Title: Message

A few days ago, the Kosovar Albanians celebrated two years of freedom from Serb rule. Last night, the man most essential to NATO's campaign in Kosovo addressed issues arising from America's engagement in the Balkans, including the present crisis in Macedonia, as well as the future of American strategy and the makeup of the U.S. military. Speaking before a captive audience from the Commonwealth Club of California, General Wesley Clark reasserted his belief in the inherent soundness of NATO's mission in Kosovo, and gave strong statements on such topics as the Albanian insurgency in Macedonia and George Bush's missile defense plans.
General Clark contextualized U.S. involvement in the Balkans during the 90's in relation to events going on in other places, such as Iraq, North Korea, Rwanda and Haiti. He left a strong impression that juggling such a wide sphere of operations was too exhausting and confusing for successful U.S. diplomacy. While President Bush is regularly derided for his ignorance of geography and world affairs, Wesley Clark is an educated, dapper man; in his grey suit, with piercing eyes and silver hair, he looked more like a classical philologist than a war hero. Indeed, Clark graduated with honors from West Point and studied PPE as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Unfortunately, these achievements made his humorous anecdotes of American ignorance all the more disconcerting. At one point he spoke of being briefed by an advisor on the situation in Europe in the middle of the 90's:
"Well, sir (said the advisor), there's the European Union- and then there's the Western European Union. And there's NATO somewhere in there, but not all the members of the European Union are in the Western European Union- and then there's the OSCE... and they went on through three or four more alphabet soups. And I said, 'I don't understand this'- and they said, 'don't worry, no one else does either."
From Clark's speech, one got the feeling that the American Empire was somewhat less formidable and well-oiled than it is usually represented as being. But although he could spare a few laughs at his own expense, the general was very clear about his view of NATO and America's role in it. He illustrated this with reference to America's role in Bosnia.
"By Spring of '95," stated Clark, "the UN mission in Bosnia was clearly in trouble. America prepared to put in 25,000 troops to help our allies... we went to Europe, we sold our allies on American leadership." Clark defended American dominance of NATO, saying, "The U.S. created NATO-(and so) it earns the right to put in the commander."
Kosovo, according to General Clark, was the litmus test that justified NATO's existence. "It was an enormous success for NATO - we staked NATO's future on this campaign." This was an optimistic verdict indeed given the amount of criticism NATO has come under since the first days of the conflict for allegedly mismanaging the situation; most recently the organization (and especially its American contingents) have been faulted for allowing NLA weapons and soldiers to pass easily from Kosovo to Macedonia. Critics have pointed to the NLA as a prime example of NATO's inability or disinclination to stop Albanian extremism. However, General Clark maintained that the U.S. had no way of knowing in 1999 that the Kosovo Liberation Army would not happily disarm but rather maintain its activities, and eventually reassert itself in Macedonia, as many observers had long feared.
"It's all a matter of relative risk," Clark said. "There was always a fear among some of our European allies that Albanian nationalism would take over."
The U.S., apparently, did not share this fear, and is somewhat surprised now that the Albanians they 'saved' are proving so intractable. In a significant statement of his position, Clark dismissed speculations that the NLA was fighting to carve out a 'Greater Albania' from northwestern portions of Macedonia, claiming instead that "the Albanians in Macedonia, some of them feel politically discriminated against," and that the Macedonian government was not in fact being asked to make 'too many concessions' to Albanian negotiators.
Clark also refuted another common charge, that the NLA is really controlled by Albanian mafiosos. "The mafia's not ethnic," he said. "Criminals come from all ethnic groups."
But he was more coy about whether the CIA had, as has been widely reported, trained the KLA in 1998-99 at top-secret bases in Northern Albania.
"I don't know about the CIA," he demurred. "US and the CIA weren't very well coordinated."
The general was very clear on another, related topic, however - that of recent NLA threats to open a new theatre of war in Greece's northwestern region of Epiros. There is 'no way' that NATO would permit any aggression against fellow member Greece, Clark emphatically stated.
"Thus far we've been able to control the conflict. We're trying to restrain the Macedonians, and we're trying to keep the Albanians on the side of the Macedonian government, the only portion of the former Yugoslavia to have established democracy," said Clark. "What a tragedy if these talks were to fail, and the Albanian and Slav populations were to begin an active shooting campaign... more fundamental than that, (the potential) billions of dollars of property damage, the destabilizing of neighboring countries- NATO is prepared to go in- and I salute that."
Clark's conclusion was somewhat ominous.
"If negotiations don't succeed, we don't know what will happen next - we (may) have to put troops in to prevent a fifth war in the Balkans. I think we're going to see the conflict either come to a head or be resolved in the next few days."
No doubt General Clark hopes the conflict will be speedily and amicably resolved, not only for the sake of the Albanians and Macedonians, but because his own legacy is in part dependent on the outcome of what may be the final chapter in the sad tale of Yugoslavia.

Eespecially for PRAVDA.Ru
Chris Deliso,
Lucie Stern Community Center,
Palo Alto, California

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