A recent New York Post editorial deplored the deepening US commitment in the Balkans and wondered why the Bush administration wasn’t following through on Dubya’s campaign promise to get us out of that particular quagmire. Noting the President’s pronouncement that the "American contribution is essential, both militarily and politically," because "ethnic extremists are still stoking the flames of intolerance and inciting violence," the Post went on to ask: "Well, name a spot in the world where that’s not happening." Instead of sending 1,000 more National Guards to Kosovo, perhaps we ought to redeploy those troops to New York City. In any case, I was a bit surprised to read this editorial, which went on to opine that:
"The latest events are clear evidence that this is an unstable region and an extended deployment there is unwise.
"Yesterday, Bosnia and Kosovo.
"Candidate George W. Bush seemed to understand that.
"President Bush no longer appears to."
THE MURDOCH DOCTRINE
I was surprised to read this because the Post was one of the biggest supporters of the Kosovo war. In an editorial attacking Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for daring to raise questions about Bill Clinton’s Kosovo adventure, the Post complained that Senator Hutchison was "one of the noisiest and most irresponsible critics of any use of US force during the recent war in Kosovo." She is, averred the Post, one of those dreaded "isolationists." Her crime was asking, "Why not let the Kosovar Albanians fight for themselves?" The Post answered by citing their own columnist, Paul Greenberg, who proclaimed what we might call the Murdoch Doctrine:
"Washington and other Western capitals [must] realize that they must impose peace in Europe, or Europe will impose war on them."
We "impose peace," the bad guys "impose war." For the Post, that kind of linguistic legerdemain is about par for the course. As Clinton was bombing some of Europe’s oldest cities from the cowardly height of 17,000 feet, the Post was railing that he didn’t bomb soon enough and hard enough: "The problem with Bill Clinton," they averred, "is not that he’s been too quick on the trigger using what Hutchison calls, preposterously, ‘gunpoint diplomacy’ but that he usually waits far too long to act and, when he does so, he acts incompetently. That was true in Bosnia and in Kosovo, and, mark our words, it will prove true again when it comes to the nettlesome, unresolved issue of Iraq." If the editors of the Post are now baffled that the Bushies are deepening our Balkan commitment, then perhaps the explanation is that George W. Bush just wants to “impose peace.”
FLIP FLOP FOLLIES
Aside from that, however, the really interesting question all this raises is how to explain what the Post, in its typically snappy vernacular, calls "Bush’s deployment flip." (Also, typically, there is no acknowledgment of their own flip-flop on the Kosovo question: no wonder their archive of past articles extends only as far back as a week.) We all heard George W. disdain the Clintonian policy of imperial overstretch and Condi Rice made all kinds of noises about how the result of a Bush administration "review" of our Balkan commitment would likely mean a winding down of the US troop presence. Now, instead of following through on its campaign promises, the White House is "escorting" Albanian rebels across the length and breadth of Macedonia, demanding that the beleaguered government in Skopje cave in to most of the Albanian demands, and the news is out that the US government is about to take out a 99 year lease on Camp Bondsteel.
CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER
Speaking of that outpost of empire, Dubya was there just last week, where, after claiming that our presence would not be "indefinite," he capped his oration with a curious statement: "The American soldiers here at Camp Bondsteel and at bases and on patrol elsewhere in Kosovo and in Bosnia symbolize America’s commitment to building the better, broader, more peaceful Europe that is within our grasp."
Coming from the President of the United States, this "Europe first" stance is a bit hard to take. What about American interests? A couple of weeks ago, a reader responding to my column on the dangers posed by a rising EU wrote in to ask a very pertinent question: why is the US helping to consolidate a potential rival superstate? This baffling policy is reflected in Bush’s Bondsteel speech, where he burbles on about "a Europe whole and free." He made a point of commending the Europeans for their meddling in Macedonian affairs, and clearly indicated that the US would support the EU diktat to Skopje. While finding it necessary to frame the issue in terms of proposing an exit strategy so as to appease noninterventionists in the GOP Bush dashed hopes that US troops are coming home any time soon and so the mystery deepens. Why? The New York Post, Republicans in Congress, and American GIs stationed there are all asking the same question: Why are we in Kosovo?
THE TURKISH CONNECTION
The answers to both questions why are we building up the EU, and why has Bush gone back on his promise to get us out of Kosovo are inextricably linked. We have unleashed the mad dogs of Albanian ultra-nationalism, first on the Serbs, and then on the Macedonians, in order to increase Turkish influence in the region. I made this point back in early February 1999, in what I believe was one of my first contributions to this website. Turkey has long been a bastion of US influence in the Middle East, and, with the fall of the Iranian shah, became Washington’s chief satrap in the region. Superficially, it might seem that the importance of Turkey as an ally would diminish with the end of the cold war: US bases on Turkish soil were an integral element of Washington’s strategy of encircling and containing the Soviet Union. Yet the reality is quite the opposite: Turkey has become more important due to its military alliance with Israel. Ankara is the linchpin of US regional strategy, which is meant to protect Israel and also keep the Russians out of the Caucasus.
A little noticed event last month was "Anatolian Eagle," joint military maneuvers by the US, Turkey, and Israel, which took place over southern Turkey the starting point of a possible invasion of Syria in the event of a Mideast war. For 13 days ending June 29, a whole fleet of fighter planes, bombers, refuelers, and other craft swarmed like a cloud of angry killer bees over the plains of Anatolia, buzzing the borders with Syria, Iran, and Iraq. As the Palestinians stepped up their fight against the occupation of their lands, and Washington gave Ariel Sharon the green light to go after Arafat, operation "Anatolian Eagle" was meant as a direct threat to the Arab world: resist and you’ll perish.
PAYING THE PRICE
The re-creation of the old Ottoman Empire in the southeastern Balkans is the price the US is willing to pay for the security of Israel. But that isn’t all: the Turks also want very badly to gain entry to the European Union. After all, the whole thrust of the doctrine preached by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, is that Turkey must face toward Europe, not toward Mecca, when offering up its daily prayers. The Greeks have effectively blocked their EU application, so far, but it is only a matter of time before the mandarins of Brussels devise a convenient way to sweep aside all objections and extend their domain to Asia Minor.
CLUELESS IN NEW YORK
If the price of Israel’s defense is the consolidation and expansion of a potential rival to the US one whose arrogance and contempt for America is even more vitriolic, in some ways, than the old Soviet leaders’ then the present occupant of the White House is willing to pay it. While this is not good news for most Americans, surely it is a good enough reason for the New York Post, which is, after all, unrivaled in its shrill and pointedly unconditional support for Israel, and for Ariel Sharon in particular. If only the editors of the Post had a clue as to the geopolitics of our intervention in the Balkans, somehow I think that they wouldn’t be kvetching about Kosovo. However, since the clue to this riddle has nothing to do with Gary Condit, Lizzie Grubman or the latest blatherings of Madonna, the Post‘s editorial writers will no doubt continue to remind the President of his pre-election pronouncements on the subject. It’s the lighter side of being a foreign policy analyst you didn’t think there was one, did you? So, please, don’t anybody go and tell them: you’ll spoil my fun.