Today's date:
Spring 2003


Milosevic and Saddam: Only When Bombs Fall Do Tyrants Topple

Veton Surroi, editor and publisher of Koha Ditore in Kosovo, was a leading player of the Kosovar resistance during the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999.

Pristina, Kosovo—If I were a member of the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein today, I would feel as I did five years ago, when I listened to the arguments, mainly from Europeans, about why military force should not have been used against Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia.
The arguments, in both cases, are similar. In both cases they have become part of the pre-bombing stalling tactics. Here is the litany: “Give peace a chance.” “Bombs cannot bring democracy.” “A military attack will threaten regional stability.” “The United States is using its military muscle to establish domination.” Each of these arguments was proven wrong in the case of Kosovo.

In the case of Kosovo, European stalling did not hold much ground. After Milosevic failed to grasp his last option for a peace deal at the Rambouillet negotiations, France and Germany were compelled to join the strong-willed American-British partnership to stop genocide in Kosovo.

Though peace was given a chance through European-sponsored negotiations, Milosevic only used those talks to entrench his position in Kosovo. In the end, it was only the bombing of Milosevic’s Serbia that stopped genocide of Kosovars and reversed the pattern of ethnic cleansing and ultimately allowed the return of almost a million refugees to their homes.

Bombs alone, of course, did not bring democracy, but they were a precondition for it: Kosovo has had the opportunity for the first time in its history to build democratic institutions. The debacle that brought NATO bombs raining down on Serbia was the beginning of Milosevic’s end. Today, Serbia is painfully and patiently building a democratic state.

The United States has not established its domination; in fact, it has more or less left this area to the responsibility of the European Union and the United Nations through its protectorate in Kosovo.

How does this compare to the run-up to a possible war with Iraq? The key reasons for opposing the war with Iraq shifted over the weeks leading up to conflict. First, key European powers stressed that they would oppose American unilateral action and called for UN blessing. Now that Security Council Resolution 1441, to which the Europeans agreed, authorizes de facto any necessary action against Saddam Hussein’s regime, they raise other arguments that range from “the case is not proven” to “you cannot bomb any regime that you dislike” to “this whole business is about America dominating Iraq’s oil fields.”

My experience in Kosovo with Milosevic suggests that the argument ought to be the other way around: Did anyone realistically expect that Saddam Hussein would leave power through his own will or through a democratic electoral process? If he doesn’t relinquish power in one of these ways, is there any other way in which the damage he is inflicting, not least against his own people, can be stopped? Saddam Hussein, a tyrant, is as much a threat to international humanitarian law, regional stability and world peace as Milosevic was. Yet, while the Balkans’ butcher is on trial for crimes against humanity at The Hague, his fellow tyrant was given the bene?t of the doubt in Baghdad.

That’s where war enters. If my experience is any guide, such a war will depose Saddam’s regime and create conditions for democracy for the people of Iraq. Since Saddam is of the same ilk as Milosevic, we know something about them both: Only falling bombs will shake them from their hold on power.

The world ought to remember how the war for Kosovo unfolded and how unfounded fears that so worried Europeans never materialized. They should remember from the case of Milosevic that it takes military might to topple tyrants, after everything, including negotiations or inspections, has failed. Change will only come when the bombs begin to fall.