THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: TONY BLANKLEY, ELEANOR CLIFT,
ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE AND BILL SAMMON
TAPED FRIDAY, MAY 7, 1999
AIRED THE WEEKEND OF MAY 8-9, 1999
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Peace at hand.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: (Video Tape) This is the first time that the Russians have publicly said that they will support an international security, civilian force in Kosovo. This is a significant step forward and I was personally very pleased by it.
The deal to stop the U.S.-NATO bombing of Serbia has made a quantum leap. The US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada, and Russia - the G8 met in Bond, Thursday and formulated the details. The momentum for the deal come in part from poles that show the support for NATO air strikes has plummeted. In Germany, one third drop - 60 to 38 percent. And a majority of Germans, 52% now want bombing to halt - in fact, they want a unilateral halt.
The U.S. is similar, two thirds - a consensus, today want a negotiated settlement
The G8 plan:
One: End Serbian violence in Kosovo, now.
Two: Withdraw Serb paramilitary and Serb military police from Kosovo. No mention of a regular uniform Serb army.
Three: Safe and free return of refugees.
Four: An interim administration for Kosovo to be decided by U.N. Security Council, noteworthy because the U.N. decides. Not NATO. Not the U.S. Except collectively, through their U.N. membership.
Five: A political self-government framework, to be decided by the U.N., for Kosovo later.
Six: Disarm the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA, sometimes called the UCK.
Seven: An armed international security presence in Kosovo. Silence on NATO as such, being in the security presence, neither affirming nor denying.
And, eight: The U.N. Security Council must adopt the whole plan.
Question: Are there any deal killers in the GA plan? Arnaud de Borchgrave.
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: Of course there are deal killers, John, because there will be a lot of haggling over the composition of the U.N. peacekeeping force and so forth. But don't forget the NATO five demands have suddenly become the GA plan, which was just outlined, which are remarkably similar to the six points that Milosevic told me about in an interview a week ago. Everything is almost identical, with two caveats on the Yugoslavian part: one, simultaneous withdrawal of NATO forces from their borders, and at that point they would also pull out the 100,000 troops that he claims are presently in Kosovo.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN On that simultaneity question. Does he stop about stopping the bombing simultaneously with his beginning to withdraw?
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: Correct. But what the GA plan says is "verifiable end of violence." The way he puts it is, "end of all hostilities, including the bombings."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN So is there a split there? Is a split particularly upon the timing of the ending of the bombing and the timing of the beginning of his withdrawal?
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: It doesn't strike me, John, as an unbridgeable gap. I think that we're in the home stretch.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN You do?
MR. SAMMON: The White House has said for some time that if they're in retreat, they are not going to continue bombing. So, I mean, I think that's something that can be worked out.
I think we're in danger of reading too much into this deal as a peace deal for Kosovo. I think what this deal really is is a deal that brings the U.S. and Russia back together. They were talking about World War III a couple of week ago. Now they are negotiating, trying to negotiate a deal.
We are repairing the rift between the U.S. and Russia. We have not reached anything with Yugoslavia yet. That's the key distinction.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN But you're not too optimistic.
MR. SAMMON: I'm not.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Now, you just got back from Brussels and Bonn, right?
MR. SAMMON: I just got back from Germany, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Do you have any stories to tell?
MR. SAMMON: I think that the story is that the Clinton administration - did you see him in Bonn? The clip you just showed.
He said this is very significant because this is the first time the Russians have agreed to this international peacekeeping force that's armed. But yet he never drew attention to the fact that they talked about World War III a couple of weeks ago. They dismissed that and said, well, you know, they're wagging the dog. Yeltsin's got an impeachment vote coming up. That's for domestic consumption. Don't pay any attention to what the Russians are saying.
Now that the Russians are saying something we like we're saying, look at the Russians - look what they've said. So I think it's being a little bit overhyped.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Well, he's also stroking the Russians.
MR. SAMMON: Of course. And we need to do that. It's a step in the right direction. But I think we're overrating this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: The Russians are siding with NATO, and Milosevic is isolated. Milosevic has nobody to back him up any more.
You know, when Yeltsin blabbered on about World War III, nobody thought he was serious, least of all the Russians, and the Russians are not going to destroy their relationship with the West to support pogroms led by Mr. Milosevic. This is the beginning of a peace deal. But there's still probably weeks of bombing before Mr. Milosevic blinks. The eyelids are beginning to droop, but he's not there yet.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Do you think what she's saying is true? For example, this G8 peace plan says nothing about NATO being at its core in the repatriation advance. Correct?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN And Madeleine Albright has been insisting upon that. In fact, a NATO force is nowhere mentioned in the GA peace plan.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well. Keep in mind, the… I mean, I…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN So how can this be accommodating - how can Russia be said to be accommodating NATO?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I think what you see here is the benchmark from which the negotiation will go further south on the American or the NATO position. So this is better than we're going to get as the final deal. And even this one is pretty marginal, because as you point out, NATO does not have the guaranteed presence that had been the sine qua non of an agreement only a week ago.
