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The Costs of War


I guess the president was right. He said he couldn’t return the budget surplus to the American people because he was not confident we would “spend it right.” If “right” means throwing the money down a Balkan rat hole, I am confident we Americans would not have spent it that way if we had been left free to decide.

President Clinton has asked Congress for $6 billion dollars to fund his war in Yugoslavia through September when the fiscal year ends. That of course will be just the beginning of the financial drain on the American people from this unconstitutional and immoral war to 1) secure a legacy for Bill Clinton that has nothing to do with dress stains, 2) find a new mission for an obsolete NATO alliance, and 3) place the Balkans and any subsurface resources there in the American sphere of influence rather than in the Russian sphere.

But this is a humanitarian war, the administration insists. “To wage a war for a purely moral reason,” said H.L. Mencken, “is as absurd as to ravish a woman for a purely moral reason.” The Sage of Baltimore also said, “The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.”

Let’s get real: everyone, aside from the president, his co-architects of this folly, the court intellectuals, and most of the pundits, understands that the NATO operation has only made things worse for the Kosovar Albanians, has rallied support around Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, and has failed to “degrade” his military in any meaningful sense. Milosevic is still able to supply and reinforce his troops in Kosovo.

Just as the drums are beating ever louder for an American-led ground invasion of Yugoslavia, so are they now being pounded for military aid to the Kosovo Liberation Army. It’s official now: Geraldo Rivera has proclaimed the KLA “freedom fighters.” One need not be a Serb apologist to see the flaw in this view. The majority Kosovar Albanians violated the rights of Serbs when Kosovo was autonomous in the 1980s. That is the reason that Milosevic rose to prominence in the first place. Both sides have been victims and victimizers

The KLA is a Marxist-Maoist guerilla organization that has engaged in brutal activity, not bothering even to distinguish between Serb military personnel and civilians. It has links to radical Muslims, including Osana bin Laden, whom President Clinton has branded a terrorist leader and targeted in his bombing of Afghanistan last summer. Moreover, the KLA pays its way in part by trafficking in heroin in Europe. It seems a little odd for an administration that vigorously prosecutes an inane war on drugs to champion Albanian drug dealers.

But that’s not all that is odd about this fiasco of an operation. There is something cynical about pinning a war on humanitarianism when a member of the alliance is guilty the same kind of offenses as the enemy. Turkey treats the Kurds as Milosevic treats Albanians-only worse. Writes foreign-policy analyst Edward Herman, “Although the Turkish attacks on the Kurds have caused far more death and destruction than Serb repression of ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo, have been going on for years, and have also involved repeated invasions of another country (Iraq), there has never been any call for bombings or even for monitoring of Turkish actions by the U.S. or international community.” Nor were there tears shed when a quarter million Serbs were being driven from their homes in Croatia a few years ago. When the Serbs in Bosnia wanted to secede, Clinton’s opposition resulted, resulting in U.S. troops’ being stationed there indefinitely to hold together that artificial country.

This is political humanitarianism at its phoniest. And at its most expensive. The military operation, which will go on for many months and will only get more costly (in lives too), will someday be followed by a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild Serbia and Kosovo. Then there will be the multibillion-dollar program to rebuild the U.S. military, whose resources are being depleted by Clinton’s war.

But let’s not blame only Clinton and his Democrats. The Republicans control Congress, which has constitutional authority over war and the purse strings. History will record that when they could have stopped the murderous folly, they were taking a powder.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.