HILL OF BEANS: Kosovo Korner

There's Routine political mendacity, and there's the kind that goes a step beyond. When Greeks rioted in Athens over President Clinton's visit, he immediately apologized for America's conduct in accepting the "Colonels'" Coup during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Clinton is willing to apologize for anyone's conduct but his own. But the rampaging Greeks weren't complaining about that. They were complaining about America's -- sorry, about President Clinton's -- conduct in Kosovo. And during his visit to Kosovo later in the week, the President made it clear he was not at all interested in hearing their complaints. The KLA and its affiliates continue to murder dozens of people a week -- as if having expelled roughly 90 percent of the Serbs in the province weren't enough. It's hard to count such things, but it's quite possible that the number of Serbs killed by the KLA since the start of Operation Yuppie Self-Aggrandizement exceeds the number of Kosovars killed by Serbs before it. "Thanks to you," President Clinton told the troops later in the week, "we have reversed ethnic cleansing." He's right: reversed ethnic cleansing is exactly what we have.Meanwhile, the President told a group of assembled Kosovars, "Mr. Milosevic wanted to keep control of Kosovo by getting rid of all of you, and we said no." Getting rid of all of you? This is an extraordinary statement, and not just because it reflects a lunatic misunderstanding that there are questions of scale in foreign policy. It amounts to a claim -- belied by every scrap of evidence that has emerged since the war -- that Milosevic was in the midst of an all-out, Hitlerian genocide at the time we began bombing. If these are the terms on which the President thinks he routinely goes to war, then he must think he has carte blanche. Who wouldn't give absolute military power to one who is out to stop Hitler?Combined with his "apology" for past U.S. conduct in Greece, what this says about the basis of Clinton foreign policy is horrifying. An apology in foreign policy has a specific meaning and a specific protocol. If you commit crimes against humanity the way Germany did this century, you pay reparations. You disarm. You lock in constitutional protections to keep your country from menacing other nations the way it once did. What price is Clinton willing to pay to make Greece whole for the damage he thinks Johnson and Nixon did in trying to save the country from Communism? Is he willing to pay reparations? (He's certainly not willing to listen to the country's feelings on a matter like Kosovo.) And if he thinks countenancing a military dictatorship during the Cold War is worthy of apology, what is the fit course for a country that installed them? Should we refuse to readmit Russia into the company of civilized nations until it issues an "apology" to Poland? Of course not. The Clinton apology is just empty fluff. But what makes it dangerous, especially alongside the moral pretensions of his Kosovo adventurism, is that he thinks one president, by choosing the right few words, can absolve a country of its own history -- at zero cost. Under this understanding, Clinton can conduct a foreign policy wholly unencumbered by the reality of the choices his predecessors have made. This is a model for an "idealistic" foreign policy -- which is just another way of saying a foreign policy based on the President's personal whimsies.

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