So it seems to me that while… If the present agreement could be made and all the ambiguities worked to our side's advantage, you could say this is a reasonably successful agreement. We're in real jeopardy of it being a very bad agreement.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Isn't the most remarkable thing in this document the introduction of the United Nations in the key, central and dominant role?
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: Which is exactly what Milosevic has been trying to obtain - is to get NATO out of any kind of settlement. And NATO, incidentally, is not mentioned in the GA plan, but the U.N. Security Council is, where Russia and China have a veto. Now we're going to argue about the composition of the force, John, but they are already thinking of three non-NATO members as part of that force who were not involved in the bombing campaign: Spain, Portugal and Greece.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Was it clear to you when you talked to Milosevic that he wants to run Kosovo from day one of the repatriation, with his civil servants and with his police force? In other words, he does not want this to be modeled on Carlos Westmundorf's (sp) - who, by the way, last week I misascribed nationality to, he's a Spaniard - and what he is doing now in Bosnia, he is ruling with an iron fist, and he is dictating such things as the license plate numbers that civilians will be required to make. And he is an outsider. He is the head of the U.N. civil committee that is administering Bosnia.
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: Well, Milosevic knows he is going to have to accept a U.N. High Commissioner. Two names have been mentioned to him, that were mentioned to me off the record. He told me…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN But he doesn't want those high commissioners to have the same kind of authority as a Westmundorf (sp).
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: Oh, no. They're going to haggle over that, too, John, but there will be a U.N. . . .
MR. MCLAUGHLIN What else would he haggle over? Would he haggle over the armaments that would be carried? Would he, for example, accept not only the side arms, et cetera, but would he also accept Bradley vehicles, or APC's?
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: I don't know about that, but when he told me that the U.N. peacekeeping force would only carry side arms, I smiled and I said, "The first thing that you do when a U.N. unit moves in is to build perimeter defense, and you can't defend a perimeter with side arms." And he smiled, and nodded.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN One more question. What about the composition of that force? Suppose it has…
Well, he doesn't want American leadership, and it's not dual key, according to the message that just came out, for example Russian and French. Who's going to lead the force?
A and B, could they bring in Ukrainians and Scandinavians, and the countries that played a small role, if any - Portugal and Spain - and in addition, the new members, Hungary and Poland?
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: He noted, when I mentioned Russia, Ukraine, Ireland - being a non-NATO member of the European…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Why did you raise Ireland? Or did you?
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: No. I forget how this exactly happened. You have the text. But in any case, Ireland came up as a non-NATO member of the European Union.
MR. SAMMON: I think it's important to have the Russians and the Ukrainians in the peacekeeping force. They're going to be very helpful, as they have been in Bosnia, when little dustups occur. The Serbs don't trust going to the Americans to get some satisfaction. They go to the Russians. I've been there when they've negotiated these things.
MS. CLIFT: You know, I don't care who… I don't know whose name or whose initials they put on the door of this operation, but you're going to have American and British troops have got to be at the core of this, or the refugees are never going to go back.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN What's the core? Is the core leadership?
MS. CLIFT: The core is going to be American…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN What is the core? Does the core mean that an American or a Brit must lead? If so, Milosevic will never buy it.
MS. CLIFT: Well, let's see. NATO's not finished bombing yet. What if Milosevic…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Do you want to put the Russians in?
MS. CLIFT: Wait a second. The Russians are going to be a big part of this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Do you want the Russians to lead it?
MS. CLIFT: But Milosevic doesn't have a winning hand, here.
MR. SAMMON: Give them a sector.
MS. CLIFT: The… Belgrade is being reduced to rubble, the mood has gone from…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Belgrade is not reduced to rubble.
MS. CLIFT: …defiance to grimness. He's moving troops from Belgrade into Kosovo. They are going to be easier to hit. He doesn't have a winning hand here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Do you want to add something here?
MR. BLANKLEY: Just briefly. The key test is whether the refugees come back. They won't come back if it's led by Russians and Ukrainians. If the British and the Americans aren't leading it, you won't have a successful return of the refugees.
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: Well, in any case, before the refugees are going to go back, it seems to me you have to rebuild a hell of a lot…
MR. SAMMON: And the American taxpayers get to pay again, right?
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: Yeah, but that's going to take a long, long…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Why not…
MS. CLIFT: …will write the check for that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Why don't they put the French in there with the Russians? They have already ruled out what they call dual key.
A premature exit. When will the bombing stop?
MR. SAMMON: I think we could go through summer.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Really? You're talking about Labor Day.
