Thursday, April 16, 2009

Saving the trophies on the Titanic

David Clark, former New Labour foreign policy adviser, is unhappy that many on the Left who supported Operation Allied Force in 1999 are revisiting that position and recognising it as a destructive precursor to the attack on Iraq. Given his position, it is reasonable to say that he bore some responsibility for enabling British participation in that war (although I have to say that his boss, Robin Cook, didn't look to enthusiastic at the time, which is probably why the job of selling the aggression was delegated to the defence secretary George Robertson). Has he got anything new to say that might change one's mind? He reproves the Left, but has he listened to what anyone was saying? Unfortunately not. He rehearses a shopworn story, which for the most part has already been answered, and it would be trite to regurgitate it here. He flat out denies that there was any geopolitical motivation in launching the war, which would presumably raise a few smirks among Clinton administration officials who have publicly argued the opposite. He points to ethnic cleansing, but seeks by sheer rhetorical force alone to avoid the fact that the war itself, as well as US tutelage of the KLA, convoked that process, and that the result was entirely avoidable. And just as Clark baldly asserts, without qualification or serious discussion, western innocence with respect to what took place, he takes no account at all of the KLA's co-responsibility for the war, through its targeting of civilians, its seizure of territory, and its smashing of rival groups within Kosovo. He claims that Milosevic's war was waged in the defence of Orthodox Christian supremacy, which is absolute twaddle: it was a vicious counterinsurgency aimed at defeating a violent secessionist movement. One could go on - Clark's polemic is a mindless regurgitation of some long discredited talking points of 'humanitarian interventionists'. But there is just one point that I wish to draw particular attention to. This is the response to (absolutely undeniable) charges that the discussions at Rambouillet were sabotaged:

These critics talk as if the destruction of Bosnia was a figment of the imagination. The reality is that by the time of Rambouillet, western leaders had wised up to Milosevic's game of rope-a-dope in which he negotiated peace in bad faith while continuing to unleash ethnic terror on the ground. They had already endured eight years of it.

This is the self-destruct button in the article. Of course, the claim is a direct falsehood. The "western leaders" whom he imagines naively entertaining Mr Milosevic throughout the 1990s were themselves deeply involved in blocking and frustrating peace initiatives, at several key points, including the Lisbon agreement. This isn't a matter of controversy. Moreover, it would appear to be a non-sequitur if it is supposed to refute the claims that the negotiations were sabotaged. But the really interesting point is that Clark - who was presumably involved in the diplomacy at some level - doesn't actually bother to refute the claims that the negotiations were sabotaged and that unrealistic conditions were imposed on FRY in an effort to induce rejection. His retort is as close as one gets to admitting that the negotiations were sabotaged and adding that 'it's a good thing too'. If the story were as Clark says it is, what would be the point of negotiations? Wouldn't they just be an elaborate precursor to war, exactly as the antiwar Left said they were?