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Peace Price

[whitespace] Congressman Sam Farr Farr Sighted: Congressman Sam Farr struggles with the tragedy in the Balkans.

Dai Sugano

Faced with the Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing as well as civilian casualties of the NATO bombing, Congressman Sam Farr found few palatable options in Kosovo

By John Yewell

THESE HAVE BEEN trying times for Congressman Sam Farr. Usually in sync with his Santa Cruz constituents, Farr has recently found himself under attack at town forums. His office has been occupied by protesters, and arrests have been made. The reason was Kosovo.

With peace threatening to break out in Yugoslavia, observers will soon be holding up their scorecards on NATO's campaign to bomb Milosevic into submission. The early returns suggest Milosevic blinked, and that the debate will now proceed over whether the outcome will prove to have been worth the cost in lost and disrupted lives.

Like many progressives around the country, Farr's instincts have pulled him in several directions. Born before U.S. entry into World War II and educated during the Vietnam War, Farr has clear pacifist leanings, yet on the most significant votes on the conduct of the war, Farr has voted to support the president in his policies. Farr's loathing of Milosevic and the latter's meticulously prepared campaign of ethnic cleansing won out over the civilian casualties that resulted from the NATO bombing campaign. The more Farr learned about the fate of the Kosovar people--the mass executions and expulsions, the destruction of homes and identities, the use of rape to terrorize--the more confirmed he was in his opinion.

"When the United States joined NATO in calling for air strikes against Yugoslavia because of the relentless and deliberate ethnic cleansing of Kosovars," Farr says, "we did the right thing."

But Farr soon found himself running afoul of vocal war opponents in Santa Cruz whose distrust of the U.S. military overshadowed everything. They argued that the war was not worth the cost in innocent lives and that the U.S. was inconsistent in applying military intervention. Why here, they said, and not in Central America? Where was NATO during the genocide in Rwanda? They object to war as an option, especially since the country seemed to have stumbled into it during a period when the country was distracted by impeachment.

Others argue that there are examples in recent history where the introduction of outside force has been justified, such as the Tanzanian invasion of Idi Amin's Uganda and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, both of which put an end to genocide.

In the end, there were no palatable options. As time went on, Farr became concerned that the military wasn't sufficiently willing to give peace a chance, to at least give Milosevic an opportunity to respond to a gesture of good will. In the days prior to the announcement of the peace deal, Farr, along with at least two dozen other Democratic congressmen, began circulating a resolution calling for a 72-hour bombing pause.

For many of his constituents, that was not enough. In town meetings at UC-Santa Cruz and at the Santa Cruz Civic Center, Farr was lambasted by angry peace demonstrators who demanded that he call for an immediate and permanent halt to the bombing campaign. Farr listened carefully, but says he has been surprised that hardly a word of concern has been uttered for the fate of the Kosovar refugees.

With a possible ground war looming and internal divisions within his country on the rise, Milosevic, facing the prospect of being tried as a war criminal, cried uncle--although at this writing the deal is in doubt.

When and how will it end? Was it worth the cost? What is the future of Kosovo and Serbia?

Metro Santa Cruz met with Farr on June 1 and spoke again with him by phone on June 4 to discuss the situation in the Balkans.

Metro Santa Cruz: Did calling for a bombing pause have some influence on the peace deal?

Sam Farr: I think what was significant is that members of Congress of the president's own party were unified in breaking away from the president. Plus, I think NATO leaders are hearing from their own constituencies. I'm cautiously optimistic that we can see our way out. The tragedy of it as you look back is why did it have to happen, because these are pretty much the Rambouillet accords. Those accords were always negotiable.

Was NATO's strategy, the bombing campaign, the right one?

Well, I supported it in the first instance, and as I've said it went too long. I think we'll find there might have been other ways of doing this. But for the information we were given at the time it seemed appropriate.

Is it too early to say that it was effective and brought about the desired result?

