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14 May, 2009 09:52

"America has no objective in Afghanistan"

Doug Bandow, a former Presidential special assistant who did not want to see the United States get involved in the Balkan conflict more than a decade ago.

Bandow discusses American intervention, foreign policy and the new administration with RT.

Ten years ago, just a few days before the United States attacked Serbia, Doug Bondow testified before the US Congress, urging US officials to reconsider getting involved in this conflict. In the aftermath, some of his predictions, although they were largely ignored, turned out to be correct.

RT: In your testimony there is an underlying theme, a question that you asked Congress a decade ago – why Kosovo? You have outlined all those other conflicts occurring at our time: Somalia, Rwanda, Iraq… All those years later, have you ever got the answer to that question?

Doug Bandow: No, no one really answered it to my satisfaction. I think clearly the issue was Europe was taken far more seriously by the US government than anywhere else. It was much less a humanitarian issue and much more a geopolitical issue, even though they talked in humanitarian terms. The feeling was we cannot let this go on in Europe. That really was the issue. If we came to Sierra Leone or some other place – well it's too bad, but we do not care that much. That's certainly my analysis and nobody has ever suggested to me any better explanation.

RT: You also said that war mongering in the name of peace is an oxymoron. Could you think of other instances in US foreign policy that echoes this sentiment?

D.B.: I think Iraq is a very good example. The Iraq War, although it did get rid of Saddam Hussein who really was a very monstrous dictator, has created a conflict which has killed several thousand allied soldiers and, by estimates, from a hundred thousand to a million Iraqis. To me that's tragic. What we managed to set off in US foreign policy and set off in Iraq, is a humanitarian catastrophe. So to try and present this in humanitarian terms I think this is extremely foolish. I think these are the sort of things we saw in Kosovo where, after the initial American attacks, we saw the mass expulsion of Albanians. Then, once the allies were successful, a mass expulsion of Serbs. We should not view war as being something you can treat as a humanitarian operation.

RT: You also warned at that time that the US getting involved would encourage European dependence on the United States as sort of taking care of their conflicts. Do you think that this could have been just a continuation for the US of that PR game that they had largely won in the case of Bosnia, when then President Bill Clinton had to come and save the day. Do you think that for the US it was a good thing because it allowed them to say “Okay, Europe, you cannot take care of your own conflicts, so we have to step in and save the day”?

D.B.: I think that it may be a good thing for the US Government, but I don't think it is a good thing for America. My view is that it was one thing for the US to say during the Cold War that it was going to protect Western Europe. It is quite another thing to say that today with no Cold War, with no reasonable threat to the Europe – why should the US take the lead constantly? Why shouldn't the Europeans, in my view, grow up?

You know if you look at a map, what happens in the Balkans matters a lot more to Germany and France and Italy than it matters to the US.

These are wealth countries, these are powerful countries. It is in American interest, in my view, to step back and say “This really is your issue, you decide how to handle it, you decide what recourses to put into it, and you take the responsibility for the decision in terms of the relationships with Russia and with other countries where these things are inevitable, have impact, so this should not be an American issue.”

RT: Speaking of the Balkans and Russia you had written that intervention there risks losing that far more important game involving Russia that it would exacerbate tensions already inflamed by the expansion of NATO. Looking at the US-Russia relations under the Bush administration and even now, was this a sort of beginning of the end – this massive deterioration of the relations between the two nations?

D.B.: I think that the Balkan’s intervention was critical in that, where the US demonstrated that it was not at all concerned about Russian interests, it was not going to treat Russia as a serious power, and it was not going to consult with Russia in a serious way over these issues. The Russian government to be involved had to make that emergency move of Russian troops into Pristina. Even then the general in charge at the time wanted the British to basically expel the Russians from Pristina airport, and the response of the British general to his critic was, and quite rightly so, “I am not going to start World War Three for you.” That showed the carelessness and the callousness. To my mind the US-Russia relationship is far more important. I have criticisms of the Russian government today, but to my mind these relationships are more critical for both nations, critical for world peace, critical for working together. It makes no sense for the US to have treated Russia the way that it did, very dismissively, in the way that I think angered not only the Russian government, but also the Russian people.
RT: Looking at Kosovo now, and you know relations between Russia and the US, do you still stick to your stance? Was it a mistake for the United States to get involved?

D.B.: Absolutely. What we see today in Kosovo is a continuation of unfinished business.

The US apparently thought that it could bludgeon both Russia and Serbia into accepting Kosovo. They have not. There are about 50-55 recognitions around the world, that is less than a third of governments in the world. It doesn't have UN membership and it is not likely to be able to sustain itself in Northern Kosovo, where Serbs are the majority, without allied military.

