kosovo's independence; to occupy Serbia; to capture and put on trial the Serbs who ordered or carried out massacres. Finally, we should give the many innocent Serbs time to build the democratic Serbia they are now denied.
Richard Anderson, associate professor of political science, studies post-Communist politics. He was once a CIA military analyst.