It's too early to tell. It's certainly too early for Americans to accept that. I think the big question is, what should have happened between Rambouillet and the bombing that could have averted this? Because where we are is essentially back with Rambouillet. Some people said then, how could you dare ask him to give up his sovereignty?

Is that what has happened?


Milosevic just gave in?

We don't know what he's done. The parliament is the one that's voted for this. The Russians have also played a big role, but everyone can take different reasons. Some say it's because the KLA has been very effective in recent days and Serbian forces have taken a lot of casualties. All of Milosevic's strategies hit roadblocks.

Does it vindicate the notion that NATO can or should intervene in Europe where there's a case of human rights abuses?

There will be many people who will claim credit for getting Kosovo to be an autonomous area. Because of our mission in Bosnia, our mission in Kosovo is better understood. The mere intervention does not gain you solutions to problems, and that's what these countries and people are looking for. So it's a very limited tool. I think, if anything, what it has done is shown that for this purpose it can be effective, and that it has a deterrent value. But it doesn't have any capability of solving the reasons for the conflict.

What's next?

What I've been thinking since I met with you and the community town hall meetings and other groups in the last couple of days is to use all of this energy toward conflict resolution. There are all kinds of issues being raised: the size of the military, the nature of the military, adequate ability to intervene in a conflict. I'm suggesting that we try to take all the energy here that has expressed itself and become angry about the bombing campaign and see if we can turn it into a political energy that will solve these problems and how we can better sit down and talk with one another.

Tell me about your background. Where do your peace credentials come from?

I always ask myself, why don't people just get together and talk these things out? Why do we have to resort to bombing? When I had a chance to try to make the world a better place in which to live, that's when I went in the Peace Corps. I came back during the height of the Vietnam buildup. I was in law school at Santa Clara and organized Santa Clara law school students against the Vietnam War, and participated in marches and rallies in the San Francisco Bay area.

How was this different from the Gulf War?

Milosevic was much more of a participant in the international community than Saddam Hussein ever was and therefore much better liked, I think, internationally. We forgot until recently that in the process of maintaining his leadership he has resorted to the ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo. I think the difference is that in those days I was in other elective offices that didn't take active roles and vote on those issues except for passing resolutions. This time I'm in Congress, and I must say that most people didn't even know where this part of the world was. I traveled there [Yugoslavia] in 1995 before the American troops went in.

Did you go to Kosovo?

No, but I went to Sarajevo, Croatia and Serbia--in fact, met with all the presidents, including Milosevic. He was without a doubt the most skilled at diplomatic protocol. He spoke the best English. He was very sure of himself, very in control, not sensitive to criticism at all.

There's been a lot written about the moral dilemma of progressives over this: on the one hand they were generally suspicious of the American military, but you have the first sitting head of state indicted as a war criminal. Terrible, systematic atrocities were committed against the Kosovar people. Talk about this complex drama you're caught in.

The question is, what are we doing about it? Today in Congress, for people like myself, this is what haunts us most, hearing about this ethnic cleansing. The national security advisors and the president say the evidence already confirms that there are two mass graves, and they suspect there are probably at least 10 sites. I think that when Americans look back at what has been done in Kosovo, they will support it. The stories coming from the refugees are carrying the issue. I don't think Americans want us just to bomb the hell out of anybody. There has to be a justifiable reason.

You oppose ground troops, and you're in favor of a 72-hour bombing pause. If Milosevic shows no sign of withdrawing troops during that pause, are you in favor of resuming bombing?


At what point do you lose patience and say to heck with it, we have to end it?

There's the issue here of the practical politician. Are you just one voice out there that nobody's listening to? Or are you one that can build a coalition that can actually do something? At this point, just saying end the bombing without a solution doesn't give you any credibility.

What action would you have taken?

That's the big debate on the War Powers Act. There hasn't been a president who supported the War Powers Act. Nor has any court upheld a lawsuit, and Tom Campbell has one in now. But I don't think the president wants to go into an election year without the support of Congress.

