Yugoslavia: How Holbrooke Lied His Way Into a War

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This article
was originally published in December
2008
while Richard Holbrooke was being considered for the position
he held in the Obama administration.

Shortly before
the bombing of Yugoslavia began in late March 1999, Richard Holbrooke
met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. By his own account,
Holbrooke delivered the final ultimatum to Milosevic – that
if Yugoslavia didn’t agree to the Rambouillet text, NATO would
begin bombing.

The Rambouillet
text
called for a de facto occupation of Yugoslavia. On major
U.S. media, after the bombing of Yugoslavia began, Holbrooke claimed
that what was called for in the Rambouillet text, despite Serbian
protests, “isn’t an occupation.” Several weeks later,
when confronted by a journalist familiar with the Rambouillet text,
Holbrooke claimed: “I never said that.” This was a lie,
it was also a tacit admission that the Rambouillet text did call
for an occupation (why else would Holbrooke deny saying it when
he had?) So the U.S. demanded that Yugoslavia submit to occupation
or be bombed – and Holbrooke lied about this crucial fact when
questioned about the cause of the war.

Here are the
specifics: The Rambouillet text of Feb. 23, 1999, a month before
NATO began bombing, contained provisions that provided for NATO
to basically occupy the entire Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY),
not just Kosovo. Excerpts from Appendix (B) (I
attempted to draw attention to this at the time when I became aware
of it.
):

7. NATO
personnel shall be immune from any form of arrest, investigation,
or detention by the authorities in the FRY.

8. NATO
personnel shall enjoy… free and unrestricted passage and
unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace
and territorial waters.

11. NATO
is granted the use of airports, roads, rails and ports without
payment…

15. [NATO
shall have] the right to use all of the electromagnetic spectrum…

On April 6,
1999, about two weeks after the bombing began, Holbrooke appeared
on the Charlie Rose show and was asked about what started the war.
(Video
is here
, approximate times in the interview are provided):

[3:45] “The
81 pages of the Rambouillet agreement, which the Serbs rejected,
contain all the elements of a really solid interim solution. …
Although Rambouillet itself was rejected, the principles embodied
in the Rambouillet agreement make a hell of a lot of sense. …”

[13:00]
“The [Yugoslavian government] decision was to trigger the
bombing of their own country instead of accepting this very reasonable
political offer.” …

[14:00]
Asked how to explain the actions of the Serbs, Holbrooke claims
the Serbs said: “The choice you’ve given us is to have
our sacred soil violated by an invading force. I said this isn’t
an invasion, it isn’t an occupation, it’s an international
peacekeeping force that will save the Serb minority in Kosovo.
…”

[15:00]
“We walked the last mile for peace.”

[17:00]
“The bombing must continue and must intensify until the Yugoslav
leadership realizes they have to change their positions.”

On April 23,
1999, journalist Jeremy Scahill of Democracy Now questioned Richard
Holbrooke as he was leaving the Overseas Press Club’s 60th
anniversary dinner:

Holbrooke:
“One question.”

Jeremy Scahill:
“You’ve said, since you gave the ultimatum to President
Milosevic, that the Rambouillet accords do not call for the occupation
of Yugoslavia. In –”

Holbrooke:
“I never said that. That’s the end of that. You got
the wrong person and the wrong quote. That’s your question.”

Scahill:
“Do the Rambouillet accords … Are the Rambouillet accords
a call for the occupation of Yugoslavia – how do you reconcile
that with Appendix B?”

Holbrooke:
“I was not at Rambouillet. You’ll have to address it
to the people –”

Scahill:
“You delivered the ultimatum, you’re familiar with the
text –”

Holbrooke:
“I did not discuss that detail with him. That’s your
question.”

Scahill:
“You haven’t answered the question though.”

Holbrooke:
“I have answered the question. Good night.” (See the
April
23, 1999 Democracy Now, especially beginning at 29:00
.)

It’s tempting
for many to think that the current Bush administration and the 2003
invasion of Iraq are totally unique. They’re not, the methods
of the U.S. government lying its way into a war are long standing
and many of the culprits are still very much part of the political
structure.

December
27, 2010

Sam Husseini
is a writer and political activist. He is the communications director
of the Institute
for Public Accuracy
, a D.C.-based nonprofit group that promotes
progressive experts as alternative sources for mainstream media
reporters. He formerly worked at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee and at the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in
Reporting.

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