MR. SAMMON: You have the good weather, and you can get a lot more done.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Bombing another a month or so, and then you're going to see 60,000 troops going in there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: My sense is that the President is leaning toward a quicker decision than that. I don't know whether it's two or three or four weeks, but I think he wants to get it over with.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Two to four weeks. Arnaud.
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: Support for bombing is eroding very rapidly in western European capitals. We're running out of tomahawks and cruise missiles. I say two weeks.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN I say two weeks, also, particularly with the news of the drop in support with Germany. Germany may be the weak link.
When we come back, God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Issue Two: Mrs. Robinson.
MARY ROBINSON: (From videotape.) I think this terrible term, collateral damage, should not be used. We should be talking about death, terrible injuries to - and also severe suffering of - the civilian population, which no longer has water or electricity. If it is not possible to spot civilian buses on bridges, stop bombing bridges.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN These are the words of Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and former President of Ireland. High Commissioner Robinson came close this week to an open condemnation of NATO bombing. She bracketed NATO with Serbia and the KLA for scrutiny for war crimes.
Clearly Mary Robinson is no Kofi Annan . She's not pulling punches on her critique of U.S.-NATO for its horrific air raids against Serbia. And she is not letting U.S.-NATO do an end run around her the way U.S.-NATO did around Kofi Annan in violation of international law. Making us, some say, the outlaw.
In the NATO bombings, large numbers of civilians have been incontestably killed. Civilian installations targeted on the basis that they are - or could be - of military application. What we are in effect saying is that war making has become the tool of peacemaking.
Her criticisms echo others worldwide who have condemned NATO for violating the secular, moral and ethical canons adopted and enforced by civilizations for centuries. Principles as to when, why and how a war believed to be just may be waged.
MARY ROBINSON: (From videotape.) The point I was making was that it was important to look at the underlying fundamental principles, including the principle of proportionality. The principle of proportionality safeguards civilians in times of conflict. And there is a very real sense that civilians are too much at risk. Think of elderly people, those who rely on medical equipment, to keep their lifesaving machines on, and young babies in incubators. And so we must have a sense of proportion.
Two: War is a last resort.
All peaceful diplomatic alternatives were hardly exhausted at Rambouillet. It was not an agreement. It was a take it or leave it, in your face, dicta. Trying to force Belgrade to acquiesce to independence for Kosovo in three years. Sign, or get bombed.
Three: Probability of success.
NATO bombs have triggered massive and anguished refugee dislocations in Kosovo, incinerated much of Yugoslavia, killed over 500 Serb civilians, and wounded 4,000 others. Some success.
Well, we intended success. Yes. Then piled blunder on blunder.
Little wonder Mary Robinson reminds us that the International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia at The Hague, the ICTY, has jurisdiction to see whether war crimes have been committed not only by the KLA and the Serbs, by U.S.-NATO.
"Under the tribunal statute, the prosecutor may investigate war crimes committed by any of the parties of the armed conflict. The actions of individuals belonging to Serb forces, the KLA or NATO may therefore come under scrutiny."
Question: Do these criteria for a just war apply to NATO? If so, does NATO flunk the test?
MR. SAMMON: Yes, they apply to NATO. They apply to any party in a war. Anyone should be held accountable to war crimes laws. And no, NATO doesn't flunk the test. I think to suggest that NATO officials are war criminals because of collateral damage is profane in comparison to the ethnic cleansing, the mass rapes, the destruction of homes that has been going on by the Serbian forces. It is unfortunate, and it's tragic, whenever a civilian is killed by an errant bomb, but that's war. That's what happens. And there's going to be some of that, and we have to accept that.
MS. CLIFT: Right. An accidental killing of civilians, an errant bomb, as you put it, has nothing… There's no comparison between that and the determined extermination of a people. Milosevic presided over the deaths of a quarter of a million of people and the creation of two million refugees.
And, John, would you like to have a wager right now, whether anyone is going to attempt to bring NATO forward as a war criminal when this is finally over?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, this is an interesting moment. You know, up until now, it's always been Hitler types who have been counted war criminals. We are moving into a period where we may start applying the war criminal test at a lower level of violence than we used to. And I don't think this time NATO is going to be found guilty, but I think it's a signal that in the future more sides have to be careful about what they do - militarily.
MR. DE BROCHGRAVE: 160 million people have been killed in wars this century alone, most of them civilians. And remarkably few civilians have been killed in all this bombing during the past six weeks. You mentioned the 400 and something - it's about 1200 now. And that's very little.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN I think that's - that's maybe a Serb figure. I think they cut it down to 500.
MR. DE BROCHGRAVE: Did they? Anyway, it's remarkably little, considering the extent of this war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Incidentally, a Doctors for Peace convoy was targeted, according to the convoy, about 150 clicks southeast of Pristina in Kosovo, and the question has been raised whether NATO should be charged with international crimes.
