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Kosovo and Lebanon: The Similarities

Fortunately, this is a line of inquiry that has answers. Human Rights Watch reported in February, 2000 that “About five hundred civilians died in ninety separate incidents as a result of NATO bombing in Yugoslavia last year.” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth, who was generally supportive of the enterprise, found this result worth criticizing: “Once it made the decision to attack Yugoslavia, NATO should have done more to protect civilians. All too often, NATO targeting subjected the civilian population to unacceptable risks.” Obviously, 500 is a lot less than 10,000.

What’s more, I don’t really see the point in trying to compare the two wars which simply don’t seem very similar to me. ~Matt Yglesias

Well, I don’t know what to tell Mr. Yglesias, except that his numbers–and those of Human Rights Watch–are mistaken.  The dead in Yugoslavia were in the thousands.  The figure of 500, according to the Serbian government, had already been reached by mid-April, approximately one month after the war began.  I have normally seen numbers around 5,000 civilians killed during the bombing campaign.  It may have been lower than that, but I feel fairly confident that it was significantly higher than 500.  There were also several thousand Yugoslavian soldiers killed, which is not a light thing considering the aggressive and illegal nature of the war.  Of course, the number killed in a completely unjustifiable war does not somehow make the crime any less heinous or inexcusable–when you launch wars of aggression, any deaths, particularly those of civilians, have no justification.    

But the bigger problem is that Mr. Yglesias sees no parallels between the two campaigns, when the parallels are many and rather obvious.  The first is that both seem to have been campaigns in search of a pretext.  The rejection of the Rambouillet negotiations was Mr. Clinton’s pretext for attacking Serbia, which had returned to Mr. Clinton’s agenda by at least the year before when Washington ceased calling the KLA terrorists and began agitating over Kosovo; the myth of Racak helped lend moral credibility to his dubious enterprise.  In the case of Lebanon, the provocation and attack by Hizbullah provided the immediate pretext to launch a plan that had been prepared for some time.  In both cases, air wars aimed at punishing an entire for the crimes of a relative few were waged with limited success in degrading the military capabilities of the very people whose operations the campaign was supposedly aimed at, while the civilian populations suffered the brunt of the damage.  In both cases, the world allowed the terrorisation of a civilian population for allegedly justifiable ends (stopping “genocide”/fighting terrorism) by the militarily superior forces of one side.  In both cases, the bombings produced floods of refugees numbering in the hundreds of thousands.  The difference was that in Kosovo the government was able to circulate the lie that the Serbs had been the ones to drive the refugees out of Kosovo, when it was NATO’s campaign that had done it.  In Lebanon, no one could be deceived that the refugee crisis had been created by anyone but Israel.  The attack on Yugoslavia was criminal, immoral aggression; the war on Lebanon, particularly considering the way it has been carried out, is only marginally better.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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