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In Defense of Slobodan Milosevic

Memo To: Senator Tim Hutchinson [R-AR]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Wrong Man on Trial

When I learned that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had been arrested in his home this past weekend, formally charged with crimes against the state, I thought of the memo I’d written to you in this space on March 25, 1999. You may recall how impressed I was with your opposition to the bombing campaign the Clinton Administration had initiated in the previous few days. I took the occasion to compare the breakup of the Yugoslav Federation with the attempted breakup of the United States in the 1860s -- and compared Milosevic to Lincoln. I’ll append that old memo, Senator, but remember that in it I noted Milosevic was doing just fine until the IMF/World Bank insisted he devalue the dinar in 1987, which led to the hyperinflation and fragmentation of the Federation. If you check The New York Times Monday, you will see: “The main charges against Mr. Milosevic concerned financial misdealings, causing damage to the Serbian economy and bringing instability to the country during the period of hyperinflation in the early 1990s.” You see, it has long been my contention that the International Monetary Fund is the new Evil Empire, and that its director in those years, Michel Camdessus, was “the most dangerous man in the world.” Camdessus resigned in 1999, but it is my thought that he is the man who should be in the docket in Belgrade, not Milosevic. It was the western politicians who wound up having to demonize Milosevic, who had been an ally, a man who actually promoted multiculturalism before the Yugoslavia became a target of “shock therapy” by the IMF and its puppetmasters.

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Letter to Sen. Hutchinson, March 25, 1999.

Yes, it will sound outrageous at first, but I want to compare Yugoslavia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, to Abe Lincoln. I chose you for this exercise because I saw you on CNN's Crossfire last night and realized you had a mind that was comfortable with political philosophy -- and that you saw no justification for the bombing campaign we have now initiated on behalf of the Albanian separatists of the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo. One of my ten most favorite books is the one-volume biography of Lincoln by Benjamin Thomas. Almost alone among Lincoln's many biographers, Thomas identified the central core of his reason for saving the union. It was simply this: Lincoln knew that our democratic experiment had to succeed if we were going to be able to persuade the rest of the world that we were the last, best hope of mankind. And for a democratic republic to succeed, those parts of the nation which would be on the losing end of an issue that divided the nation would have to accept the majority vote. If losers could easily secede, the nation would fragment, and fragment again, around regional and cultural and religious disputes. A refusal to accept the secession of the Southern states because they were at odds with the majority on several issues, the most serious being slavery, was Lincoln's greatest legacy to mankind.

If you read William Safire's column in the NYTimes today, you will see that his support for the bombing campaign rests on the opposite idea, the one propounded by President Woodrow Wilson: "I'm in a separate school with President Wilson, who was three generations ahead of his time. Wilson was an arrogant idealist, a troublemaking rearranger of national borders who summed up his vision thus: ‘‘Every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live.'" This sounds nice, but of course it would have placed Safire on the side of the Dixie separatists during our Civil War. In a separate story in today's NYTimes, Blaine Harden writes from Belgrade that even Milosevic's most ardent opponents are rallying to the national cause of holding Kosovo within the union. A prominent actor, Milanko Zablacanski, who has denounced Milosevic's politics for a decade, is quoted as saying: "If the Scottish people wanted to separate from the United Kingdom, would the West bomb to help Scotland become independent? Of course not." He also says: "The West has no idea what Kosovo means to the Serbian people." Given the level of condemnation of Milosevic as a "butcher," Harden also is good enough to remind the NYTimes. readers that "While losing wars, [Milosevic] has won elections that outside observers said were more or less fair."

What we have had in Yugoslavia for the past decade is exactly the kind of fragmentation that Lincoln feared. Divisions between ethnic and cultural and religious factions have ended the peaceful congruence which they experienced under Marshal Tito's socialist rule. And why did these ruptures occur? It was because of the intervention of the International Monetary Fund, I have argued for many years. Beginning in 1987, the IMF provided the poison that sent the economy of the Yugoslav federation into a tailspin, first urging devaluation, then taxation, then devaluation again. Even before the IMF was able to wreck the Soviet economy with its "shock therapy" ministrations, it was destroying the Yugoslav federation. It is quite amazing that Milosevic has been able to survive the destructive forces thrown at him by the West, including a United States that survived division because of the insight and determination of Abraham Lincoln.

