Monday, July 23, 2007


So, uh, what the fuck are we doing in the Balkans? Because, it's not like anything bad has ever happened in the Former Yugoslavia that's caused major problems in the rest of the world. Or anything.

I supported the bombing of Kosovo -- something I'm far less certain about now, seeing where the caboose on that particular intellectual train ended up -- but at the time, NATO actions were explicitly predicated on a promise not to partition Kosovo away from the rest of Serbia. This made sense both pragmatically -- Russian actions were problematic enough -- and legally: the UN Charter basically forbids that kind of interference in a nation's politics. Now, having spent almost a decade building up Kosovar expectations, the US, Europe (and I assume Canada is part of the NATO package on this one) look ready to support Kosovo's partition away from Serbia.

To put it bluntly, it's difficult to think there's any way this ends well. Russia is going to be even more antagonistic to western policies, and you can expect Russia to start working with ethnic Russian minorities in former Soviet states (Georgia and Moldova most immediately) to pull off the same trick, this time with the pseudo-legitimacy of "they did it first". Lest you think this is something that will just blow over, I refer you to Richard Holbrooke of the Clinton Administration, from March of this year:
There is no doubt that President Vladimir Putin... is seeking to regain ground lost in the decade after the Soviet Union's collapse, while at home Putin pursues increasingly authoritarian, often brutal, policies. Only when Putin harshly criticized the United States during a conference in Munich last month (with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham sitting in front of him) did Americans pay attention -- and then only briefly. Now a key test of Russia's relationship with the West is at hand, and Russia's actions could determine whether there is another war in Europe.
Oh Goody. Because if there's a possibility of war in Europe, with Russia coming to the aid of Serbia, I think we should totally do that. It's totally fool-proof, I say! Now, where are those train schedules...

Not to be too blunt, but the aftermath of Kosovo really shows how problematic US foreign policy was, well before Bush. Holbrooke's piece in the WaPo shows exactly how condescending and arrogant US policymakers can be:
Belgrade is deeply opposed, as it has been to any change in the status of Kosovo, an area that the Serbs feel is part of their historic territory but that is now more than 90 percent Albanian. In the end, the Serbs will have to face the truth: Kosovo is gone from Serbia forever, a result of the policies of the former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
Two things: First off, it's funny how easy it is to partition Kosovo off of Serbia -- which has to "face reality" -- but how impossible it is to get the Israeli government to accept the "loss" of the West Bank and Gaza. If we're talking % of population, Palestinians make up 82% of the West Bank -- where exactly is the magic line that says Serbia has to face reality, but the Palestinians have to be forced to accept enormous suffering and humiliation before we're willing to grant them anything remotely similar? (Let's not pretend that the Kosovar Albanians refrained from using violence, either.) Apparently, the magic line lies somewhere between 82% and 90%. The numbers would be even closer -- with a higher % of Serb Kosovars -- if there hadn't been so much Albanian-on-Serb violence after the end of NATO's war.

Secondly, Serb's don't "feel" that Kosovo is part of their "historic" territory: Kosovo is, by international law, part of present Serbia. This sentence is about as condescending as if I wrote "Americans feel that New Mexico is part of their historic territory..." and about as accurate. You can't just wave away realities of international law and politics. It's this kind of laissez-faire attitude with facts that got the US in to Iraq, for God's sake. And you've got to almost pat Holbrooke on the head for this breathtaking stupidity:
Russia contends that the United Nations does not have the right to change an international border without the agreement of the country involved. But Kosovo is a unique case and sets no precedent for separatist movements elsewhere...
Right. Because as current events have shown, only the US or NATO gets to decide what a reasonable interpretation of international precedent is. It's not like China or Russia have used America's pronouncements on terrorism to crack down on domestic opposition because... oh wait, that's exactly what they've done.

If anything, John Podesta is even more arrogant today when he writes:
The administration and our key European allies have agreed to one final round of good-faith negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, to take no longer than 120 days. This week's meetings are expected to lay the groundwork for those talks. It is clear that after those talks conclude, the United States is prepared to recognize an independent Kosovo. The question is whether European governments will follow suit. To do otherwise is to risk a replay of the Balkan chaos of the early 1990s.
Got that?

1) Negotiations designed to finalize the status of Kosovo.
2) Advance warning, by Washington insiders, that the US will support an independent Kosovo no matter what happens.
3) Presumably, negotations that will fail.
4) A unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, backed by the US immediately and unconditionally.
5) Somehow, it will be all Old Europe's fault.

It's even possible that the partitioning of Kosovo could achieve what the invasion of Iraq was supposed to, what Richard Perle et al. wanted all along: the final, irrevocable de-legitimizing of the United Nations as a body for dispute resolution in the world.

About the only thing that is bright and sunny in this whole mess is the possible future I see: If Kosovo declares it's independence from Serbia and finds itself at war with Belgrade, the two forces most likely to defend Pristina are the US and the same group of people who find their way in to every country where a Muslim nation is being attacked by a non-Muslim one: Al Qaeda. So if those of us with an ironic outlook are really, really lucky, before Bush leaves office we'll have the joy of watching him praise the Al Qaeda forces fighting for a free and independent Kosovo. Bonus points for footage of US soldiers fighting alongside AQ fighters.

(Edited slightly after posting.)


Technetium said...

Good post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Clinton administration is to be blamed for the mess. As long as I know Serbians, they will never give Kosovo. The politics of stick and carrot does not work in Kosovo. In the apocalyptic scenario of war (after 120 days of negotiations), where West will be engaged on Albanian side the outcome will be WWIII. The winner will be China.