Put a price on his head

Now that we've won the war and silenced the critics, let's put a bounty on Milosevic.

Joe Conason
June 15, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

The successful conclusion of NATO's war against the Serbian regime brought with it a very tempting opportunity. Virtually from the beginning of the Allied bombing, a wide assortment of talking heads declared that defeat was imminent. After a month or so, many of them were counseling retreat, meaning surrender.

It made me wonder what might have happened if these worthy figures had been the dominant Western voices in 1942, when the war against fascism wasn't going so well. We would probably be living under the Thousand Year Reich and taking compulsory German in high school.


Currently waiting to be arraigned on charges of premature capitulation, fraudulent military expertise and flagrant wrongness are:

George Will -- "NATO's minuet of capitulation has begun ... it's a colossal failure."

David Horowitz -- "We need to begin negotiations with the Serbian regime ... and arrange our exit from the Balkan quagmire, under as face-saving conditions as possible."


Arianna Huffington -- "Even the war's staunchest defenders have begun to admit the failure of the air campaign ... It requires a radical detachment from reality to keep claiming victory."

R. Emmett Tyrrell -- "It seems to me that it is time to call for a cease-fire."

Pat Buchanan -- "We got a disaster on our hands."


Alexander Cockburn -- "We're in the countdown phase to disaster."

Robert Bartley -- "[Clinton] has now backed himself and us into a corner."

Sam Donaldson -- "Bombing won't return [the Kosovar refugees] any more than bombing kept Milosevic from expelling them."


And many, many more.

It's a crowded docket. Special mention must be made of poor William Safire, however, who seems to have come mentally unglued while watching his doomsaying predictions prove false. His present condition may very well be punishment enough. While watching the president talk about the NATO victory on television, the New York Times sage apparently decided that Clinton was speaking directly to him. Or so he said in his Monday column.

(Safire also mentioned that he complained about the president to a canine companion, who, by the way, performed brilliantly at an important Beltway dog show, but ... well, never mind.)


It is tempting to contemplate the embarrassment of the Republicans on Capitol Hill, whenever they emerge from their moral foxholes. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and their crew couldn't decide whether the war was right or wrong, but they wanted to make damn sure they didn't take any blame. Those stand-up patriots wanted this one to be "Clinton's war," and sounded altogether too pleased by the prospect of failure.

But there are more serious topics to be explored than the misconduct of wayward politicians and pundits.

Now that the Yugoslav army is pulling out of Kosovo, it is time to plan the future of Slobodan Milosevic. The International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague has issued a convincing indictment of the Serbian strongman for murder and other severe offenses against humanity, but the possibility that he will be brought to justice seems slim. His former partners in Bosnian crime, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, are still at large years after being indicted, without any excessive fear of apprehension.


For the effective prosecution of war crimes to become more than a daydream of do-gooders, some method must eventually be found to arrest these men and put them on trial. The consequences of indicting them as a mere formality, and then allowing them to continue their criminal careers unchecked, could be worse than if they were never indicted at all, particularly in the Balkans.

Such half-measures risk bringing the ideal of international justice into disrepute. Unfortunately, NATO has failed to enforce the warrants for Karadzic and Mladic, and is presently unable to do so in the case of Milosevic. But there is another way to nab these swaggering perps.

Put a price on their heads.

Not just their heads, actually, but their entire persons. They must be captured alive so that they can be tried. That condition cannot be overemphasized. "Bring me the head of Slobodan Milosevic" isn't meant to be taken literally (it's just a nostalgic reference to the Peckinpah movie from the '70s, "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.") Milosevic's corpse would be worth less than nothing to the cause of justice.


Brought in alive, however, he would be worth a great deal. The idea is that national governments -- or, if that seems diplomatically unwieldy, private organizations or even civic-minded world citizens -- should offer a reward for the delivery of Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic into custody of the international authorities, anywhere outside the borders of the former Yugoslavia. A price of $1 million apiece could be established, and raised annually until someone with sufficient courage, initiative and greed fulfilled the bargain.

If this notion sounds as loony as Bill Safire debating with his dog, it isn't. The other day I made the same suggestion to a high-ranking and vastly experienced official of a major human rights organization, who found it both plausible and intriguing. He told me it would be easy to raise $1 million privately for this purpose. The problem, of course, is who's going to do it?

It isn't the sort of proposal that could survive a veto in the United Nations Security Council. The Russians and the Chinese would surely make trouble if NATO offered a bounty for their buddy in Belgrade. Private human rights groups and wealthy individuals would rightly fear harsh reprisals if they did it. But someone just might come up with the money one of these days -- and that is when Milosevic will start looking over his shoulder and wondering which of his bodyguards is planning to truss him up and turn him in.

Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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