Kosovo’s Unhappy Anniversary

I write this on February 17, the fifth anniversary of Kosovo’s "independence." I’m putting the word in scare quotes because Kosovo is anything but an independent nation: it is, in reality, dependent on NATO, the European Union, and the US for the most basic functions of a state: keeping order and maintaining a judicial system. A multinational force known as KFOR, numbering some 6,000 troops – including 1,447 American soldiers – keeps a semblance of order in the former Serbian province, if one interprets the word "order" quite loosely.

It has been 14 years since the Kosovo war started, and the conflict continues in spite of the "liberation," and the establishment of the Kosovar state. Serbs are routinely subjected to violence by ethnic gangs and the Kosovo police, their homes attacked: practically every church in the country has been burned or otherwise vandalized. The last Serb enclave, in the northern town of Mitrovica, has been under siege for years, with KFOR playing referee between the two ethnic factions. The Serbs of Mitrovica have been resisting being placed under the authority of the so-called Kosovo Protection Corps, which serves as the ruling party’s enforcers, and has links to organized crime.

The judiciary is administered by the EU for the simple reason that the ruling party, Hashim Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo, combines the characteristics of an ethnic clan and an organized crime syndicate. They don’t call Kosovo a "mafia state" for nothing.

It is well known that Kosovo is the heroin capital of Europe, the key transit point for supplies of the drug coming from Afghanistan. A report prepared for the German intelligence service says Prime Minister Thaci, formerly head of the US-backed Kosovo Liberation Army, is the chief figure in a "criminal network operating throughout Kosovo," and that he and other key Kosovar government officials "are intimately involved in inter-linkages between politics, business, and organized crime structures in Kosovo." As head of the Lluca crime family, Thaci is a formidable figure in the Albanian Mafia, which controls the heroin traffic, extorts businesses, and has even engaged in organ trafficking.

A 2010 Council of Europe report [.pdf] stated that Thaci leads the so-called Drenica Group, which was accused of taking organs from Serb prisoners. Carla del Ponte, the head of the war crimes tribunal in the Hague, said she was prevented from investigating the organ-selling operation, but the recent appearance of a new witness has apparently given new life to the investigation. Leaked NATO documents describe Xhavit Haliti, leader of the Democratic Party’s parliamentary fraction and a close ally of Thaci’s, as heavily involved in drugs, prostitution, and weapons smuggling. Human trafficking is so endemic that the EU refuses to liberalize its visa requirements for Kosovo residents.

The economic picture is dismal. Unemployment is at a stunning 45 percent. Foreign investment is kept away by political corruption. The country’s telecom system was supposed to have been privatized by now, but this has been indefinitely delayed on account of corruption charges: an investment group headed by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Albright Capital Management, was reportedly getting preferred treatment by the Thaci regime, and was forced to withdraw their bid. Thaci, you’ll recall, was seen as a protégé of Albright’s during and after the Kosovo war.

Ilir Deda, director of the Kosovo Institute for Policy Research, lays the blame for the lack of foreign investment on successful efforts by the government to protect entrenched business and political interests:

"This government has proved quite successful at expelling every serious investor since 2008 who was willing to come here and invest here. Investors from Austria, Switzerland, and France have complained over corruption where they wanted to invest, regardless of privatization.

"Any investigation that leads to big political players in Kosovo is stopped for the sake of political stability – and it feeds on the culture of impunity, political impunity, that has been created in Kosovo in the last 12 years. Short-term stability [is favored] rather than midterm stability or long-term stability."

That is what KFOR/NATO have accomplished in the 14 years since the war – short term "stability" that cements the foundations of the Mafia’s power and just manages to keep a lid on an explosive situation. What that war produced has been nothing less than a Mafia state in uneasy coexistence with its Serbian neighbor, and at odds with a substantial portion of its own citizens. Kosovo today is a political and economic basket case, requiring the constant infusion of funds from the NATO countries, as well as vigilant policing, in order to keep a bad situation from getting worse.

