The Choice: Bush’s Empire or Kerry’s

With foreign policy becoming the big issue of the 2004 U.S. elections, predictions that Democrats would invoke the “successes” of Clintonian interventions, particularly in the Balkans, seem to be coming true. But though Bosnia and Kosovo don’t seem to figure prominently in convention speeches just yet, with the assortment of Balkans veterans on John Kerry’s staff, that is only a matter of time.

Contrary to the belief of many anti-Bush activists, Kerry is hardly a peace candidate. The Democrats offer America a vision of “good wars,” fought with the enthusiastic support of the rest of the world – but wars still, and fought nonetheless. “American foreign policy under Kerry would not change dramatically,” Philip H. Gordon of the Brookings Institution told The New York Times.

Americans will get an Empire whether they buy George W. Bush’s or John Kerry’s version. And while Bush’s reign may make one nostalgic for the Age of Clinton that Kerry promises to restore, it may not be a bad idea to remember that Clinton’s Empire – and Kerry’s – is not all it’s advertised as being.

A Different Reality

Democrats, Republicans and the mendicant media can “package” Imperial wars all they want, but they cannot change their true nature, which is becoming increasingly obvious: widespread destruction, bitterness and poverty among the invaded, along with callousness, cruelty and corruption among the invaders. “Stopping genocide” sounds great, until it is discovered the genocide was a fabrication. The gullible may be fooled by photos of people cheering and throwing flowers at the occupation troops – as many Albanians did in Kosovo – until someone points out that they cheered the 1941 Axis invasion with the same enthusiasm.

The claim that American intervention in the Balkans demonstrated good will by defending Muslims has utterly failed to impress the Muslim world. Indeed, many Muslims dismiss intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo as “belated,” and “helping the Serbs,” despite evidence to the contrary. Kosovo Albanians perhaps worship Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, but the regime of Alija Izetbegovic never presented foreign assistance as a favor, but rather as a moral obligation the West failed to properly meet. Dozens of UN commanders in Bosnia were viciously smeared by Muslims for the slightest refusal to support their cause.

Setting logic and principle aside, for the sake of argument, one fact dooms the proponents of the Democratic empire as surely as lies about Iraq ought to doom their Republican counterparts: none of the highly praised interventions in the Balkans actually worked. Bosnia is a protectorate misruled by a foreign tyrant. Kosovo is a concentration camp for non-Albanians, and a haven for slavers, drug- and gun-runners. And Macedonia is a simmering cauldron of resentment.

Misguided Symbolism

The grand reopening of the reconstructed Old Bridge in Mostar attracted a lot of media attention last week, with travelogues describing its beauty and state propaganda calling it a “symbol of hope.” The bridge, built by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century, was destroyed by Croatian forces in 1993, during their battles with Bosnian Muslims. It was rebuilt as closely to the original as possible over the past two years.

Unfortunately, and as with everything in Bosnia, the restored bridge was far more important for its political symbolism than its truly majestic beauty. Bosnia’s viceroy Paddy Ashdown called its restoration a “triumph of hope over barbarism.” Both the Washington Post and the Associated Press saw it as a harbinger of Bosnia’s slow but certain reunification. But if anything, the New Old Bridge is a symbol of Imperial hubris. Bosnia is still divided, because its people want it so. There are two Mostars now, Muslim and Croat, while the once-vibrant Serb community has been destroyed.

For almost nine years, the Empire has sought to reinvent Bosnia from the ashes of its civil war, pretending that the issues that caused the conflict did not exist. Persisting in a belief that the right amount of social engineering, threats and violence can persuade the divided Bosnians to become one nation, it has erected an illusion of peace and integration that is, if anything, fueling ethnic animosities. In their ignorance or arrogance, no matter which, Imperial officials blame the hatred on “war criminals” still at large. When uncomfortable truths begin to emerge, such as that Bosnia is an attractive base for Islamic militants, supporters of the Empire protest and complain. Bosnia has become a myth cherished by social engineers of the Balkans. Perhaps it always has been.

