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Reese Schonfeld Headshot

The Real Lessons of Kosovo

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None of the comparisons between the NATO/U.S. war in Kosovo and the war in Libya recognize the importance of the 1999 airstrikes on Belgrade in our winning that war. It was not until U.S. and other NATO aircraft bombed and destroyed much of Belgrade's infrastructure that hostilities in Kosovo ended. We showed no mercy to the Serbian people; according to Wikipedia, we destroyed their "bridges, military facilities, official government facilities and factories". We leveled power plants, water plants and the government broadcasting TV tower as part of Operation Noble Anvil--a typical DOD code-name for "let's hit these guys where they live". Sixteen months later, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic resigned.

No one wants to wait sixteen months for Muammar Gaddafi to get out, but it sure doesn't look like he's considering it now. He won't leave until his followers desert him, and they won't desert him until they begin to feel the same pain that Serbians did after Nobel Anvil. I admit that I am feeling angry as I write this because two Western journalists were killed in embattled Misrata yesterday. As someone who sent cameramen into wars and revolutions for 20 years, I take their deaths as almost a personal insult. They were there to show the world Misrata's misery. The city has been pounded by Gaddafi's forces for over a month; its poorly armed civilian population battle house to house with Gaddafi's professional army. The army seems to be winning and what happens next may well be a massacre. The journalists, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, were there to bear witness, now they are victims.

Meanwhile, NATO advances a timid strategy. Its airstrikes have been aimed at carefully selected targets in order to avoid "civilian" casualties. Tripoli is largely unscathed, while Misrata is in ruins.
If we learned anything from the war in Kosovo it is that he who suffers the most -- he who is in ruins -- loses the war. I believe it is about time that NATO, with the full participation of the U.S. Air Force, inflict pain upon those who support Gaddafi, civilian or not. In order to win, we must make Gaddafi's people suffer for his misdeeds. Then and only then will they throw him out, then and only then will the war end.

Two months ago we went into a war convinced that halfway measures would ensure our success. That hasn't worked. It's about time (and too late for the journalists who were killed yesterday) that we remember the real lessons learned in Kosovo--get all the way in or give it up. Use Tripoli as Belgrade was used or let Libya work out its own problems. We're not doing much good now.