November 25, 2007

The Hair Of The Balkan Dog

With the status of Kosovo beginning to create a political firestorm in the Balkans, one might be tempted to rethink the actions that brought Europe to liberate the province and then occupy it without any thought of what should follow. Not Richard Holbrooke, one of the architects of the disintegration in the Balkans. He writes in the Washington Post that, like everything else, Kosovo's woes are the fault of the Bush administration -- and that we should send a lot more American troops to garrison the Balkans:

Recent American diplomacy led by Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and special envoy Frank Wisner, working closely with E.U. negotiator Wolfgang Ischinger, has largely succeeded in persuading most of our European allies to recognize Kosovo rapidly. But NATO has not yet faced the need to reinforce its presence in Kosovo. Nor has serious transatlantic discussion begun on Bosnia, even though Charles English, the American ambassador in Sarajevo, and Raffi Gregorian, the deputy high representative in Bosnia, have warned of the danger. "Bosnia's very survival could be determined in the next few months if not the next few weeks," Gregorian told Congress this month. Virtually no one paid any attention. ...

When Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was ousted in September 2000 and a reformist government took over, the road seemed open to a reasonably rapid resolution of Kosovo's final status. But the new Bush team hated anything it had inherited from Bill Clinton -- even (perhaps especially) his greatest successes -- and made no effort to advance policy in Kosovo until 2005 and ignored Bosnia. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even sought to pull American troops out of the NATO command in Kosovo, which Secretary of State Colin Powell prevented. (However, the State Department did not prevent Rumsfeld from prematurely turning the NATO command in Bosnia over to a weak E.U. Force, a terrible mistake.)

By the time meaningful diplomatic efforts started in 2006, the reformist prime minister in Belgrade had been assassinated by ultranationalists. And Vladimir Putin decided to reenter the Balkans with a dramatic policy shift: No longer would Russia cooperate with Washington and Brussels in the search for a peaceful compromise, as it had in 1995 when Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin sat on the hillside at Hyde Park and reached a historic agreement to put Russian troops under NATO command. Today, Putin seeks to reassert Russia's role as a regional hegemon. He is not trying to start another Cold War, but he craves international respect, and the Balkans, neglected by a Bush administration retreating from its European security responsibilities, are a tempting target.

Where to start with this litany of foolishness? First, Holbrooke leaves out a few little details about why the Bush administration didn't make Kosovo its highest priority. In September 2001, we had this little incident with terrorists and a few airplanes that focused our attention elsewhere. We also had a military commitment that long preceded the Balkans that the UN couldn't handle for twelve years, one that involved a lot more hot-war actions than the Balkans. The notion that Kosovo should have been a high priority between 2001-2006 is patently absurd, and Holbrooke shows intellectual dishonesty for not pointing out the valid reasons this got back-burnered.

He doesn't mention the most obvious reason, either. Kosovo and the Balkans aren't our responsibility, diplomatically or in terms of national interest. The UN took over the Kosovo mission in 1999 -- not NATO, which did the initial fighting -- and the UN has remained stuck on stupid ever since. Russia blocks any attempt to recognize Kosovo's independence. This old story at Turtle Bay demonstrates the complete ineptitude of the UN when it comes to political pursuits.

The United States has no national interests in the Balkans. Unlike the Middle East, where we have vital economic and political interests at stake, the Balkans has few strategic or economic interests for our nation. This is, and should always have been, a strictly European affair, and Kosovo (and Bosnia) should have been garrisoned by European troops. American troops serve no purpose there and could be used elsewhere more effectively, particularly in Afghanistan, where our European partners refuse to accept combat roles.

The failure of the Kosovo mission belongs squarely on the back of the UN, and the responsibility for its resolution should rest on Europe. It's amusing that the same people who complain about American empire and unilateralism always find a place for both in areas where we have the least interest. Taking the hair of the Balkan dog after 9/11 and extending American involvement is a ludricrous idea.


TrackBack URL for this entry: