For the week of May 5, 1999  thru May 11, 1999  

No way to fight a war

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

One need not be a cynic to understand what was going on in Belgrade between the butcher of the Balkans, Slobodan Milosevic, and the shameless gadfly of U.S. politics, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, sometime preacher, sometime presidential candidate, always a publicity hog.

Milosevic was hoping to soften his image and wiggle out of war crimes charges by releasing three American GIs to Jackson, who once again showed up to exploit despair in the impossible hope of inflating a stature that suffers from an insatiable greed for publicity.

Picture this: Milosevic, a godless tyrant stained with the blood of thousands, holding hands with Jackson in prayer. Who was exploiting whom?

Meanwhile, bodies of Kosovo civilians killed by Milosevic’s terror troops pile up in mass graves, while Jackson, the self-anointed freelance negotiator, headed home believing – falsely – that he’d scored a triumph for peace by gaining freedom for a trio of soldiers.

The Rev. Jackson’s meddling, mostly for his own self-aggrandizement, is merely another signpost of the bizarre twists and turns of modern soldiering and diplomacy.

Jackson’s sortie into the arms of the enemy isn’t new. Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general and son of a Supreme Court justice, regularly popped up in outlaw countries to sympathize with anti-American tyrants such as Iran’s ayatollahs about shabby treatment from the United States.

Pity the post-Cold War U.S. military: It finds itself cast in the surreal role of a theatrical company for politicians.

Remember Lt. Scott O’Grady, the Air Force F-16 pilot shot down in Bosnia a few years ago? He was snatched from his wet, cold hiding place by a fearless U.S. special operations team – then proclaimed a "hero" by the Pentagon at White House prodding and given full presidential honors, the possibility of a film of his life, a lucrative speaking tour, and a book contract for doing little more than keeping himself alive until rescued.

Men who saved O’Grady behind enemy lines at the risk of their own necks were ignored – confirming that the whole episode was designed by White House spin doctors to create feel-good news by deifying O’Grady as heroic during a messy political adventure.

American military commanders also find themselves whipped around by politicians who react to polls, plus pressured by a public that somehow believes military life can be risk-free.

Then there’s NATO’s war by committee against Milosevic--politicians of 19 countries even voting on which targets to attack, a function customarily left to the military.

Meanwhile, the American Congress votes no-confidence in President Clinton and NATO’s strategies, surely misinterpreted by Milosevic as soft domestic support for the U.S. commander-in-chief’s authority, and an invitation to prolong Yugoslavia’s refusal to capitulate.

The eeriest wrinkle of all, however, is the appearance of Russia on the scene, posing as a peacemaking go-between, the same Russia that during the Cold War threatened nuclear war and enslaved millions behind an Iron Curtain of tyranny.

The world is screwy.

Murphy is the retired publisher of The Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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