I would point out to you that a distinguished columnist, Robert Novak, said this -- in a very interesting column about the background of General Clark, he says, Novak says, "Civilian damage and casualties in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia are too widespread to be accidental."
What do you say to that, Mr. Sammon?
MR. SAMMON: I think it's - it's a bit much. I don't think they're that widespread. I think you're going to have an occasion - when you have these many sorties, these many bombs being dropped you are going to have some casualties.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Have you read this column about how rapid Clark is, and the reasons why? Perhaps you should.
Do you have a comment on that? Do you think that Novak is overreaching?
MR. DE BROCHGRAVE: I think it's a bit of an overreach, John, and I think that it's the wrong time…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Well, does this…
MR. SAMMON: …to…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Does this affect your judgement, any, Mr. de Borchgrave?
"NATO hit residential area in Nic, Yugoslavia's third largest city overnight, killing eleven people and injuring dozens in a strike near a hospital. Cluster bombs appeared to have done it, because fragments were found."
What do you make of that?
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: Well, accidents do happen. To think that that was deliberate is silly and dumb.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN All right. Before you dismiss this so hurriedly, let me point out to you that the indictments that have been brought against Bosnian individuals who have been charged with war crimes include bombarding villages and towns and - what do we… Repeatedly. And what do we say about the repeated hits against the television tower where there is no government propaganda?
MS. CLIFT: I believe it is defensible, because I think it is part of the propaganda machine. And when people are gone after as war criminals for bombarding villages and doing it for ethnic cleansing, that's not what NATO…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN There are also over 200…
MS. CLIFT: That's not what NATO is doing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN …purely commercial, private businesses…
MS. CLIFT: And the sad, the sad part…
MR. MCLAUGHLIN There were no government officials in that building.
MS. CLIFT: The sad part is that the Bosnian…
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, look, look.
MS. CLIFT: Let me finish. The Bosnians cited as war criminals, nobody's gone after them and prosecuted them, which made Milosevic think he could get away with this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Issue…
Do you want to say something quickly?
MR. BLANKLEY: Just very quickly, yeah. I don't think there's any question but that the civilian bombings have been intentional. I just don't think that that constitutes a war crime by itself. Killing civilians in war is part of the larger strategy.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN When it is governed by the principle of proportionality, et cetera.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. And that's where the numbers come in.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Issue Three: Revolting? You decide.
VIDEO CLIP: The President and the First Lady of the United States.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN The White House Correspondents Banquet is a glitzy, once a year affair attended by the President and the First Lady. In Mr. Clinton's remarks at the dinner last weekend, the President surprised his audience with a one-liner that, commented one columnist, was perhaps the most revolting spectacle of the year. Clinton complained that the events over the past year -- i.e., Lewinsky, impeachment, the Senate trial - did not even break into the museum of news, called the Newseum, 50 top news stories of the century. The President noted that his performance in office ranked only 53.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: (From videotape.) I mean, what does a guy have to do to make the top 50 around here?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Well, after the laughter evaporated, sobriety set in. And the Clinton comment is still generating a buzz in Washington.
"The President not only made light of the fact that he had wrecked his second term in office, disgraced the presidency, harmed his country, undermined the law, been impeached and held in contempt of court, exposed himself as an obsessive liar and conscienceless sexual predator, but he did this with his wife sitting next to him." So writes Michael Kelly, Editor, National Journal of Periodicals.
Question: Is Kelly right? I ask you.
MR. SAMMON: Hard to argue with it. It was in incredibly poor taste, and Hilary was barely concealing her pain.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: The spirit of the evening, where awards were given for pursuing the President, he stood up, took it with humor and joked about it. Kelly is all wet. He also went after Jesse Jackson, who did a good thing in getting those gentlemen released.
MR. BLANKLEY: Kelly is right. And this is not the first time the President has done this. I think a lot of people are getting very tired going to events where the President giggles at his shameful conduct.
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE After this bungled war he may go from 53 to 49.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN It was not self-deprecation. It was a return of the gloat. It was not a joke; it was a taunt. Kelly is right.
We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Predictions. Bill.
MR. SAMMON: The reconstruction of Kosovo will emerge as a project that will cost tens of billions of dollars very soon.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN And who will pay the price tag? Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: European Union.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Quickly.
MS. CLIFT: Milosevic will try to work a deal through the U.N. to get immunity from prosecution as a war criminal.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: Janet Reno's Justice Department investigation of the Chinese scandal will try to focus on the FBI and the lab and try to cover the Department of Energy and the White House.
MR. DE BORCHGRAVE: Major refugee scandal growing in Albania, Albania Mafia exporting young Kosovar refugees to the fleshpots of Western Europe.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN Fasten your seatbelts. Madeleine Albright will not survive the Kosovo blunder and will not remain as Clinton's Secretary of State. After a decent interval, George Mitchell will succeed her.