The Belgrade Curve

The Belgrade Curve

The Belgrade Curve

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 31 1999 6:42 AM

The Belgrade Curve

The papers all lead with the Yugoslav war. The overriding theme is changes in NATO policy wrought by the dawning realization that Plan A isn't working. The Washington Post and New York Times go with NATO's about-face decision to bomb key military and government buildings in downtown Belgrade. The NYT credits early editions of the Post with breaking this development, which the NYT calls "a major change in tactics." USA Today's lead is President Clinton's rejection of the product of Russian premier Yevgeny Primakov's effort at drive-thru diplomacy with Slobodan Milosevic: the latter's offer to start pulling his forces out of Kosovo if NATO would ground its bombers. The Los Angeles Times goes with the U.S. charge of Yugoslav genocide in the region and the hint of a new strategic goal: expelling all Yugoslav troops from Kosovo and putting it under NATO jurisdiction and protection. The underlying theme of all these developments is articulated well by the WP: the Clinton administration has come to the view that the Serbs have with their brutal actions of the past week forfeited any rights they had to Kosovo while making it impossible for the Kosovars to ever again agree to live under their authority anyway.

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The coverage makes it clear that the pressure on NATO to switch to something that works is largely coming from the mushrooming Kosovar refugee disaster. The WP says that yesterday, neighboring Macedonia began rejecting Kosovar Albanians without passports, and the Post and NYT say the Kosovar city of Pec, once home to 100,000, is now almost completely destroyed. The Post quotes a government official saying he found the behavior of the Serb military and of armed Serb civilians "shocking." And the NYT says that going in, officials had "expected that a modest air raid or two would be enough" to get Milosevic back to the negotiation table. But the WP says that Milosevic's brutal response has actually played into Washington's hands because going in, what was really feared among U.S. decision-makers was that Milosevic would, as he has done before, use gestures of partial or token compliance that could have split NATO if some members found them adequate.

The LAT quotes a White House official saying that the stepped-up NATO military tempo might be coupled with resistance offered by the Kosovo Liberation Army or failing that, would just be wielded by NATO unilaterally until Milosevic's military is destroyed. But KLA resistance may indeed turn out to be a factor: according to a front-pager by the LAT's Paul Watson, writing from Pristina, ethnic Albanian guerrillas yesterday engaged Serbian security forces in a "pitched battle."

The Wall Street Journal sees the failure of the Primakov initiative as raising pressure on NATO to bring in ground troops (which the paper asserts, would be preponderantly American), and the paper cites a rising chorus of American pol and wonk voices calling for them. The paper quotes a defense think-tanker saying the success of such a ground operation would entail 200 to 500 American combat deaths. Also, the Journal is the first of the majors to report on the U.S. use in Yugoslavia of a classified technique for covertly jamming anti-aircraft missile radars, noting that Matt Drudge mentioned it first yesterday.

The WP's Michael Kelly cites what he calls the key "careless assumptions" behind the Clinton Kosovo policy: 1) insisting on a peace accord requiring Milosevic to accept foreign troops on Serb soil, while placing Kosovo on a path to independence; 2) thinking that Milosevic would swiftly back down from bombing alone; 3) thinking that we could merely degrade Milosevic's military and then go home; and 4) promising at the outset that there would be no ground campaign.

A NYT business piece reports that Emachines Inc., which makes PCs costing less than $600, is now the fourth-largest PC maker in the country. Not bad for a company founded in September, 1998.

And you should see what they do with the firewood. A WP front-pager reports that a Maryland county abolished its roadside cleanup sponsorship program rather than permit a KKK chapter to adopt a stretch of road as its own cleanup responsibility, one that would have been advertised by roadside signs. The paper quotes the reaction of a Klan spokesman: "There's nothing violent about us. We're a community group that does helping things: cutting firewood, mowing lawns, taking up collections for sick people, that sort of thing."