First it was Slovenia that decided being part of a federation that was weakening was not to its tastes. Milosevic tried to keep it in, but lost that fight. Then of course Croatia decided it would do better on its own, rather than pay the federal taxes which had mounted under the tender care of the IMF. It appealed to the United States, via its friends in Germany, and the Bush administration said it was okay by it if a separation occurred. These were pieces of the federation that had in the past enjoyed national autonomy and quasi-sovereignty, so it was harder for Milosevic to make the argument to the West that this was something he could not permit. When it came to Bosnia, which had never been independent but merely was a juridical, geographic designation, Milosevic dug in his heels. And still he had to endure the weight of the West, the United States in particular, which compounded the problems loaded upon the shoulders of the Belgrade government. What a nuisance Milosevic had become. How much easier it was for the Bush administration and then the Clinton administration, and our mighty Political Establishment, to fill our newspapers and electronic media with stories about Milosevic the butcher, the thug, the murderer, the aggressor, always uncompromising, never keeping his word.

If you review this history from Milosevic's point of view, President Clinton sounds positively Orwellian in explaining why we are now bombing, as he did in his address to the nation last night: "In 1989, Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, the same leader who started the wars in Bosnia and Croatia and moved against Slovenia in the last decade, stripped Kosovo of the constitutional autonomy its people enjoyed, thus denying them their right to speak their language, run their schools, shape their daily lives. For years, Kosovars struggled peacefully to get their rights back. When President Milosevic sent his troops and police to crush them, the struggle grew violent." The President's version is seriously misconstrued as to the facts. Nonetheless, Mr. Milosevic's belief that he could preempt secessionist tendencies by taking autonomy away from Kosovo was a terrible blunder. Many in Serbia favor restoration over time of the rights and privileges that are tied to a restitution of autonomy for Kosovo. But Milosevic articulates the national conviction that foreign troops cannot occupy Kosovo as Yugoslavia works toward that end. Neither Mr. Milosevic nor any other Yugoslav authority could permit the operation of an armed secessionist movement in its province of Kosovo. In his NYT news account today, Blaine Hardin tells us the Serbian people have rallied to Milosevic because they believe the stories written in the state-controlled press. I'm sorry to say that their controlled press has a more accurate account of the last decade than our controlled press.

What? Our controlled press? Of course you realize our national press corps serves our Political Establishment, and when that Establishment is unified in its view of a situation somewhere in the world, it becomes very difficult for our citizens to learn an alternative viewpoint. It was of course the KLA rebels who initiated the violence that called for a response by the central government. If you now dig through the files of the NYTimes, you will also find that the atrocities committed in Bosnia by the Serbs followed atrocities committed by the Muslim fundamentalists against the Christian Serbs. The Bosnians hired the ace New York public relations firm of Ruder & Finn to make sure we knew the atrocities were committed by the Serbs. One of the main reasons Henry Kissinger does not support the bombing campaign is that he knows the method of propaganda that has drawn the United States into this senseless idea of bombing people because they refuse to stop killing each other. He is neither Lincolnian or Wilsonian in his view of democracy. For that matter, neither is Safire, who chooses his principles based on who the separatists are and what the argument is about.

You must admit that what I've written to you today is new to you. That's only because I've taken the trouble to ask the questions that our national press corps shies away from, being uncomfortable with information and viewpoints outside the mainstream. If you look hard enough you will find this viewpoint here and there, in letters to the editor for the most part. But when the mainstream press is relentless in writing that Milosevic is a dictator, it only is the odd corner here and there that reminds us he does represent the Yugoslav people by virtue of winning elections.

Great powers usually can do as they please. Superpowers, it seems, can always do as they please. I watched you on Crossfire last night, Senator, and saw that you understood something of what I've written here, and it called forth this comment to you. From my point of view, we are behaving very badly in this decision to bomb Yugoslavia into submission to our will, after we have been an active agent every step of the way in creating the problems that confront her. There of course would be no Kosovar rebels if they could not count on the West to serve as their agent. The NATO air force that bombs is known as the KLA Air Force. We begin the bombing without intent to follow up with ground troops, but where else will this lead? It is the thin edge of the wedge. The camel's nose under the tent. Good people I've known for decades have taken leave of their senses, calling for bombs and more bombs, wrapping their rationales in propaganda they often have initiated and written themselves. It has been so long and Milosevic has been such a nuisance that they have forgotten this history. It is only natural. When you have done something terribly wrong, as an individual or as a nation, you play tricks with your mind and memory and turn your victims into your adversaries. At the lowest level, the President came to view his most notable victim as his assailant, the stalker. With all his power, he attempted to destroy her, and because he has such power, the power elite now bow down to him. Your brother Asa, the congressman who served as a manager during the impeachment trial, got a taste of it. You see it now magnified to the highest levels, at the pinnacle of the most powerful nation ever to inhabit the earth. Bombs away! We will keep it up until Yugoslavia is in little bits and pieces, which is what we would have looked like if it were not for Old Abe.