Covering the Milosevic Trial
Jude Wanniski
February 12, 2002


Memo To: Bill Keller, NYTimes
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: "The Monster in the Dock"

The trial of Slobodan Milosevic begins today in The Hague at the International Court of Justice. My wife Patricia and I read your Saturday op-ed from The Hague with interest. She pronounced it "mish-mash," in that you did hem and haw without reaching much of a conclusion, noting that the Bush administration is wary of a tribunal that might bite back some day, outside the protections of the U.S. Constitution. I actually agreed with your hemming and hawing, wanting to see where this trial takes the world. In its lead editorial Monday, the Times seems to have no doubt that Milosevic, "once Yugoslavia's dictator," is continuing his "murderous practice of portraying Serbia as the world's lonely victim." In other words, give this monstrous war criminal the justice he deserves. You at least referred to him as "president," as he was elected in democratic fashion, while the editors find it convenient to pigeonhole him with other monsters who were not: "His trial is a triumph for the civilized world, which has created a court capable of condemning the most heinous crimes with appropriate gravity and fairness." You, on the other hand, note that "When Mr. Milosevic sneers at the tribunal here as 'victor's justice,' he is not entirely wrong."

You should know, Bill, that I have had a long campaign in defense of Milosevic, dating back to the late 1980s, when the International Monetary Fund swooped down upon Yugoslavia and forced a poisonous devaluation of the dinar down Milosevic's gullet. When Milosevic was indicted for war crimes, genocide and such, I wrote that the wrong man was in the dock, that it should be the IMF's Michel Camdessus, who I had listed as one of the most dangerous men in the world. You and the Times both insist Milosevic started the wars against Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, but I also have made the point that this would he like saying Abraham Lincoln started the wars against Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. If the South had won the Civil War, they could have sent Abe to The Hague, linking him to General Sherman's "genocide" in burning down Atlanta.

I'm at least glad to see your editors note that "It is indeed true that many of those applauding his capture were his negotiating partners when he was in power." He wouldn't be in the dock today if it were not for "the most dangerous woman in the world," as I then termed President William Clinton's hopelessly inept Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. At a time when it still appeared possible for Richard Holbrooke to negotiate a Kosovo settlement with Milosevic, Ms. Albright pushed him out of the spotlight and committed the United States to the Kosovo Liberation Army, which to that point had been listed by her State Department as a "terrorist group." I'm sure Milosevic could have been more politic in defending "Yugoslavia" instead of letting Bosnia's New York public-relations agency accuse him of "ethnic cleansing" as a goal for a "Greater Serbia." (Our media were silent when Croatia cleansed itself of its substantial Serb minority.) But who knows, maybe the Truth will really come out in this trial. Our own Political Establishment may be embarrassed at the blunders made in Washington that led to the bloody mess in the Balkans -- especially if Milosevic is acquitted. Maybe a few such embarrassments is what it will take for us to better learn how to manage the world.

I've written a lot about these blunders over the years, as you will find if you do a simple "Milosevic" search at this website. If you are going to return to The Hague periodically, to look in on the trial, you might find it useful to read up on this different perspective. So far we have only been told that Milosevic has been whining and hectoring and being "uncooperative." I'm actually looking forward to his defense and hoping the Times will provide a fair account of the proceedings. Remembering the dictum that "power corrupts," it is entirely possible that the world's only Superpower will tend in that direction more than those little states which have very little power. I did appreciate your observation: "The administration worries that American soldiers or American officials deployed abroad would be ripe targets for politically motivated prosecutors. The next thing you know, Henry Kissinger will be a few cells down from Mr. Milosevic, standing trial for war crimes in Vietnam and half a dozen other venues, as the writer Christopher Hitchens proposed in a polemic last year."