If you ever get to Belgrade Zoo, don't miss the snake house. There, in nicely heated tanks, you will see two rather fearsome-looking pythons, one named Warren and the other Madeleine. The names of Bill Clinton's secretaries of state – Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright – will not be forgotten quickly in the capital of the former Yugoslavia. Seeing the two pythons slithering in their tanks reminded me of the murderous foreign policy of the Clinton administration and the enthusiastic support it received from New Labour.
For amid the present furore over the no-show of Iraqi WMDs, let us remember that in Kosovo our humanitarian Prime Minister dragged this country into an illegal, US-sponsored war on grounds which later proved to be fraudulent. In 2003 Tony's Big Whopper was that Saddam's WMDs 'could be activated within 45 minutes'. In 1999 it was that Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia was 'set on a Hitler-style genocide equivalent to the extermination of the Jews during World War Two'.
Clare Short now complains that the Prime Minister 'duped' the public over the non-existent Iraqi threat. But four years ago, Short and her fellow Cabinet resigner Robin Cook were enthusiastic collaborators in Blair's equally squalid campaign to 'dupe' the British public over Kosovo. Cook's role in the war on Yugoslavia was described by the late Auberon Waugh as a 'national disgrace'. A closer examination of the part played by the former foreign secretary in the military conflict makes you wonder why he too did not end up commemorated in a Belgrade snake house.
Consider his role in the farcical 'peace negotiations' at Rambouillet – the successful conclusion of which Washington and London desired as much as they wanted Hans Blix's weapons inspectors to be able to complete their mission in Iraq.
Cook claimed that 'the reason they [the Serbs] refused to agree to the peace process was that they were not willing to agree to the autonomy of Kosovo, or for that autonomy to be guaranteed by an international military presence at all'. In fact, the Yugoslavs had by February 1999 already agreed to most of the autonomy proposals and had assented to a UN (but not Nato) peacekeeping team entering Kosovo.
It was the unwelcome prospect of Milosevic signing up to a peace deal and thereby depriving the US of its casus belli that caused Secretary of State Albright, with the connivance of Cook, to insert new terms into the Rambouillet accord purposely designed to be rejected by Belgrade. Appendix B to chapter seven of the document provided not only for the Nato occupation of Kosovo, but also for 'unrestricted access' for Nato aircraft, tanks and troops throughout Yugoslavia. The full text of the Rambouillet document was kept secret from the public and came to light only when published in Le Monde Diplomatique on 17 April. By this time, the war was almost a month old and the casting of Milosevic as the 'aggressor' had already successfully been achieved.
The Kosovan war was, we were repeatedly told, fought 'to stop a humanitarian catastrophe'. 'It is no exaggeration to say that what is happening is racial genocide' – claimed the British Prime Minister – 'something we had hoped we would never again experience in Europe. Thousands have been murdered, 100,000 men are missing and hundreds forced to flee their homes and the country.' The Serbs were, according to the US State Department, 'conducting a campaign of forced population movement not seen in Europe since WW2'. One US Information Agency 'fact' sheet claimed that the number of Albanians massacred could be as high as 400,000. Undeterred by the complete lack of evidence to back up the claims of Washington and London, political pundits, from Lady Thatcher to Ken Livingstone, weighed in with op-ed pieces comparing Slobodan Milosevic to Adolf Hitler.
But despite its overwhelming military superiority, Nato's assault on Yugoslavia did not go according to plan. The second week of April was a particularly bad news week for the humanitarian interventionists. On 12 April Nato bombers hit a passenger train in southern Serbia, killing 10 civilians and injuring 16 others. It was also revealed that the alliance was, despite earlier denials, using depleted uranium. And, worst of all for the hawks in the US and Britain, EU leaders were due to meet to discuss a German peace plan which would involve a 24-hour suspension of bombing and UN peacekeepers entering Kosovo.
With public support for war faltering, and a Downing Street spokesman talking of a 'public-relations meltdown', it was time for the Lie Machine to go into overdrive. Dr Johnson believed patriotism to be the last refuge of the scoundrel. He clearly hadn't considered the invention of enemy rape camps. On 13 April an ashen-faced Robin Cook told journalists of 'fresh evidence' that 'young women are being separated from the refugee columns and forced to undergo systematic rape in an army camp at Djakovica near the Albanian border'. In fact, Cook's 'evidence' (which was founded solely on uncorroborated claims by Albanian refugees) was not 'fresh' at all, but had first been presented by US defense spokesman Kenneth Bacon at a press conference the week before. Not to be outdone by her Cabinet colleague, Clare Short also joined in enthusiastically to add breaches of women's rights to the long litany of Serb sins. 'The actual rape reports are still in the hundreds‘' claimed the International Development Secretary, 'but they're deliberate and organised and designed to humiliate, often in front of fathers and husbands and children, you know, just to give anguish and humiliation to the whole family.' For the record, the UNHCR found no evidence of a rape camp at Djakovica and even Human Rights Watch, the George Soros-financed NGO hardly known for its pro-Yugoslav stance, announced that it was 'concerned that Nato's use of rape camps to bolster support for the war relied on unconfirmed accounts'. The hysteria over Serb rape camps rallied support for the war, even though the next day an attack by a Nato plane on a convoy of Albanians killed 64 and wounded 20.
Apologists for the government now claim that we should not jump to hasty conclusions over the failure of coalition forces to find any Iraqi WMD. But as far as Kosovo is concerned, we have already had plenty of time to discover the truth. When John Laughland, writing in The Spectator in November 1999, claimed that the mass graves in Kosovo were a 'myth', he was loudly denounced by Francis Wheen, Noel Malcolm and a whole host of Nato apologists and lap-top bombardiers.
Four years on, it is Wheen and the supporters of intervention in Kosovo who have the explaining to do. At the Trepca mine, where Nato told us that up to 700 bodies had been dumped in acid and whose name the Daily Mirror predicted would 'live alongside those of Belsen, Auschwitz and Treblinka', UN investigators found absolutely nothing, a pattern repeated at one Nato mass-grave site after another. To date, the total body count of civilians killed in Kosovo in the period 1997