The Magazine

THE MILOSEVIC EXPERT

Apr 26, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 30 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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WHILE WRITING HIS ACCOUNT of the 1995 Dayton peace accords, Richard Holbrooke had a dispute with his publisher. Holbrooke, still flushed from his starring role in the agreement that halted the fighting in Bosnia, wanted to call his book, To End a War. Random House, fearful of being overtaken by events in the Balkans, pushed for a safer title, Precarious Peace. During an interview with C-SPAN, Holbrooke explained how he had prevailed in his negotiations with book editors: "They said, 'But, you know, if this book comes out and the wars resume, we're gonna look like fools.' I said, 'It's not gonna happen.'"


Two years later, both Holbrooke and Random House have been proved wrong. War has erupted again in the Balkans. Slobodan Milosevic, portrayed in Holbrooke's book as Machiavellian but responsive to reason, has turned out to be bloodthirsty and unpredictable. Meanwhile, despite the publisher's fears, To End a War has been a great success. Praised enthusiastically by critics, the book is about to be reissued in paperback. These days, virtually nobody is calling Richard Holbrooke foolish.


Which is odd, since as the Clinton administration's longtime Milosevic expert, Holbrooke, the former special envoy for Bosnia and Kosovo, could be held as responsible as anybody for NATO's profound misreading of the Serb leader. But he hasn't been, at least not in the press. Instead, the blame has fallen squarely on the hapless secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. Less than two weeks after the NATO air campaign began, the Washington Post ran a front page story explaining that military leaders at the Pentagon had known from the beginning that Albright's strategy in Kosovo was flawed, even ludicrous. Unnamed four-star officers were quoted as saying they had never believed that bombing alone would force Milosevic to comply with American demands, but had agreed to carry out Albright's plan anyway because, as one put it, "we have civilian control over the military."


Two days later, the Post printed another, even more pointed attack on the secretary of state, headlined, "Albright Misjudged Milosevic On Kosovo." Again, unnamed Pentagon officials put distance between themselves and what the Post referred to as "Albright's war." This time, even the head of the CIA, George Tenet, went out of his way to disassociate himself from Albright, letting it be known that he had long expected Milosevic to step up the slaughter of Albanians if NATO bombed Kosovo.


None of this went over well at the State Department. Albright is famously thin-skinned -- she once told a biographer that if 99 percent of the press coverage she receives is positive, her goal is to "eliminate the one percent" -- and, by all accounts, she was distraught over the Washington Post stories. Albright's staff tried to figure out the identities of the anonymous sniping generals (Marine Corps commandant Charles Krulak is a major suspect), while friends and advisers tried to calm her, apparently without success. "Madeleine's upset about everything," says someone who knows her well. "She should have just brushed it off. She's secretary of state. We're in the middle of one of the most controversial policy processes ever, and all of us have to be prepared to take a share of the hit, fairly or unfairly. That's what life is like."


So far, that's not what life has been like for Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke knows Milosevic better than perhaps anyone involved in the administration's Balkans policy. At Dayton, the two spent countless hours walking the grounds of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; after dinner, they chatted over drinks at nearby Packy's All-Sports Bar. In To End a War, Holbrooke describes "midnight steak and shrimp dinners" the two shared and sing-alongs they attended at the Officers' Club. (At one point, Milosevic, and American pop culture buff, joins in a rendition of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.") Holbrooke and Milosevic never became friends. On the other hand, it's clear Holbrooke never considered him an irrational madman. Yet, so far the Washington Post has run no reassessments of Holbrooke's diplomacy.