Who's Won When Both Sides Are Cheering?

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What the heck is going on here? In Washington, President Clinton takes to the airwaves to declare "victory" in Kosovo; over in Belgrade, Serbs are dancing around like they’ve just won the World Cup.

Victory, of course, is in the eye of the beholder –- or the spin doctor. But there’s something Orwellian about Belgrade seeing triumph in an agreement that surrenders a prized province to the control of a United Nations political administration and a NATO-dominated peacekeeping force. Particularly after President Milosevic made his countrymen suffer thousands of casualties and tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure damage as the price for this "victorious" dismemberment of their country.

But while Milosevic’s supporters have a vested interest in believing their own propaganda, the fact is they weren’t entirely defeated. After all, the peace deal codified in last week’s U.N. Security Council resolution involves considerable compromise on both sides, and NATO’s fundamental war aim, which was protecting ethnic Albanians from persecution in Kosovo, has demonstrably failed -- witness the streams of refugees -- and will take years to be reversed.

It's in looking at where each side started -- and not at their latest stated aim -- that a real measure of victory or loss can be made. NATO launched its bombs and rockets after Milosevic rejected the take-it-or-leave-it proposals put to him at Rambouillet in March and launched his vicious ethnic cleansing campaign. Rambouillet envisaged the transfer of control over Kosovo to NATO authority, and estimated that the territory’s future status would be decided in a referendum held within three years –- which would have allowed the Kosovo Liberation Army to realize its goal of independence from Yugoslavia.

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