You've got a big congressional district, of course, but in Santa Cruz there's been a lot of protest. Your office has been occupied a few times and people have been arrested. Do you feel that critics have been evenhanded in their appraisal of the situation?

No. As I said after a student rally [at UCSC], I was just shocked that nobody in the audience ever mentioned refugees and the atrocities that have occurred. If you don't want to recognize what has gotten us to this point as being a problem, it's very difficult to then figure out a solution. I'll tell you, it's really been hard for me. It's hard for me because I know this is my responsibility as a member of the United States Congress. People of like mind who are my best friends in Congress who I trust implicitly are just all across the board on this thing. Most of them who have gone to Kosovo, or who went before the bombing started, or who have been to the refugee camps (and there are groups going every weekend), come back even more committed. [Milosevic] is on the retreat now; the indictment has really got him bothered because he's got nowhere to go anymore. He has no friends; the people who surrounded him and supported him and depended on his regime for their own personal well-being see that that regime is in jeopardy. Every politician hangs by a coalition of support, and Milosevic's coalition, according to reports, is beginning to slip. You would expect it to slip. That's what the intent of the air raids was all about.

Do you plan to go to Kosovo yourself?

Yes, if the schedule permits and if there's something I think can be appropriate for the district. What I'd love to do is see the 17th Congressional District aid in refugee support.

What have we won, what have we lost, what have we accomplished?

This is an evolving situation. Bosnia didn't stop until there was a peace accord. There's got to be a government that doesn't give the message that ethnic cleaning is OK.

How did indicting Milosevic change your attitude about all this?

It confirmed the stories we were hearing. That's an international indictment, not a U.S. indictment.

Is it your impression that a lot of folks in this county seemed to have forgotten about the Kosovars and are more concerned with Serb casualties?


What is the attitude in Congress about Serb civilian casualties. Was it just a necessary evil?

The realization in Congress is that no bombing can occur without civilian casualties. There's no such thing as a clean war.

A lot of people suggest that if we had done things differently in Bosnia, we wouldn't be doing what we are doing in Kosovo today.

I think a lot of the support for the air raids in Congress is because we didn't do any of the bombing in Bosnia. There are members of Congress that think we should have just gone in there and that NATO should have been in Bosnia.

Did our ability to negotiate an agreement over Bosnia lead people to believe we could do business with Milosevic?

Yes. Remember, he was praised for being the hero of Dayton. When the whole thing fell apart, he was the one who brought the parties back together. It was for his own political well-being that he did that.

Tell me how different Santa Cruz is from other parts of the country on this issue.

Santa Cruz is one of the most active communities that I know of in the United States in paying attention to people who are repressed. Santa Cruz took quite an active role in humanitarian efforts in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Santa Cruz plays an active role in humanitarian and educational efforts in Cuba. Santa Cruz has consistently been there on these issues, where our government has not. But I also think that what's missing here that I've seen before is that Santa Cruz usually got involved with the humanitarian aid side.

And you don't see that this time. No connection to the Kosovo refugees at all.

No, or to the rebuilding effort in Bosnia.

I'm going to read you a statement that Anthony Lewis wrote for the New York TImes May 30: "That NATO's purpose is just does not, of course, mean that it has fought the war wisely. It has not." Do you agree with that statement?


What should NATO have done differently?

I'm not sure about the transition from Rambouillet and the air raids. A lot of people thought they waited too long; others thought they didn't wait long enough. In hindsight, they should have tried something else.

As a politician how do you deal with a room full of angry constituents?

To my knowledge I'm the only politician in the country that's [held town meetings]. I've always been an accessible congressman. It's always difficult to be accessible when they want to hang you. But that's part of this job.

For those wishing to help Kosovo, the USAID Kosovo Relief Hotline for donations is 800/872-4373.

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From the June 9-16, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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