The possibility that the region could explode in yet another paroxysm of violence is very real. A largely symbolic recent meeting between the Presidents of Kosovo and Serbia is seen by many members of the beleaguered Serbian minority as the prelude to a sell-out by Belgrade and the completion of the ethnic cleansing of the country. Serbia wants to enter the European Union, but the price it must pay is recognition of Kosovo’s independence. The Serbs of Mitrovica are pawns in a political deal that will leave them at the mercy of Thaci’s thugs.

Kosovo provides us with an object lesson in the dangers inherent in the misguided "humanitarian interventionism" promulgated by Western liberal elites. In the name of our alleged "responsibility to protect," the Western powers, led by the United States, enabled the creation of a gangster state which cannot govern itself and poses a danger to its neighbors. Kosovo’s political leadership consists of Mafia bosses and war criminals: that they are now on schedule to organize their own army poses a threat to the peace of Europe.

The ethnic conflict that triggered the first Kosovo war has not ended: it has merely been postponed until KFOR finally gives up and leaves. This is really the great problem of the "humanitarian" imperialists: they can occupy a country, "train" their favored clients in "governance," and pour taxpayer dollars into the nation-building project – but they cannot stay forever. Once they exit, the old hatreds reemerge, and the conflict resumes.

Kosovo is the Palestine of Europe, and this is the reason for the inherent instability of the state. One solution would be partition: a "two-state" solution. But while the Europeans apparently consider this a viable option in the Middle East, they have ruled it out completely in Kosovo’s case. The Serbian government, which continues to maintain its own parallel institutions in Mitrovica, has been asked to dismantle this apparatus in order to bring the enclave into the official structures controlled by the Albanian majority. This is a recipe for continued violent conflict.

Yet several factors prevent the Europeans and their American allies from recognizing this simple fact, not the least of which is the history of the war itself. NATO went in there on the grounds that the Kosovars were a downtrodden minority subject to persecution and even "genocide," and that justice could be served only by military intervention in favor of the heroic KLA. What has happened since, however, has demonstrated that this case inverted the reality: the KLA, far from being "freedom-fighters," were a criminal gang that soon morphed into a government run by gangsters.

No doubt the Serbs committed many atrocities, as did the KLA: this is a common feature of wartime throughout history, and is unlikely to be much impacted by the moral posturing of Western leaders. Imposing a "responsibility to protect" on the Western powers, the theoreticians of interventionism are charging Washington and its allies with a Sisyphean task. The open-ended nature of such a mission is, perhaps, the key to understanding why such a fatuous doctrine finds increasing support from our political elites: it gives them the leeway to intervene anywhere, at will, in accordance with their calculated interests.


I see Sen. Rand Paul has responded to criticism of his vote with the anti-Hagel filibusterers, coming not only from this space but also from many anti-interventionist conservatives as well as grassroots supporters of his father, Ron Paul. Failing to address any of the actual criticisms, the Senator counterposed the relative importance of the John Brennan nomination as CIA director to the Hagel brouhaha. The alleged threat of "domestic drone strikes" should be "the ‘preeminent libertarian concern," said Sen. Paul, according to the Daily Caller:

"Everybody is really excited about Hagel, but the most important question and the most important constitutional issue is whether or not the president can kill American citizens through the drone strike program on U.S. soil. That’s a much bigger question than Hagel."

This is a meaningless argument: opposing Brennan and supporting Hagel are hardly mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are complementary positions, which one might expect from anyone who claims to oppose an interventionist foreign policy. The unspoken subtext of the Senator’s remarks is that this is a purely partisan matter: it’s okay to oppose or obstruct one of Obama’s nominees, in the name of "principle," but supporting one – not so much.(I might add that Sen. Paul doesn’t seem to care much about drone strikes on Americans on foreign soil – which is the real issue being debated.)

Aside from that, Sen. Paul has "questions" about "Hagel’s speeches and financial information." This is really the crux of the matter: Paul the Lesser is signing on to Ted Cruz’s lunatic assertions that Hagel "may" be the recipient of funds from "North Korea or Saudi Arabia." "We can only get answers if 41 of us are willing to stand together and demand them," babbled the Senator.