So this is a problem that increases instability. It’s a very grave mistake. Europe remains disunited because there are countries that have not recognized Kosovo, and it clearly continues to be a bone of contention between US and Russia. There are enormously important issues of arms control, Iran, other issues at stake… Kosovo is not that important.

RT: You were there, you talked to people. What would happen if the US back then did listen to the UN, would things be better or worse? What kind of situation could we see?

D.B.: The situation in Kosovo is not likely to be good under any scenario, the problem is you had a period of time where, under Tito, the Serbs were mistreated under the local government, by the Albanians. The Milosevic government was a bad government, it used a lot of brutality against the ethnic Albanians, but of course the Kosovo Liberation Army itself is a brutal organization. Had the US not gotten involved I think there would be an ongoing civil war there, an ongoing guerilla conflict. I don't know how that would have worked out. It may have gotten worse. Nevertheless, what happened after the US came in was about a quarter of a million Serbs and Jews and gypsies were kicked out. We saw three years ago another wave of violence against ethnic Serbs.

So, American involvement didn’t stop the violence, it merely changed who the violence was directed against. I don't view that as a success. Whether or not these young people were better or worse frankly depends on who you are. If you are a high-level Kosovo Liberation Army operative involved in drug trade or other things and are potentially making a lot of money – yes that is probably a pretty good deal for you. I wouldn't say that translates into a gain for humanity, however.

RT: The KLA for the most part is in charge there. A lot of people across the world say that they are terrorists. Is there a kind of hypocrisy there on the part of the US to pick and choose who they refer to as terrorists?

D.B.: Before the US intervene there, the US diplomats actually called them terrorists. KLA operated like guerilla groups, usually they do operated brutally. They tried to spark a crackdown, they attacked not only the officials of the regime they do not like, but also they attacked anyone they viewed as a collaborator. This is very brutal. This is the way guerilla groups operate. There is certainly a tendency on the American side to decide some groups are friends and we treat them rather differently than the other groups. So obviously foreign policy, despite discussion of humanitarianism, in many cases has nothing to do with it at all. American foreign policy is very often hypocritical.

RT: Now Richard Holbrook, who was very involved in Kosovo, is now a special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. What does it say in terms of the foreign policy and the whole notion of change that Barack Obama campaigned so heavily on? What does it say about the same people seem to be in power?

D.B.: Well of course Barack Obama would probably respond that he wants a change from the Bush administration, not necessarily a change from the predecessor of the Bush administration, but of course you are right. In terms of the US foreign policy there is not a lot of change here. There is some change from the Bush administration, but even there the change is fairly small. We are seeing an increase of involvement in Afghanistan, an increase in troop levels in Afghanistan, no change in policy towards Kosovo, no dramatic change in policy towards Europe. I think a better policy towards Russia but the question is where on substance will it go? Maybe it is the issue of missile defence. We are talking about really small adjustments. We are not talking about a real rethinking of America's approach. They are not talking dramatically differently about Ukraine and Georgia than the Bush administration had, so I am not convinced we are not going to see a lot of change. That is rhetoric, not substance.

RT: Now continuing on with Barack Obama's foreign policy and his deploying 17,000 more troops into Afghanistan. A handful of Congressmen have written letters to Barack Obama, just like you did 10 years ago, urging him to halt military escalation in that region. What is your prognosis on Afghanistan and the situation there?

D.B.: The real challenge in Afghanistan is what America’s goal is. This is the question I had the military people ask me and I do not know what it is. The obvious reason, and I think justified to go there initially, was to take out Al-Qaeda training camps and displace the regime that had allowed terrorists to set up training operations there. Now we are seven years later and the question is what is America doing? What is America’s goal? It is very hard to know. I think the idea of trying to establish a central government that has control throughout the country that is going to be pro-American is foolish. We’ve certainly seen the Soviets run into that, as well as British before them. It's called the ‘Graveyard of Empires’ for a reason. I think the US has to be prepared to negotiate, to back away, accept that in Afghanistan, although it may be very messy and we might not have the government that we would like, but as long as it is not engaged in terrorism and it does not allow terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan, I think that is going to be a question of negotiation. Work with some of the Taliban who are willing to live with that, accept a decentralized Afghanistan and demilitarize. I don't think that further militarization of this conflict is going to be the answer. So I am afraid that if Obama does not seriously engage in a new approach in terms of looking for diplomatic options and figuring out what his objective really is, the US could find itself here for another six years not achieving anything.