The Independent on Sunday, 5-16-99


Worse than a mistake
The death of as many as 100 Albanian villagers in a Nato bombing raid 
on southern Kosovo may give Mr Blair pause, but it seems unlikely. 
Nothing so far has dented his Churchillian resolve. He will not rest, 
he has told us, until good has triumphed over evil. There will be 
setbacks along the way, to be sure, but "those who want a war that is 
perfect, with no mistakes, no errors, no civilians hurt, are not 
realistic about war". Let us be realistic, then. Nato's latest attack 
on civilians was a mistake, but it was an inevitable one. It is what 
happens when airmen are required to launch attacks from 15,000 feet. 
Perhaps, as Nato says, the target was "legitimate" and perhaps cluster 
bombs were not used. Nato spokesmen do not deliberately lie. Nevertheless, 
from the evidence so far available, what happened on Thursday night in 
Korisa borders on the criminal. That much, indeed, may be said about any 
action in this conflict: Nato's war against Serbia contravenes 
international law. 

The illegality of the war is one reason why this newspaper has opposed 
it from the start. There are other, equally pressing reasons. On 28 March, 
four days after the first wave of bombers went in, we wrote that no matter 
how bad things were in Kosovo, Nato's action would make them worse: the 
bombing would serve as a cover for death squads; the deployment of ground 
troops, should it occur, would sacrifice good lives in the name of bad 
policies. We pledged our support for British servicemen, but at the same 
time we insisted that such support did not exempt politicians from 

The Prime Minister does not like to be condemned. Even mild criticism 
agitates him. Last week, after Michael Howard had spoken of the "gross 
incompetence" of the Chinese embassy bombing, Mr Blair accused the 
Opposition - and by implication all those who are against the war - of 
undermining the morale of the armed services. It can't be long before he 
starts to tell us that careless talk costs lives. For there is an element 
of moral blackmail as well as hysteria in the Prime Minister's words. He 
would like to silence criticism by suggesting, however obliquely, that it 
puts the lives of British servicemen at risk: after all, demoralised soldiers 
and airmen are more vulnerable than those who are cheerful and confident. 
In fact, the people whose lives are seriously at risk at the moment are the 
Albanians and the Serbs. 

Not that we are impressed by Mr Howard's attack on the Government. The 
Tories have all along supported the bombing: they have backed the 
Government's aims and its means. They knew, as we all knew, that smart 
bombs would kill civilians and that the wrong targets would be hit. It 
is much too late for Mr Howard and the Tories to become scrupulous, far 
less contemptuous of Mr Blair's running of the war (not, incidentally, that 
Mr Blair has much to do with the running of what is an American show). All 
Mr Howard is doing now is to make political capital out of squalid tragedy. 
It may be what he is paid to do as an Opposition politician, but it would 
be foolish to take anything he says about this war seriously. 

It would be foolish, too, and disgusting, for opponents of the war to yield 
to moral triumphalism. Many good people support this war. They believe that 
it is a just response to Milosevic's abominable cruelty to the Kosovar 
Albanians. We do not. We believe that Milosevic's worst excesses in Kosovo 
have been made possible by this war; that a war begun to avert a human 
catastrophe has in fact created a human catastrophe. Milosevic alone is 
guilty of the crime of ethnic cleansing, but Nato has acted as his enabler. 
Today, however, the emphasis is on Nato's victims, not on Milosevic's. Last 
week, by cruel irony, Mr Blair accused the BBC of ignoring the plight of 
ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. They won't be this week, Prime Minister
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