Praying for the Balkans

As I was driving my daughter Poppy home from college, she was telling me how popular religion was at Ohio State. She was intriqued by how seriously so many students took their religions. She couldn't understand how they could all be so certain about God in this secular age. She wondered what they thought about their religious customs. What did they think their prayers were? Who did they think they were praying to?

I mentioned that I pray every day. She knows what I think about religion. I believe all religions are false but I also feel that existence has a purpose, that there is something like what we call God. I told her that I prayed like I did when I was 5 or 6. I pray "Our Father..." now instead of "Now I lay me down to sleep...;" but it amounts to the same thing. I'm just as ignorant of ultimate reality now as I was then.

She thought that I was being far too practical, so I told her that it wasn't like Pascal's gamble in which you do religious things on the chance that there is a God. She didn't think that I was that cynical; she just thought I was being too disciplined, that for me praying was like eating and drinking moderately or controlling my temper. At the time, I couldn't think of another reason why I prayed; but when the war against Yugoslavia was starting, another reason for praying occurred to me.

Before Clinton started bombing the Serbs I desperately wished that he would fail and look stupid before the world. When I prayed, however, I had a revelation: In hoping for Clinton's failure, I was hoping for the misery of hundreds of thousands of people. As much as I detest Clinton, I didn't want to see harm come to other people just for the sake of his failure. With this thought is mind, I prayed for the success of Clinton's adventure in the Balkans. Prayer has several purposes; one of them is to put our own feelings into perspective when we are thinking about this world of other people.

Unfortunately for nearly everyone in the Balkans, my prayers were not answered. The campaign started like the other American campaigns of the last decade. A barrage of million dollar cruise missiles rains down on the offending country, precisely ripping apart empty buildings. We are treated to televised pictures of destroyed structures with cheap siding and dirt floors. Our million dollar cruise missiles seem to have an affinity for destroying thousand dollar buildings. I wonder if they are really computerized devices with satelite controlled guidance systems. Perhaps they are merely "corrugated siding seeking missiles."

In any case, the Serbs have no defense against our air attacks. The Albanians from Kosovo may be helpless against the Serbian army, but the Serbs are more helpless against us. A ten year old girl has a better chance against a heavyweight world champion than Serbs do against our arial assaults. When I see how easily the Americans can destroy a country, I wonder how we can condemn terrorism. Terrorism is the only weapon that our enemies (those that the president declares to be villains) have left to use against us. If that ten year old girl managed to scratch the champion boxer's leg, would we cry, "No fair?" That's what we do with these countries. And then we call them cowards. Are we supposed to believe that bravery consists in shooting missiles from a ship that is hundreds of miles from any hostile force? Not even the captains of those ships know where the missiles are aimed.

Despite the Americans' overwhelming military strength, the attack was a complete failure. Virtually any other course of action would have produced better results. Clinton outlined three reasons for the bombing.

1. Protect the Albanians in Kosovo.

2. Weaken Slobodan Milosevic.

3. Show that the NATO alliance is credible.

Let's look at what happened as a result of the bombing.

1. Milosevic, utterly powerless to protect his country, attacked the Kosovar Albanians. In the first two days, he terrorized, murdered, and expelled so many of them that virtually any other fate would have been preferrable. Clinton claims that they would have experienced those horrors even if he hadn't bombed, but only those who believe everything they see on American TV take this idea seriously. Even total withdrawal of Americans from Europe would not have produced so hideous a result. The commentators who repeat Clinton's assertions with straight faces are the same ones who kept telling us that Clinton didn't have an affair, didn't perjure himself, didn't obstruct justice, is a great president, etc., etc.

2. The bombing was supposed to weaken Slobodan Milosevic. Before the bombing, his forces were in trouble in Kosovo and he was on the verge of making large concessions to the Albanians there. Clinton demanded the introduction of NATO troops into Kosovo, a part of Yugoslavia. Milosevic balked and the bombing commenced. He had three problems before the bombing began: (i) The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was a thorn in his side. (ii) The population of Kosovo was actively seeking autonomy and independence. (iii) His popularity with the Serbians was very low.

In the first week of the American bombing, Milosevic (i) substantially destroyed the KLA, (ii) changed the ethnic composition of Kosovo to one of his liking, and (iii) achieved skyrocketing popularity with the Serbians. He has gone from a weak dictator facing a deteriorating situation to a national hero with a bellicose and determined population.

3. In the same time, Nato has gone from an anachronistic alliance to an irresponsible aggressor, one that has provoked the Russians to resume their Cold War sabre rattling. As the war depletes the American store of missiles, NATO shows itself incapable of moving men and equipment where needed. It is powerless to enforce its will on a tiny, backward nation. It can not protect the ten of thousands of innocent Albanians in Kosovo or even house and feed them adequately when they flee. NATO has become a joke, an armed and dangerous joke.

It is impossible to imagine a worse outcome no matter what other course of action was adopted.

The recent bombings grow out of the Bush/Clinton policy toward the Balkans: It can best be described as "gun control for the world." When Yugoslavia broke apart, an arms embargo was placed on it and the Serbians were left in control of most of the weaponry. Bush and Clinton stubbornly refused to allow any legal arms to flow into former Yugoslavia. Apparently their thinking was that the NATO could protect them, and NATO has protected them—as well as the police protect the citizens of large American cities with gun control.

Clinton demonizes Milosevic and the Serbians even though there is plenty of blame to go around. Clinton's trick of making up villains works only where the liberal press backs him; it doesn't work in Yugoslavia. The Serbs don't think that they are worse than Nazis and don't understand why they are being targeted. The bombing turned a bad and complicated situation into a catastrophe. If Milosevic's apparent victory is allowed to stand, we are faced with the triumph unbridled government terror against its own population. The total defeat of the Serbian forces is only a little more desirable. America would have to slaughter thousands of Serbs. This course of action would create a whole new class of victims and cripple Serbia so that it would need protection itself.

If Clinton follows the usual American policy, we will have the worst of both worlds. Milosevic will agree to NATO demands, sort of. The Kosovo Albanians will never fully recover what they had the day before the bombing began. Foreign troops will become a permanent fixture in the Balkans. Clinton will declare his policy a success. American television will agree.

I don't pray for peace in the Balkans anymore. If Milosevic can hang on to his victory, NATO may be so humilated that it will disband. Maybe the Americans will come home and keep out of everyone's business for a few years. That may be the best outcome of this mess for my fellow inhabitants of the Earth.

I'll just pray, "Now I lay me down to sleep...." To ask more is to be as stupidly arrogant as Clinton. God probably had a good laugh at me.