Serbia destruction courtesy of NATO bombs
Twenty years ago today, ash settled over Serbia, then a republic of Yugoslavia, in the wake of more than two months of continued bombings by NATO. The campaign had been initiated by President Bill Clinton. NATO acted without the authorization of the United Nations. Its states justified what they called "Operation Noble Anvil" as a humanitarian operation to respond to the Kosovo War.

Of all the atrocities levied by the Clintons, perhaps none is more unjustified, brutal, and lasting as his Serbian legacy.

The Kosovo War featured two sparring, violent sides with legitimate claims on the land in question. Kosovo had been a historical homeland of the Serbs, one from which Ottoman colonists had sought to purge them. Neighboring Albanians, aligned with the Ottomans, soon migrated to Kosovo, where a Serbian population ebbed but persisted nonetheless. Once Serbia had liberated itself from Ottoman conquest and then Habsburg rule, the newly independent principality of Serbia pushed many Albanians out of Kosovo toward the end of the 19th century. Kosovo remained a part of the Kingdom of Serbia, then communist Yugoslavia, all the way up until the Kosovo War.

Both sides committed ample atrocities, as they had through history. The Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts found that Serbs in Kosovo in the 1980s were subjected to the worst "physical, political, legal and cultural genocide" since the Nazis and Axis powers invaded the region in 1941. Ethnic tensions escalated over the next decade, coming to a head with the emergence of the ethno-nationalist Kosovo Liberation Army. The State Department deemed it a terrorist organization in 1998. That year, the KLA began to attack Serbian forces and the war broke out in full. The Yugoslavian crackdown on Albanians matched and at times exceeded the KLA's brutality. Clinton decided to align with the KLA. One year later, he bombed the Serbs.

Clinton's defense secretary hypothesized on national television that Serbs had "murdered" 100,000 Albanians. In reality, that number was likely between 4,000 and 5,000 over the course of a year-and-a-half-long war, and certainly not more than 11,000 - nowhere near the 100,000 figure used to gin up support for a war in which Clinton authorized bombings that killed hundreds of Serb civilians.

As a purely legal affair, the NATO bombing was an embarrassment. Amnesty International considers it a war crime. The U.N. Security Council did not vote to permit it as required under its charter for invasions of sovereign nations. As a "humanitarian" affair, the Kosovo War was a catastrophe. NATO intentionally bombed the headquarters of Radio Television Serbia - a literal, physical attack on civilian journalists sanctioned by the United States. We bombed Belgrade's Chinese embassy, killing three journalists and Chinese nationals in the process. More than two months after the bombings began, Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic accepted NATO's terms of surrender. By end of the bombings, NATO had killed some 500 Yugoslav civilians.

In the decade following the end of the Kosovo War, NATO and the U.N. kept a presence in Kosovo, transitioning to eventual independence, which it maintains to this day.

All's well that ends well, right? Sure, Clinton's campaign was a grave abuse of imperial power - intervention in a sovereign nation not for any diplomatic or strategic purposes, but simply to show we could do it. But perhaps all of it was worthwhile if it ended ethnic tensions, even if it did so based on a lie that the violence was coming solely from one side.

In the aftermath of the "liberation," Kosovo expelled hundreds of thousands of Serbs and Kosovar minorities and murdered hundreds. In one particularly brutal case, an anti-Serb pogrom in 2004 displaced thousands, burned hundreds of homes and Orthodox churches, and killed dozens.

Just don't call it ethnic cleansing.

Today, Kosovo has Europe's youngest population and its highest unemployment rate. Three out of five Kosovars are unemployed, its people remain ethnically stratified and its minorities terrorized. Kosovo's currently waging a trade war on Serbia, instituting a 100% tariff on all Serbian imports.

For its part, Serbia has recovered somewhat. Yugoslav officials arrested Milosevic for corruption shortly after the war. The government, economy, and culture have all strengthened, but there's one interesting side effect of NATO intervention.

Although Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were both communist powers, rulers Josip Tito of the former and Josef Stalin of the latter notoriously despised each other. Soviet forces at one point threatened outright war against the Balkan nation. Yet when the world coalesced to destroy Serbia's capital, Serbia found a friend in the newly established Russian Federation. To this day, Russia remains the sole vote on the U.N. Security Council standing against the interests of the Kosovo government.

I visited Belgrade and its many ruins last year and was surprised to find that Vladimir Putin was a bit of folk hero there. He appears on tourist shirts in the bustling Kalemegdan Park and the Serbs who I spoke with were quite vocal in their support for him. When I asked about the Clintons, they made sure to express their ire with just one stipulation: our old president, they emphasize, was a monster. But they may just find themselves falling for President Trump.