Milosevic's Famous Cardboard Tank Trick

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Was Slobodan Milosevic bombed out of Kosovo? Yes, say the White House spin doctors, eager to proclaim victory for a "Clinton Doctrine" of using limited military force to achieve limited goals. No, say Western military analysts surveying the bomb damage now that the dust has settled. Mondayís New York Times reports that NATO forces have discovered, upon entering Kosovo and observing the Serb withdrawal, that the damage inflicted on the Yugoslav army was considerably less than had been initially claimed by the alliance. "NATO hit a lot of dummy and deception targets," a former alliance commander was quoted as telling European diplomats. Western officers found very few damaged tanks, military vehicles and artillery pieces. And some of the bombed equipment that they did find consisted of obsolete tanks and military vehicles, some of them sitting on blocks. NATO officers also conceded that the Yugoslav army that withdrew from Kosovo remained a formidable combat force.

So as the Serbs Monday observed the anniversary of their historic defeat in Kosovo by the Ottoman Empire in 1389, one question facing NATO is what exactly compelled Milosevic to surrender the province 610 years later. The impact of the bombing campaign appears to have weighed less on the fighting ability of the Yugoslav army in Kosovo than on the civilian infrastructure in Serbia proper. And many analysts believe it was actually the prospect of a ground invasion by NATO that forced the Serb leaderís turnabout. But the question is about a lot more than apportioning credit: Conventional wisdom holds that bombing alone is generally an insufficient means of achieving a strategic objective, such as forcing a hostile army to withdraw. Some military analysts fear that institutionalizing the "Clinton Doctrine" could actually tie their hands in future wars.