Dealing With The Devil

The last American Ambassador to parley with Slobodan Milosevic found him "almost totally dominated by his dark side." Even in closed-door meetings with diplomats, the Serbian president was a pathological liar, Warren Zimmermann writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. He destroyed Yugoslavia to build a Greater Serbia-not because the onetime communist ideologue had turned nationalist, but because he craved power. Milosevic was never "moved by an individual case of human suffering," says Zimmermann, who was U.S. ambassador in Belgrade at the start of the Balkan war and was recalled by Washington in protest in 1992. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic comes off no better. Zimmermann compares him to "a monster from another generation, Heinrich Himmler."

It was an extraordinary attack, but Zimmermann didn't spare himself, either. The former diplomat admits, "I did not recommend [force] myself--a major mistake," when a firm U.S. response to Serbian aggression could have done some good. Now Bosnia is a long-lost cause. As the conflict enters its fourth year with no end in sight, international institutions keep behaving as if there's hope. U.N. peacekeepers continue to "protect" safe areas that aren't safe. just last week the Contact Group-diplomats from the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany-again went to Belgrade to try to persuade Serbia's president to help bring the war to an end. Once more, he sent them away empty-handed. "I don't think anyone has any illusions about Milosevic," Zimmermann told NEWSWEEK.

So why can't the West stop trying? "What the Contact Group countries want their diplomats to do is not solve Bosnia, but to make it go away as an issue," a former U.N. official says. Both Washington and London are replacing their envoys to Sarajevo; the two were effective exponents of the Bosnian cause, deeply critical of Western inaction. The Europeans have long tilted toward a less-than-honorable peace with Milosevic rather than a long if honorable war. American policy has been less appeasement oriented-but without any willingness to commit U.S. troops, Washington has had even less leverage than Europe. Both have dealt out their hands; now Milosevic is the only card they're willing to play.

It's an increasingly cynical game. Declaring he had no influence over the fighting, Milosevic sent the Contact Group diplomats to Bosnia to persuade the combatants to lay down their arms. In the Bosnian Serb capital of Pale, Karadzic dismissed them with a rebuke: go to Sarajevo if you want to talk peace. But they couldn't land in the Muslim capital because the Serbs, firing on Western C-130s carrying relief supplies, halted the airlift once again. U.N. forces didn't fare much better. After a rash of kidnappings and robberies, Foreign Legionnaires surrounded a Serbian checkpoint near the Sarajevo airport-only to find the Serbs wearing French body armor, hijacked from a U.N. truck weeks earlier.

The West's continued relations with Milosevic have become deeply embarrassing. Last week a former high-ranking secret police official publicly accused Serbia's president of war crimes. Cedomir Mihailovic backed up his charges with smuggled documents that apparently tied Milosevic to the campaign of rapes, forcible evictions, torture and murder that drove hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats from their Bosnian homes. Hidden by the Dutch secret services while he gave extensive testimony to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, Mihailovic told The New York Times that top aides of Milosevic were intimately involved in running the ethnic-cleansing campaign in Bosnia. "It's demeaning for the West to go hat in hand to the worst aggressors in Western Europe since World War II," says Zimmermann. But there isn't anyone else to beg.