Let’s look at who he is standing together with: Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Kelley Ayotte – the warmongering "Three Amigos" whose every criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is based on the charge that we haven’t invaded enough countries lately. Let’s look at who else Paul the Lesser is standing with: Bill Kristol, the Emergency Committee for Israel, Sheldon Adelson, the crazed holy-rollers of Christians United for Israel, and all his father’s worst enemies.

You may think such an argument couldn’t get much more disingenuous, but then you haven’t heard this one:

"’You would think by some of the comments I get that Hagel is really Harry Browne,’ Paul quipped, referring to the 1996 and 2000 Libertarian Party presidential candidate. ‘They make him out to be some sort of libertarian champion, and he’s not.’"

I know of no one who has said Hagel is a libertarian: his economic views seem conventionally "moderate," and as for his foreign policy views – well, that’s what the controversy is all about, now isn’t it? Paul concedes this, admitting that "Hagel favored a ‘somewhat less aggressive foreign policy," albeit while complaining that he’s "a ‘believer in most intervention," and "listing his votes in favor of the Patriot Act, foreign aid, and the Iraq war."

Notice how Paul, the consummate opportunist, slips into sectarian mode when it suits him: Hagel, he declares, isn’t anti-interventionist enough. This from a US Senator and all-but-declared presidential candidate who has said we ought to go to war if Israel is attacked. This from the same Rand Paul who, in a recent speech, averred we ought to be "somewhere some of the time," ruling out as "isolationist" being "nowhere all of the time."

Ah, the many faces of Rand Paul – the man’s a walking contradiction wrapped inside a conundrum. The conundrum is how to retain the support – especially the financial support – of the nationwide network organized by his father’s followers, while sucking up to the same people who derided and smeared the elder Paul for his anti-interventionist views.

The ambitious junior Senator from Kentucky gives himself away when he admits that, yes indeed, Hagel favors "a somewhat less interventionist" foreign policy – which is precisely why Sen. Paul’s Republican colleagues have gone after the nominee hammer and tongs. McCain ranted against Hagel’s opposition to the sacred "surge" in Iraq. Graham all but accused him of anti-Semitism on account of Hagel’s then-and-there validated observation that the US Senate is answerable to the Israel lobby. Sen. Ayotte was horrified that Hagel would have anything to do with a group whose stated aim – the elimination of nuclear weapons from the world’s arsenals – is exactly the same as Ronald Reagan’s.

Senator Paul’s supporters are fond of accusing his libertarian critics of making the perfect the enemy of the good, and yet here is the Senator himself attacking Hagel for being insufficiently pure – while acknowledging that the President’s nominee is indeed for a "less aggressive" foreign policy. Certainly less aggressive than the policy that would have been implemented if Sen. Paul’s preferred presidential candidate had won the White House. While such a patently dishonest person as the Senator could not possibly bring himself to admit this in public, on some level he must acknowledge it and he does so by denying the significance of the debate over Hagel:

"’Do I think Hagel deserves credit for being a war hero and for speaking out against waste in the Pentagon?’ Paul asked. ‘Yes.’

"But the senator said he doubted Hagel would have much impact on the Obama administration’s foreign policy. ‘I’m not sure Obama is less interventionist than Bush,’ Paul said."

Whether or not Obama is less interventionist than a President who invaded and occupied two Middle Eastern countries and initiated an open-ended global "war on terrorism" remains to be seen, but what are we to make of arguments against a cabinet nominee who clearly favors a less activist role for the US clothed in the raiments of "anti-interventionism"? I’d call it the sectarianism of convenience.

Hagel is no libertarian: I never said he was. He voted for the Iraq war, with reservations, like many Republicans, but later became one of its most passionate and articulate critics. This is the real reason why the War Party in Congress opposes him, and why Sen. Paul’s neoconservative buddies are expending so much energy in their relentless jihad against him. In voting against cloture – and giving as a reason the desire to get more "information" about alleged contributions from North Korea (!) and the nonexistent "Friends of Hamas" to Hagel’s speaking fees – Sen. Paul is aiding and abetting a disgusting McCarthyite campaign against an honorable man.

For shame, Senator Paul. Although I’m resigned to the fact that this means nothing to the shameless, I’m going to say it again anyway: For shame!

More Notes in the Margin

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Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

Buy my biography of the great libertarian thinker, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books,2000), here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].