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Official explanations for U.S. involvement came only after the bombings began, underscoring the lack of national consensus on what, if any, action should have been taken in the first place.
Since then, the explanations have lurched uncomfortably and unconvincingly among Realpolitik national security concerns, the need for international economic stability and humanitarian intervention.
BEYOND OBSCURING fundamental discussion on intervention, the Hitler analogies have a deeper, more insidious effect.
Such glib equations necessarily preclude any sort of diplomatic or nonmilitary settlement of the Kosovo matter. You don't negotiate peace with a Hitler. Unconditional surrender and total capitulation are the only acceptable terms.
"The bottom line," says Secretary Albright, "is that more and more people are asking (the) question, 'Is it going to be possible to deal with somebody that is behind all this?'"
NEVER MIND that the United States sat down to deal with Milosevic long after he committed worse crimes in Bosnia–and that the United States routinely negotiates cheerfully with far more murderous heads of states.
To ask such a question after invoking Hitler is to answer it in the negative.
There is another reason to worry over this latest cycle of reductio ad Hitlerum. Every false invocation not only cheapens the original referent, it distorts our vision and undermines America's ability to act meaningfully in the world.
IF MILOSEVIC is Hitler, then the planet is thick with such monsters.
In such a landscape, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify the situations calling for U.S. involvement, much less its proper terms.
Neither of the predictable results of such a mind-set–hopelessness and disengagement on the one hand, military overreaching on the other–is likely to bring more peace to the globe.
Better, then, to drop the Hitler rhetoric and get on with a legitimate debate over both the Balkans and U.S. foreign policy.