Slobodan Milosevic was not the only loser in Kosovo last week. The conventional wisdom took a beating too.
For 11 weeks, the Clinton administration and its supporters in Congress took it on the chin on Kosovo. The smart thinking in Washington and in the foreign policy community was that Clinton had erred in seeking to defeat Milosevic with half a war. Airstrikes alone would never work, the pundits said. Ground troops would be the only way to save Kosovo, the armchair generals warned. Even many who supported the president thought he would ultimately fail.
What if he had followed the advice of those who recommended running roughshod over our NATO allies in prosecuting the war? What if President Clinton had listened to the conventional wisdom?
If he had heeded the calls to keep negotiating with Milosevic after the failure at Rambouillet, the talks would still be stalemated. Had he listened to the critics who urged him to stop the bombing sooner, Milosevic would have used a pause to inflict further punishment on the Kosovars. Had he followed the advice of those who recommended running roughshod over our allies, NATO would have fractured and failed.
In short, had we listened to those who said negotiate, partition, cut a deal, stop the bombing, we would not be where we are today. The Serbian forces would still be in Kosovo, and NATO would be in tatters.
It's not surprising that the critics were wrong. Trying to predict the course of a military campaign in the opening days is like judging the outcome of a football game based on the score at the end of the first quarter. It happened during the Gulf War in 1991 -- I was among the many who failed to predict the overwhelming victory.
But the outcome in Kosovo should not have been a surprise. This was a European problem, and this time the Europeans faced up to it. It is true that the United States led and supplied most of the firepower. But make no mistake: We were acting as part of NATO, and we could not have acted alone.
Despite the skepticism in the United States about the war, there was solid consensus in Europe. Even Russia, an ally of the Serbs in past days, and Greece, a NATO member but also a friendly neighbor of Serbia, supported the basic aims of the NATO effort, if not all of the means. Milosevic was isolated from the beginning, more isolated than Saddam Hussein during the Persian Gulf War.
Milosevic could not stand up indefinitely to the overwhelming force of NATO. He hung on for 11 weeks not because he had a chance at winning militarily but because he hoped NATO would lose its nerve or turn its eyes away from the slaughter, as it did in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He did not reckon on a NATO whose resolve has been rejuvenated, not weakened, by the end of the Cold War and an expanded membership.
Had President Clinton not stayed the course, our geopolitical posture from North Korea to Iraq would have suffered significantly. Our credibility as a superpower would have been sorely damaged.
But because the president did stay the course, and because our military men and women performed superbly, we achieved victory. The world has seen that the American people and a united NATO have the will to respond to crisis and the means to defend our interests and our values.
The writer is a Democratic senator from Delaware.