HL Mencken's description of Arkansas might have been revived to describe everything under the NATO canopy in 1999. Then again, his castigating of the "booboisie" would scarcely have gone amiss that year either. The tenth anniversary of the bombing of Serbia, supposedly the summit of that decade's growing humanitarian concern, should be the occasion for some wrist-slashing or hara-kiri on the part of those hideous ghouls who actually cheered the slaughter on. Though it wasn't the bloodiest of American-led wars, it was the occasion for some screaming, shuddering wargasms.
The moral ratification for such concupiscence was the contention that, in a corner of Europe not as yet integrated into the civilized integument of the European Union, genocide was (once again) unfolding. It would be redundant to revisit every article cynically rousing Holocaust memory, every quotation from a leading statesperson blithering about 'Europe' or 'Western values' (Ignatieff had surprisingly little to say about such narcissism, presumably because he partook of it), or every barbarity from Thomas Friedman. It is not necessary to catalogue the calls to "cleanse" Serbia, the demands for Serbia to be placed into receivership, the racial essentialism, the cries of "Not yet enough bombs, and they are already too late", Huntington's civilizational crap about Western humanitarianism versus Orthodox Serb barbarism, etc. Nor need we once again rehearse the numbers game, all of which distasteful charade was purely designed to reinforce the idea that there was an ongoing genocide which nothing short of an orchestrated campaign of high-tech violence could stop. The diplomatic record has been amply covered elsewhere, while the CIA's activities in helping lay the ground for war by making the KLA a proxy army of provocateurs awaits further elucidation. And the cover-up over Serbian civilian casualties, concealed within the raiment of 'surgical', 'precision' warfare aimed exclusively at the machinery of 'genocide', need not detain us.
It is enough to note that the ideas which produced this effusive outpouring of support for war were utterly berserk, and contributed to the deranged imperialism that liberals were to espouse during the 'war on terror'. Fresh from having pledged to fight for his country over Kosovo, David Aaronovitch defended Tony Blair's remake-the-world conference speech after 9/11 not so much against charges of "liberal imperialism" which were made in the New Statesman, but against the idea that there was anything wrong with liberal imperialism. Liberals, he averred, should try to run the world. The lesson of the Nineties was clear - do nothing, and you get Kosovo. Michael Ignatieff, having compared Serbian counterinsurgency to the Nazi holocaust, and demanded to know why the war was so late in coming, became a staunch advocate of "humanitarian empire". The age of postcolonial independence was a failure, as "populations find themselves without an imperial arbiter to appeal to" and so have "set upon each other for that final settling of scores so long deferred by the presence of empire". It was only unfortunate that America was so reluctant to fully assume the white man's burden. The liberal-neocon coalition over Yugoslavia, expressed by the Balkan Action Committee and its ads demanding a full invasion of Serbia, was carried forward into the new millenium and may well have continued to thrive had it not been for Iraq. It may yet be revived, over Darfur or a similar issue. The allure of a righteous kill, whether it comes with explicit overtures for empire or not, has hardly disappeared.
One other aspect of the war fever generated in the spring of 1999 was the sheer gratitude that many UK commentators expressed toward Tony Blair. I raise this because in a couple of talks and meetings, I have been asked to say something about why the lib imps so adore Tony Blair. It occurs to me that the love affair really began with Kosovo. Andrew Marr, later to issue a gushing benediction as the BBC's chief political commentator for Blair's war in Iraq, fell over himself praising the "brave, bold, visionary" new PM in the Observer. The liberal press were, as a rule, overjoyed to discover that their ally in Downing Street was no calculating cynic, but a true believer whose ministrations were as impassioned as their own. So unlike the previous, sleazy Major administration and its unprincipled stance toward Bosnia. Why, just look at the images of him, in his short-sleeved shirt, cuddling Kosovan refugees while his wife gently weeps in the background. Moreover, he was even more aggressive in pursuing that war than Clinton had been. There were strong indications that he would have favoured a ground invasion. As Blair became more adept at manipulating the commentariat, the loyalty he generated ensured that many backed him during his worst moments. Just as the antiwar movement was surging in numbers and feeling in early 2003, the neoconservative writer and current Tory MP Michael Gove wrote "I can't fight my feelings any more - I love you Tony". He was not the first or last to express such admiration. American warmongers always much preferred Blair to Bush, and the more the public hated him, the more they treasured for being so contemptuous of public opinion. Ten years on, the best the Atlanticists can do is groom a perpetually puzzled-looking David Miliband to take his place.