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While Congress debates on the supposed quagmire of Iraq and the lengthy time it has taken to establish a democracy, word comes out of the Balkans that the Americans have finally pushed the Bosnians to normalize their own political system -- after ten years of military occupation separating the three ethnic factions that have threatened to rip each other's throats apart. The Serbs, Muslims, and Croats of Bosnia will dump their ethnically-based tripartite executive in favor of a true parliamentary system, much like the one Americans helped Iraqis establish in less than a quarter of the time spent in Bosnia:
A pact reached in Washington under heavy American pressure aimed to overhaul the creaking constitutional machinery that ended the 42-month war in November 1995, but left the country partitioned and dysfunctional.
At ceremonies in Washington to mark a decade since the Dayton accords ending the war were sealed, leaders of parties representing Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, and Croats, as well as leaders of non-ethnic parties, agreed "to streamline" parliament and the tripartite presidency and "embark on a process of constitutional reform" that will strengthen a national government.
The ambitious US-authored scheme aims to turn Bosnia into a "normal" parliamentary democracy and reduce the role played by ethnic factors. The plan has been pushed by the US state department. Its progress is crucial to Bosnia's chances of entering the European mainstream.
On Monday the EU launched Bosnia on the path of integration, but made plain that it needs to speed up reforms to become "a fully functioning and viable state" if ultimate accession to the EU is to succeed. Yesterday's agreement, if implemented, should also bring closer the end of the international mission in Bosnia.
Let's make clear what happened here. We occupied a primarily Muslim state for the last ten years, trying to separate three different ethnic factions from each other. We initially went into Bosnia to quell a civil war and a genocide in progress, and then waited ten years for the kind of political progress that would make our presence unnecessary. Despite this quagmire, we kept our troops in the country and continued to work on a political construct based on democracy -- and we gave it ten years without loud demands for precipitous withdrawal prior to an effective resolution.
Now compare this with the hysterics over our position in Iraq. We have spent a year after the toppling of the Saddam regime fighting an insurgency while establishing a democracy designed to bring together three ethnic/religious factions at each other's throats. In two years, we have progressed much farther than Bosnia and will have the first elected, constitutional government at least a full year ahead of Bosnia's. Three elections will have been held before the Bosnians hold one.
Why did we stay in Bosnia for ten years? The long stay had to do with a lack of willpower to demand a resolution to the political questions, but the reason we stayed was to try to finally resolve a war that goes back six centuries between the three parties involved in the Balkans. For some reason, that has been seen as an American priority through two administrations. In Iraq, we have the opportunity to resolve a conflict that goes back decades in a region with undoubted significance to American interests. In the former, we gave ten years for our work to reach fruition, and in the latter a vocal minority won't even give it three before they cut and run.
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