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On Point

Holding the Dictators Accountable


by Austin Bay
March 15, 2006

Serbian dictator Slobodon Milosevic didn't invent the "creeping war of aggression." Prior to the invasion of Poland, Hitler pursued one via intimidation and diplomacy; Imperial Japan attacked China bite by bite.

Milosevic, however, was one of the first to pursue "creeping war" (with some success) in the post-Cold War era, and certainly the first to practice it in post-Cold War Europe.

Milosevic observed what happened to Saddam Hussein's more direct method of aggression and empire restoration. (Remember, Saddam called Kuwait a lost Iraqi province.) Saddam's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait ended with Saddam losing an army.

While Saddam continued his genocidal machinations after losing in Kuwait, Milosevic calculated that he wouldn't survive an army-wrecking debacle.

Saddam sought a "Greater Iraq"; Milosevic fought for a "Greater Serbia." After he had killed, exiled or intimidated a sufficient number of Serb democrats to solidify his Belgrade power base, he began his just-above-the-radar war designed to play on European military reluctance and U.N. political weakness.

I don't come to this subject in hindsight. In November 1991, an article I wrote for The Dallas Morning News fingered Milosevic as the criminal mastermind directing a strategy designed "to create a 'greater Serbia' by winning a 'creeping' war of aggression." The article also described the technique: "(The Serb military) attacks, takes a niche of Croatia, halts and waits for the international community's diplomatic rhetoric to subside. Then it attacks again." I also argued Milosevic had to be stopped because "Serbian war-making encourages pocket fascists in Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. who would use civil war as a means of gaining power." (The article is available at austinbay.net/blog/?p=994.)

Note that Milosevic's war in 1991 was fought against Croatia. Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnian Muslims didn't begin in earnest until early 1992. Croatia is predominantly Catholic Christian; Serbia predominantly Orthodox.

When Milosevic turned up dead in his Dutch jail cell last week, a few brazen and misguided voices portrayed him as a victim of "U.S. aggression" (i.e., the 1999 Kosovo War) or a misunderstood defender of Europe who fought Muslim radicals. The second assertion is certainly false. Milosevic's first victims were democratic reformers and other European Christians. They were the first of many murdered as Milosevic moved "from red to brown" -- morphed from communist to ultra-nationalist fascist.

For Milosevic, that amounted to little more than a shift in rhetoric. Nazis and communists are cut from the same hideous human mold. They share a common disdain for liberalism and a disregard for human life. German Nazis joked that their cadres included "beefsteaks" -- party members "brown (shirt)" on the outside and "red" inside.

The world doesn't do a good job deterring "creeping wars." Iran's bait-and-switch quest for nuclear weapons is a diplomatic, economic and covert "creep." Saddam's battle against post-Desert Storm U.N. sanctions was based on Saddam's bet that over time the United Nations' attention would wane and he could corrupt the sanctions regimen. Sudan's genocidal war in Darfur definitely follows the "attack-halt-wait" script.

Why the problem? There are many reasons, with structural weaknesses in the United Nations among them. But personal accountability is another. Vicious megalomaniacs like Milosevic and Saddam are certain they can outtalk, out-wait, out-corrupt, out-threaten and, when necessary, out-kill opponents domestic and foreign. These brutes never believe they will be held accountable.

Milosevic finally fell from power in 2000. However, he survived U.N. peacekeepers and the Croats' 1995 counteroffensive (an attack "advised" by the United States that led to the Dayton Accords). He even survived the American-led Kosovo War (a war that was not approved by the United Nations).

In concept, Milosevic's trial in the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia would finally hold a dictator accountable for his aggression in a court of law. But instead of by hangman, Milosevic went by heart attack and escaped conviction.

Despite the deadly serious charges, Milosevic's trial became an interminable farce. The Iraqis are doing a much better job with Saddam's trial than the international court did with Milosevic. Saddam's trial has moved forward despite Saddam's courtroom shenanigans (antics similar to Milosevic's shtick). Milosevic outtalked and out-waited. The Iraqi people and the United States won't let Saddam escape accountability for his aggression.

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