The Bombs Didn't Help

Richard Holbrooke, who played a key diplomatic role in the Kosovo operation, appeared at a Senate hearing June 24 and spoke of the administration's handling of the situation in the Balkans. “We made numerous mistakes,” he said. True enough — but what were those mistakes?

As Holbrook spoke, Slobodan Milosevic was at large, with a $5 million price put on his head by the United States. Newly empowered in Kosovo was Hashim Thaci, the political leader of Kosovo's rebels and a strongman legendary for his assassinations and purges.

Earlier in June, the Register printed two articles by Robert Reilly that looked in detail at the history leading to NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia.

He challenged the common, simplistic, explanation of NATO's Yugoslavian action — the one that paints Milosevic as a Hitler, the Serbs as Nazis, and NATO as a rescue force. He asked: What will happen after a “victory” by NATO? What will happen when new, brutal military leaders in Kosovo have freer reign? Who will be “Hitler” then? Thaci is one strong candidate. Others will probably follow.

Yet, in the face of this, Holbrooke, with conventional wisdom on his side, identified the West's main mistake as … its failure to bomb more and earlier, perhaps even in 1994.

If anything is clear in the aftermath of the Balkans attack, it is that the bombs didn't help. They didn't help relations with the Russians, who became oddly warm with the Serbs, and whose soldiers skirmished with NATO soldiers after the bombing campaign. They didn't particularly help the Kosovar Albanians, whose suffering at the hands of the Serbs only accelerated after the bombings began. And they certainly didn't help peace in the region, which is now battered by new brutalities.

In short, the bombs themselves were the mistake.

There was at least one head of state, in Rome, who said so, early and often during the war. The real lesson of the war is that Pope John Paul II's calls for peace should be taken more seriously next time.

President Clinton recently told NATO troops in Macedonia, “If we can do this here … we can then say to the people of the world, 'Whether you live in Africa or Central Europe or any other place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion, and it is within our power to stop it, we will stop it.”

Dubbed the Clinton Doctrine, this strategy of “humanitarian war” ignores several important facts. First is that we didn't stop the racial killing in the Balkans: We merely threw matches into a hornet's nest. Second is that innocent civilians were killed by NATO bombs as well as by Milosevic's minions.

Third, and most important, is a fundamental mistake inherent in this doctrine. “Power” will never solve ethnic hatred or end racial tensions. Indeed, a philosophy that sees the exertion of raw power as the answer to human problems itself perpetuates conditions where human beings are treated according to extrinsic factors rather than out of respect for the dignity that God has given them.

The Pope has an answer that better addresses the tensions in the Balkans and elsewhere. He calls it the new evangelization.

Bringing Unity from Evil

But from the middle of such a hopeless looking situation, one clear sign of hope has arisen. War in the Balkans has created abundant new opportunities for the Catholic and Orthodox churches to cooperate, according to Cardinal Achilles Silvestrini, the Vatican's point man for Eastern dialogue.

As the Jubilee Year 2000 approaches, this is good news indeed. The greatest tragedy in two millennia of Christian history is the split between Greek, Russian, Ukranian, and other Orthodox Christians of the East on the one hand; and the Catholics of the West who are in communion with the Pope on the other.

We share the same sacramental system, and our doctrines are identical or very close on most matters. Yes, we differ on some of the finer (but significant) points of theology; particularly on the nature of the primacy that Christ conferred on Peter in the New Testament.

But on these, Pope John Paul II has made surprising and bold moves toward reconciliation, offering even to discuss the way papal authority might be handled in a united Christian Church.

That spirit of unity was fostered by the Pope's first trip to an Orthodox country (Romania, in May). And in the Balkans, Cardinal Silvestrini pointed to “new, more fruitful relations” between the churches, and looked forward to “joint bodies” being created to address problems in the aftermath of the Balkans war. That will help also.

This spirit of unity has also found expression in the United States. In recent years, the biggest news about the unity of the Churches was bad news: The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew visited Baltimore in 1997 and famously referred to an “ontological difference” between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, reinforcing the rift. But this year, an annual conference held in Washington, D.C., by Catholic and Orthodox leaders to address their differences was better attended, and more upbeat, than any before.

Before Communion at one shared Liturgy at the conference, Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware of Diokleia knelt facing the altar and called out these words: “Thou dost call all Christians to draw near and partake of thy Body and Blood. But our sin has divided us, and we have no power to partake of thy holy Eucharist together. We confess this our sin and we pray thee, forgive us and help us to serve the ways of reconciliation according to thy will.”

An important prayer, as the new millennium approaches.