Cohen Loses Touch With Realpolitik Over Slobo

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Despite the United States' repeated public assertions — and a covert CIA operation to back them up — that Slobodan Milosevic must be removed from power as soon as possible, apparently when isn’t as important as how. Responding to reports that Belgrade opposition leaders are considering options for finding Milosevic political asylum in, say, Iraq or Belarus, Pentagon chief William Cohen sounded like he had never heard of realpolitik. "He is an indicted war criminal," Cohen said in Denmark Friday. "If there is any place where he seeks sanctuary, perhaps I would recommend the Hague." To TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell, Cohen’s hard line –- if it is genuine, and not just political maneuvering — is a case of the U.S. putting the means too far ahead of the end.

"There’s that line in the Bible: ‘Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord,’" says Dowell. "It doesn’t belong to Madeleine Albright. The U.S. wants to make Milosevic pay for what he did, but there’s a point when they have to consider Serbia’s welfare ahead of the political pain they’d feel from letting him retire unpunished." Would Milosevic, addicted to power, ever take the back way out? "He’d be tempted," says Dowell. "And a standing offer would make those close to him wonder how long he’d be around. They’d have to think about cutting their own deals." Right now, with Milosevic’s back (hopefully) against the wall, U.S. officials are in no mood to give any ground. After all, he’s the villain who got them into this mess. But if he’d agree to get them out –- and let the healing of Serbia begin before its condition gets even more desperate — maybe Cohen & Co. ought to let him. Better the one that got away than the one that never left.