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It’s Not Ours to Negotiate


Jesse Jackson’s mission to Belgrade, which led to the freeing of the three American prisoners of the Yugoslav war, has many people wondering whether a negotiated settlement is in the works. After Jackson brought the servicemen out of Serbia, President Clinton implied that he was lowering his standard for a bombing halt. For example, he said that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic needed to begin-not complete-a withdrawal from Kosovo to stop the bombing.

Yet the bombing continues in intensified form. NATO has begun carpet bombing with B-52s, a tactic that can’t help but kill civilians, since it covers an area with “dumb” bombs. The allies are able to knock out the power at will, endangering, among others, the 70 babies at Belgrade’s Institute for Premature Infants. So goes the humanitarian war.

You need not be a warmonger to see that Milosevic used Jackson, though the reverend seems not to know or care. That photo of Jackson holding hands in prayer with Milosevic is ridiculous and it will likely haunt Jackson for a long time. I’d respect Jackson more if he’d say, “Sure, Milosevic used me. But I got the guys out.” Instead he blabbers on about building bridges to peace and reconciliation.

Milosevic is not a nice guy. Still, that is no cause for the United States to go to war with him: there are a lot of bad guys in the world. His forces are killing and uprooting Kosovars, just as Kosovars (and Croats) have killed and oppressed Serbs. Everyone has taken turns as victim and victimizer in this conflict.

But for Americans, the bottom line is: it’s not our war. And that means it’s not ours to negotiate about either. We have only one proper course: unconditional exit. Then let’s keep our mind off the Balkans.

I point this out because many opponents of the war think that the United States ought to be engineering a peaceful outcome to the conflict over Kosovo. Pundits have laid out elaborate plans for the partitioning of Kosovo into a northern Serbian sector and a southern ethnic Albania sector. One writer went further: if the partitioning of Kosovo leads to agitation for separatism in Bosnia, we should partition Bosnia too!

It’s not that partition is not a prudent solution where ethnic groups can’t co-exist. Maybe that’s what should happen in Kosovo and Bosnia. My point is that it should not be the United States’s job to engineer and oversee a partition.

The battle between Serbs and ethnic Albanians is precisely the kind of conflict that the Founding Fathers desperately wanted to keep the United States out of. Europe had long been wracked by war. The Balkans in particular were the scene of intractable conflicts. The bloody history of that continent is what motivated George Washington to say in his farewell address, “Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?”

The questions are as pertinent today as they were in 1796. Why squander our wealth and peace in places that are no threat to us? The war apologists can’t make up their minds when they try to answer this question. They tell us this war is purely humanitarian and that we have no interest there. Then they pull back, as if they sense that a great nation doesn’t risk its young men altruistically. So they then invoke national interest. But that doesn’t wash either. The Balkan troubles have not disturbed commerce during the last ten years. There have been no signs of conflict spilling over into the rest of Europe. It is the U.S. bombing that threatens to spread the war by provoking Russia and that destabilizes Macedonia. The troubles predicted are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Better we stay out of trouble and concentrate on restoring liberty at home.

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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.