The Old Bridge was restored more for the sake of politicians and princes. The peoples who reduced it – and Bosnia – to rubble would likely do it again, given the opportunity. Modern Bosnia does not deserve such an architectural treasure; it may some day, but not yet.

Defending Disaster

The next “successful” intervention, in Kosovo (1999), has been tainted from the start by the naked aggression it entailed, brazen lies used to justify it, and the ethnic cleansing that took place once NATO occupied that Serbian province. Supporters of the Empire persistently ignored the terror that has ravaged Kosovo since 1999, again pretending there was “progress” where there manifestly couldn’t be any. Then the pogrom of March 17-18 took place, with some 60,000 Albanians attacking Serb villages, churches and monasteries in an organized fashion, often unhindered by NATO troops or UN police. Faced with such a damning indictment of their occupation, what do the Empire’s partisans do? Lie and deny, again.

Four months later, with the pogrom already forgotten in Washington and Brussels, Human Rights Watch, a frequent apologist for intervention, issued a report condemning NATO and UNMIK for failure to protect the Serbs from attacks. Apparently, it takes four months to state the obvious. Not that it made any difference: NATO and the UN rejected HRW’s criticism out of hand. Besides, HRW only demanded a restructuring of the occupation, not its end.

Visiting EU dignitaries continue to spout nonsense about Kosovo. Just this week, Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot said he was “shocked by the March events, but … encouraged by reconstruction.”

What reconstruction?

Signs of Resistance

Macedonia, also a victim of Empire’s intervention (01), demonstrated this week the consequences of impossible demands. Under immense pressure from EU and NATO to enact a law on “decentralization” that would give more power to local authorities (in effect, empowering Albanian separatists in the western part of the country), the government ran into a roadblock: its own people.

Open riots erupted in the town of Struga last Thursday, where angry protesters chased off the visiting Defense Minister. A protest meeting was scheduled for Tuesday in the capital, Skopje, and it took place peacefully. Unfortunately, the political forces opposing the fragmentation of the country not only failed to present a compelling and principled argument against it, but merely recycled old and discredited rhetoric. While the government desperately seeks approval from Brussels and Washington, the opposition appeals to the people’s fear of losing their nationhood. In this bitter but futile infighting, the only winners are Albanian separatists and the Empire.

However ineffectual Macedonians’ resistance may seem, however, it is worth noting that people are no longer willing to suffer the iniquities of Imperial diktat in silence. Who knows, maybe the inevitable rejection of their sentiments by the Empire will dispel the Macedonians’ illusions about the “international community,” which are largely the source of their current predicament.

Doomed to Failure

It is evident from looking at Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia – to take just these three – that Empire’s intervention in the Balkans is not a success, but rather a disaster. The Pax Americana imposed on the region in the last decade is unnatural, based on lies and violence. It has had a considerable corrupting effect on people already suffering from Communism and chauvinism. The results are in plain view: poverty, apathy, despair, lingering hatred, violent crime and widespread delusions.

Some may argue that the solution lies in fine-tuning the intervention; however well-intentioned, they would be wrong. The best thing the Empire can do for the Balkans would be to leave. A true peace must be made by consenting parties, and as long as the Empire is around to back any of them, there will be no political will for a settlement of any kind.

Ninety years ago, a once-potent European empire embarked on a project of conquering the Balkans. On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and started a chain reaction that became World War One. What followed is sometimes described as the “suicide of European civilization,” resulting in a century of protracted agony. It was certainly the end of Austria-Hungary, and its Hapsburg emperors.

Attempts to force an artificial order upon the Balkans – or anywhere else, really – are doomed to fail. The more this pressure forces things to bend to its will, the more violent the blowback will be. History has shown this time and again. Does anyone really need another demonstration?

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.