The Independent on Sunday, 5-16-99
Worse than a mistake
The death of as many as 100 Albanian villagers in a Nato bombing raid
on southern Kosovo may give Mr Blair pause, but it seems unlikely.
Nothing so far has dented his Churchillian resolve. He will not rest,
he has told us, until good has triumphed over evil. There will be
setbacks along the way, to be sure, but "those who want a war that is
perfect, with no mistakes, no errors, no civilians hurt, are not
realistic about war". Let us be realistic, then. Nato's latest attack
on civilians was a mistake, but it was an inevitable one. It is what
happens when airmen are required to launch attacks from 15,000 feet.
Perhaps, as Nato says, the target was "legitimate" and perhaps cluster
bombs were not used. Nato spokesmen do not deliberately lie. Nevertheless,
from the evidence so far available, what happened on Thursday night in
Korisa borders on the criminal. That much, indeed, may be said about any
action in this conflict: Nato's war against Serbia contravenes
The illegality of the war is one reason why this newspaper has opposed
it from the start. There are other, equally pressing reasons. On 28 March,
four days after the first wave of bombers went in, we wrote that no matter
how bad things were in Kosovo, Nato's action would make them worse: the
bombing would serve as a cover for death squads; the deployment of ground
troops, should it occur, would sacrifice good lives in the name of bad
policies. We pledged our support for British servicemen, but at the same
time we insisted that such support did not exempt politicians from
The Prime Minister does not like to be condemned. Even mild criticism
agitates him. Last week, after Michael Howard had spoken of the "gross
incompetence" of the Chinese embassy bombing, Mr Blair accused the
Opposition - and by implication all those who are against the war - of
undermining the morale of the armed services. It can't be long before he
starts to tell us that careless talk costs lives. For there is an element
of moral blackmail as well as hysteria in the Prime Minister's words. He
would like to silence criticism by suggesting, however obliquely, that it
puts the lives of British servicemen at risk: after all, demoralised soldiers
and airmen are more vulnerable than those who are cheerful and confident.
In fact, the people whose lives are seriously at risk at the moment are the
Albanians and the Serbs.
Not that we are impressed by Mr Howard's attack on the Government. The
Tories have all along supported the bombing: they have backed the
Government's aims and its means. They knew, as we all knew, that smart
bombs would kill civilians and that the wrong targets would be hit. It
is much too late for Mr Howard and the Tories to become scrupulous, far
less contemptuous of Mr Blair's running of the war (not, incidentally, that
Mr Blair has much to do with the running of what is an American show). All
Mr Howard is doing now is to make political capital out of squalid tragedy.
It may be what he is paid to do as an Opposition politician, but it would
be foolish to take anything he says about this war seriously.
It would be foolish, too, and disgusting, for opponents of the war to yield
to moral triumphalism. Many good people support this war. They believe that
it is a just response to Milosevic's abominable cruelty to the Kosovar
Albanians. We do not. We believe that Milosevic's worst excesses in Kosovo
have been made possible by this war; that a war begun to avert a human
catastrophe has in fact created a human catastrophe. Milosevic alone is
guilty of the crime of ethnic cleansing, but Nato has acted as his enabler.
Today, however, the emphasis is on Nato's victims, not on Milosevic's. Last
week, by cruel irony, Mr Blair accused the BBC of ignoring the plight of
ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. They won't be this week, Prime Minister
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