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Gary Younge
Anything is better than this

Not surprisingly, the Kosovan Albanians have been first in line. Persecuted, exterminated and forced to flee their homes, at least the parallels with regard to them are not completely absurd. With Blair casting Milosevic as Hitler, they at least have symmetry on their side. Not to mention Steven Spielberg. The Yugoslav officer who saved 4,000 ethnic Albanians from a death squad has become 'Schindler'; an ethnic Albanian journalist has compared his flight from Kosovo to a scene from Schindler's List.

But Kosovan Albanians do not have a monopoly. The Serb muslims are also at it: 'Now I feel like a Jew in the second world war,' says Belgrade's chief muslim cleric. And even the Serbs themselves. 'Kosovo is to the Serbs what Jerusalem is to the Jews,' according to a Serb diplomat.

The trouble with these comparisons are not just that they are inaccurate. Ethnic cleansing involves forcing people to vacate an area, not exterminating them. It's none the less disgusting for it, but now that we have given it a name we might as well use it. Nor that they are insulting to Holocaust survivors - while many Jews may relate to the plight of the Kosovan Albanians through their own historical experience, there are few who would claim an equivalence.

The problem is that they are seeking a neat, complete moral narrative for what is going on in the Balkans where one does not exist.

Most of those who have opposed the war from the outset have always known this. The weakest link in the anti-war argument has always been coming up with a viable alternative to checking Milosevic's carnage. If you could not come up with anything more dramatic and punitive than bombing, Nato's cheerleaders claimed, then you simply did not care about ethnic cleansing and the murder of innocent people that came with it. With more than a whiff of moral superiority, they screamed: 'We can't stand by and do nothing,' and no right-minded person could see the evidence of the massacres and removals and think otherwise.

Faced with pictures of bloodied corpses and tales of entire villages of women and children being bussed away while their menfolk were shot, arguing that the west should go and negotiate with their murderers has not been easy. But it has proved right.

For no sooner had the first sortie taken off than the military men started talking about 'slippage' - the gradual metamorphosis of the original battle plans as the winds of war blew the original objectives off course. From securing autonomy for Kosovo to making it a protectorate; from disabling the Serb war machine to killing Milosevic himself. And along with the military slippage has come moral slippage. For Nato has not only shifted the goalposts in terms of what it demands. It has has also moved the boundaries on what is ethically acceptable to get them.

Now, the entire project has slipped so fast, so far that it is difficult to be sure what its aims are anymore. When General Klaus Naumann, the outgoing chairman of Nato's military committee, says: 'Frankly and honestly, we did not succeed in our initial attempt to coerce Milosevic through airstrikes,' you are left wondering what the point of the airstrikes is, exactly. And with each item of news on military slippage, liberal apologists for the war have had to modify their mantras accordingly.

First came the insistent: 'We must do something.' Next they resorted to moral relativism: 'Something is better than nothing.' And that, in turn, paved the way for present-day desperation: 'Anything is better than nothing.' They had taken the trip from humanitarianism to hawkishness without even knowing they had bought the ticket.

Those who first cheered about the bombing of military convoys were forced to bite their lip at the destruction of the Serbian television station and finally mutter an embarrassed 'whoops' as the bombs went on to incinerate two buses full of Kosovans.

So much so that the fact that Nato keeps killing the very people it claimed to set out to protect has almost become banal - contrast the outrage at the bombing of Albanian refugees two weeks ago with the two bus bombings over the weekend. The reason there has been so much slippage is because the escapade was on very shaky ground from the outset.

There was no more prospect of bombing the Serbs to the negotiating table than there was of bombing the Afrikaaners to democracy or the Israelis out of the West Bank and Gaza. Six weeks later it is time for those who claimed this war as a moral crusade to step back from the abyss and learn a new mantra. Anything would have been better than this.

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