Saturday, March 18, 2006

Balkan echoes

Dimitri K. Simes, "Jihad, Uninteded," The National Interest, Winter 2005/2006

One would have thought that the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the simultaneous attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and the strike on the USS Cole in 2000, among other incidents, would have alerted policymakers that a new major challenge to American interests and American lives was in the making. However, instead of combating this threat, the United States focused on "wars of choice" and haphazard attempts to "nation-build" in the Balkans.

The architects of this tragic diversion are unrepentant and even proud of what they have done. As Richard Holbrooke, the person largely responsible for shaping a flawed U.S. policy in the Balkans, wrote in the Washington Post in July 2005, "Was Bosnia worth it? As we approach the 10th anniversary of Dayton, there should no longer be any debate."

Holbrooke's claim that there should be no debate about Bosnia demonstrates his chutzpah, but it does not pass even minimal analytic scrutiny. If the United States had wanted to stop the war, it could have supported the Vance-Owen plan-rejected by the Clinton Administration at the time as allegedly too favorable to the Serbs. And given the administration's inaction on genocide in Rwanda, it is not surprising that major powers like China and Russia found it difficult to accept that humanitarian considerations alone motivated the United States to act, first in Bosnia, then in Kosovo, especially when American protŽgŽs engaged in ethnic cleansing operations of
their own.

The "unintended consequences" of the Kosovo war in 1999 were to poison U.S. relations with Russia and China alike, leading eventually to the Clinton Administration's contemptuous rejection of Russian proposals for joint action against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda-proposals that resurfaced after 9/11 and eventually contributed to removing the Taliban from power.


Mr. Holbrooke wants the United States to support independence for Kosovo, whether the democratic Serbian government accepts it or not. But what if ignoring Serbian objections discredits the moderate and pro-Western politicians now leading the country and results in a rabidly nationalist government there, reopening the Balkan can of worms? What if Russia takes the predictable position that what is good for Kosovo should be good for other unrecognized but de facto independent states such as Nagorno-Karabakh or the transdniester Republic? What of separatist regions like South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which share borders with Russia and where local populations overwhelmingly do not want to be a part of Georgia? In the latter case, the United States would face a series of unpleasant choices. Would the United States, in the name of principle, compel a pro-American Georgian regime to abandon its desire to restore the country's
territorial integrity? Or would Washington side with Tbilisi, especially if it decides to use force to recapture these regions? If the latter, the United States could find itself embroiled in a major dispute with Russia that could effectively end cooperation on other matters of vital importance to the United States. And how would the United States force a resolution granting independence to Kosovo through the UN Security Council over probable Chinese objections, without offering guarantees that Taiwan will never become a separate, independent state? Or argue that Kosovo deserves full independence without setting a dangerous precedent that the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey may seek to emulate? The potential for trouble seems serious and real

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