Von Clausewitz and Yugoslavia

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Sat Jul 29 02:11:00 MDT 1995


In the early 1980s, the _Wall Street Journal_ ran an interview
with the retiring Chief of Staff of the United States Army.  The
phrasing of the article and of the questions made it clear that
the _Journal_ believed the good general to be speaking on behalf
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a whole, although the rest of
them (as active duty officers) couldn't openly express
disagreement with Reagan administration policy.

In answer to a query about military intervention in Central
America, the general responded that the army, at least, had just
finished rebuilding itself after the disaster in Vietnam and that
a military intervention without a clear mission and widespread
popular support would simply undo all that had been accomplished.

Military intervention, he pointed out, is a tool of policy, and
is useless unless there is a civilian solution which can follow
it.  He saw little prospect that the U.S. could structure an
indigenous government for Nicaragua or El Salvador which would
enjoy enough popular support to allow the disengagement of U.S.
troops after they invaded, rather than a situation of perpetual
military occupation.  "If I could solve the problem  in El
Salvador by dropping in the 82nd Airborne, I would do it
tomorrow.  But we would just have to drop in the 101st Airborne
the day after."

I would suggest that the reason the "Great Powers" are so
hesitant to intervene in Yugoslavia, all considerations of greed
and cowardice aside, is that they see no clear object to be
obtained by such an intervention.  There is no indigenous force
they can impose as a government which has enough support to
maintain itself without outside military assistance.  That being
the case, they are playing a waiting game and hoping that
something will work itself out.  While it's quite true that much
of the responsibility for the present fratricidal conflict rests
with the Western powers, and Germany in particular, I don't think
they have any current coherent policy, nor are they likely to
have one in the near future.

If the great capitalist powers have no ability to impose a
solution, the left is in far worse shape.  If there was a strong
international working-class left, we could reasonably organize
toward an internationalist policy which would provide an
alternate pole of attraction to the Milosevics, Tudjmans and
Itzgbegovics, reviving the old (and still correct) socialist
program of a socialist federation of the Balkans as a rallying
point for Yugoslavs of all ethnicities.  But there is no such
force.  Worldwide, the left is the weakest it has been this
century, although there are a (very) few bright spots.

That being the case, to spin our wheels about what we demand of
the great powers, when we have neither the force to press our
demands nor the ability to follow up should they act upon our
sage advice or moral exhortation, is a waste of time at best.
What we need to do is solidarize ourselves with the peace and
independent working class forces in former Yugoslavia and the
Balkans as a whole, give them what assistance we can, and work to
rebuild the world socialist movement, the only force which can
prevent a perpetual recurrence of this type of conflict.  This
recogition of the limits of our abilities may not sit well with
some people, but I'd suggest that understanding your weaknesses
is a necessary step in overcoming them.

Tom Condit


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