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March 17, 2004
The Balkan Quagmire Arises Again

While and its political mouthpieces like Howard Dean have been loudly proclaiming the Bush-led liberation of Iraq a quagmire, the real quagmire in the Balkans may be exploding yet again, as it has a number of times over the last ten or twelve years:

Ethnic Albanians rose against the Serb minority across Kosovo yesterday in co-ordinated attacks on them in the worst bloodletting in the province since the 1999 war. A French peacekeeper was one of at least 11 people killed in grenade attacks and gun battles. About 250 were injured as the five-year peace in Kosovo was shattered.

The trouble started in the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, where thousands of Albanians armed with heavy automatic weapons and hand grenades clashed with Serbs.

The explosion of ethnic violence apparently was provoked by reports that two ethnic Albanian children had drowned in the Ibar River after being pursued to their deaths by a Serb gang. The river is the dividing line between the town's Serb and Albanian populations.

There's also this from the AP:

Melees broke out in every major city in the province as well as several enclaves where Serbs have eked out a sheltered existence since the war ended. Serb homes, churches and cars were set on fire as ethnic Albanians rampaged in revenge.

Most of the casualties occurred where the violence erupted the ethnically divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica as the two sides threw rocks and charged at each other and then opened fire with guns.

The breakdown in order illustrated the failure of U.N. and NATO (news - web sites) efforts to snuff out ethnic hatreds and set the U.N.-run province on the path of reconciliation.

Five years after our good friends, the French, convinced us to bomb Serbia to free the Kosovars -- and without UN approval in the face of Russian opposition -- we find out that the civil wars in the Balkans are far from over. This means that the US and NATO will be forced to continue their military presence in the area as little more than standing targets, a trip wire with little mandate to take any action at all except in self-defense. American intervention in this area of ancient hatreds goes back to 1995, when we were supposed to set the table for peace and then withdraw in favor of an all-European force.

So far, we're still there.

The Balkans are still Europe's dirty little secret. While they decried our liberation of Iraq without UNSC approval, the Europeans had no trouble endorsing the remote-control war against Slobodan Milosevic as long as it was conducted in the stupidest way possible. Instead of actually defining Milosevic's Serbia as the problem and taking direct and coordinated military action against his regime, NATO instead deployed troops in defensive positions in civilian areas and dared Milosevic to attack them. Milosevic was smarter and crueler; he bypassed NATO's troops and attacked the civilians instead in order to achieve "ethnic cleansing" and create a Greater Serbia.

The Balkans provide an excellent example of the futility of "peacekeeping" as a short-term strategy in resolving centuries-old conflicts. 20,000 NATO troops still stand guard in Kosovo, and more in Bosnia, to keep the Serbs separated from ethnic Kosovars, Albanians, and Bosnians. While they're all standing around, the underlying causes of the conflicts are being ignored, and it has nothing to do with poverty or a lack of democracy: they hate each other. Forty years of Tito's dictatorship couldn't undo it, and it was utterly predictable that the European notion of stationing troops under orders not to act would do absolutely nothing, either.

Contast this with Iraq and Afghanistan, where the casualties have been orders of magnitude less and where development of democratic institutions give hope that the various parties involved will develop the processes necessary to get along and govern themselves, and this in less than a year for Iraq and just over two for Afghanistan. There's a lesson to be learned here, and that lesson is that quagmires occur from a lack of will to reach solutions. Decisive action is almost always better than half-measures designed to offend the least amount of people, because the latter usually results in the highest amount of dead people.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 17, 2004 10:50 PM

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Apologies to Brittney... Kosovo Torn by Widest Violence Since U.N. Took Control in '99By nightfall the United Nations had lost control of several city centers, and mobs of Albanian men were attacking Serbian areas at will. In the provincial capital,... [Read More]

Tracked on March 18, 2004 1:45 AM

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