My debate with a CNN journalist who was justifying wars

This e-mail exchange was a response to the article “World’s Right to Intercede,” an editorial  
posted on Monday, May. 28, 2007 in Philadelphia Inquirer. ( The article has been removed from the original address, but I am copying it at the bottom of this post.  

The author of this article is Frida Ghitis, a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, and a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. She is a former CNN producer and correspondent.

My view, which I explained here, is that any justification for any war is just a nice wrapper in which to put the bodies of innocent victims. Unfortunately this is not the claim of those who start wars or those who support them or justify them. It is also unfortunate that many people don’t have the time, energy, or necessary information to unwrap this nicely wrapped package. We often support, or simply fail to oppose, something that sounds good from the mouth of a politician, while not being aware what it really entails. I have seen the suffering and death of the innocent who felt the military “humanitarianism,” and I fail to understand how one person’s misery can be justified by claiming it was a necessary means for preventing another person’s misery. Well, it can’t, but the “wrapper” in which this claim is packaged looks nice and shiny. And, we humans tend to like shiny things. 

The email exchange between Ghitis and I:

On 5/28/07, PREDRAG RAJSIC wrote:
Dear Ms. Ghitis,
I was in Serbia in 1999. I don’t find the humanitarian bombing argument convincing. One of the reasons is: Croatia was not pressured not to expel 250,000 Serbs August 4th – 7th, 1995. There was no bombing then. There were no serious consequences to Croatia.
The other reason are civilian targets and casualties of NATO bombing in 1999. One murder does not justify another. You have probably seen the pictures.
The third reason is that most of the Albanians killed in Kosovo before March 24th 1999 were members of KLA, thus, not civilians.
The fourth reason is that the real exodus of Albanians started after March 24th, 1999.
The fifth reason is that there are much bloodiest conflicts in the world > that are not being addressed. If we follow the principle of human rights protection, there should be no discrimination among regions.
All this is not to say that there were no crimes against Albanians in Kosovo but these crimes, in my opinion, had little to do with the reasons for the bombing.
If you could please explain the humanitarian nature of NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, that would be greatly appreciated. 
Predrag Rajsic
Rresponse by Ghitis:
Dear Mr. Rajsic,
I too was in the region during that time and, as you know, my view is different.
The fact that action should have been taken in another place during another time, doesn’t mean it was wrong to take it later. If it was wrong to do nothing in 1995, it doesn’t make it wrong to take action in 1999.
The fact that there were civilian casualties from NATO also doesn’t mean it was wrong for NATO to intervene. Every war has innocent casualties. But war is sometimes justified to stop even worse atrocities. That’s the humanitarian rationale.
Humanitarian intervention is an evolving concept and it is definitely not applied evenly. You are certainly right about that. That doesn’t mean it is wrong to apply it at all.
 My response to Ghitis:
Dear Ms. Ghitis,
You say:”But war is sometimes justified to stop even worse atrocities. That’s the humanitarian rationale.”
This implies that you can predict the outcome of non-action and compare it to the outcome of action. Furthermore, this implies that there is a unit of measurement of atrocities.  It looks to me than the question whether bombing of Yugoslavia was right can never be answered because it is not known against which alternative outcome it would have to be measured…and how it would be measured. 
Following the same argument, the operations of the YU army and police were of humanitarian nature because they were trying to protect Kosovo non-Albanians from the KLA. And as evidence they could use 200,000 Serb refugees and about 3,000 killed after 1999.
The question is not whether the bombing was right or wrong but whether the humanitarian argument was the real reason for the bombing.
The same way the killing of Franz Ferdinand was not the real reason for WWI, I don’t believe that the Racak “massacre” was the real reason for bombing of Yugoslavia.
I received no response from Ms. Ghitis after this.
The article that prompted my comment was this:

World’s right to intercede
NATO’s intervention in Serbia in 1999, to rescue ethnic Albanians,
established a new doctrine: Genocide trumps sovereignty. That’s why the
U.N. will likely make Kosovo independent.
Frida Ghitis
writes on foreign affairs
In a few months, a new 10-foot statue of Bill Clinton will take its place
overlooking Bill Clinton Boulevard – in the city of Pristina, capital of
the breakaway province of Kosovo. Remember Kosovo? For a few months, it
captured our attention. Now, while the American public looks elsewhere, the
province is again becoming a test case for how much say the international
community will have within the borders of a sovereign nation.
The surprising answer – in Kosovo as in Darfur, and perhaps elsewhere – is
that this community can and must have a say. Kosovo may be the turning
point that lays noninterventionism down to a quiet sleep.
In 1999, the United States led a NATO force in a bombardment that
“persuaded” Serbian forces to leave the ethnic Albanian enclave in a
crumbling Yugoslavia. Kosovo was a province of Serbia. Unlike the Serbs,
however, the Kosovars were ethnic Albanians, Muslims, who had resented the
central government in Serbia for years. When ultra-nationalist Slobodan
Milosevic took Yugoslavia by military storm after the end of the Cold War,
separatist guerrillas in Kosovo came under ruthless attack from his army.
The world had done too little too late to protect civilians in other parts
of the now-defunct Yugoslavia, allowing thousands of Bosnians and Croats to
die and millions to become displaced in independence wars against Serbs.
Faced with renewed carnage in the Balkans – Serbian forces had killed about
10,000 Kosovars – Clinton finally decided to act.
With its NATO allies, the United States went to war to protect Muslims.
After a 78-day bombardment, Serbian forces withdrew, and Kosovo became an
international protectorate.
Now, eight years later, the time has come to decide whether Kosovo will be
an independent nation – as the overwhelming majority of its population
wants – or remain an autonomous region in Serbia, as the Serbs demand, with
strong support from Russia.
Serbia considers Kosovo a spiritual, historical center of the nation. But
ethnic Albanians have always made up the vast majority of the population.
In a tragic, ironic turn of events, ethnic Albanians, the beneficiaries of
Western help, have expelled 200,000 ethnic Serbs from the province since
war ended.
In March, U.N. Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of
Finland, proposed granting de facto independence to Kosovo under European
supervision. The plan envisions full independence and acceptance of both
Kosovo and Serbia into the European Union.
The Serbian government has emphatically rejected the plan. With the
exception of Russia, which holds veto power, it appears that all other
members of the U.N. Security Council plan to vote for approval.
The principal objection from Belgrade and Moscow is that the plan sets a
dangerous precedent. If the international community can vote in favor of a
separatist movement, slicing away a big piece of a country, what’s to stop
it from doing it elsewhere? Moscow worries about places like Chechnya,
where Russian forces have waged a brutal war against separatists.
Russia may be justified in worrying about Chechnya, but the larger worry –
about international interventionism – is probably a decade too late. The
fact is, the international community already has accepted that
interventionism will be part of its future. When NATO took on what was a
domestic conflict in Serbia in 1999, it was breaking one of the cardinal
rules of international politics: Never interfere in a country’s internal
affairs. A new doctrine is evolving. When a central government engages in
the massive slaughter of its own people, it loses the right to be left
alone by the international community. Genocide trumps sovereignty. That’s
why Kosovo deserves independence from Serbia. Incidentally, this is also
why Sudan, the tormentor of Darfur, has lost the right to keep foreign
forces off its soil.
The threshold for foreign intervention in another country’s domestic
affairs should be high, but not unreachable. Kosovo already served as a
test case for military intervention. It now stands as another marker in the
history of international affairs. The fact is that despite Serbian and
Russia opposition, everyone knows that Kosovo will become an independent
nation – a Muslim nation with streets, statues and people honoring an
American president. How’s that for unusual?

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