Exposed Agendas

U.S. Envoy’s Unwitting Revelations

It did not take Washington long to take the first step towards "finishing the job" in the Balkans; it came in the form of Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, who visited Belgrade, Pristina, and Sarajevo toward the end of last week. At every step, he presented his hosts with Washington’s demands and desires, following the simple outline articulated by the International Crisis Group earlier this year and rehearsed in dozens of editorials since.

In Pristina, Burns told the Albanians their voice would carry a "heavy weight" in the upcoming talks, and repeated the rationalization of last year’s pogrom as a product of Albanian frustration. In Belgrade, he said Serbia needed to "atone for its mistakes of the 1990s." And in Sarajevo, he unveiled the next step in Bosnia’s ongoing centralization – the other shoe that everyone was waiting for to drop, after the Bosnian Serbs finally caved in to the EU’s demands for a centralized police.

What Burns said at the press conference in Sarajevo speaks volumes not just about Imperial policy in the Balkans, but about the people who put it together, and the ideas behind them. The official transcript of the conference was published online Monday. It merits a closer look.

Good-Bye, Dayton

It was one of America’s founders, Thomas Jefferson, who said: "The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first."

At some point in U.S. history (there is some debate as to when, but not really as to if), the government broke those chains – and put them on the people instead. The Constitution became a "living" document, open to be interpreted by the government, at government’s need. Burns’ remarks in Sarajevo reflected this belief. Even as he announced that Washington was organizing an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Accords, he called for "reforming" them into something quite contrary. Certainly, he said, the "Dayton Accords will continue into the future, but they have got to be flexibly administered, and flexibly interpreted." More specifically:

"We always believed – including Secretary of State Christopher and Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated them, and all the American governments that have come since then, including the government of President Bush and Secretary Rice – we’ve always believed that, as times change, the Dayton Accords had to change with them, and they had to be modernized, and there had to be an evolution."

Over the past decade, the meaning of his "flexible" interpretation has become clear: the Accords are to be bent, twisted, and even overtly broken if that leads to a more centralized, "unitary" Bosnian state, at the expense of ethnic autonomy established in Dayton (and even earlier, by the 1994 Muslim-Croat treaty in Washington).

Of course, Burns repeated several times that it’s up to the Bosnians to decide whether they wanted to scrap Dayton and "modernize" it, but he called the product of that process "a more normal and effective governing structure," clearly indicating Washington’s preferences in the matter.

A Normal, Unitary State

Having fought a war to establish a centralized national government in which they would be dominant, Alija Izetbegovic and his followers were bitterly disappointed with the Dayton Agreement. Izetbegovic actually tried to sink the deal at the last moment, deliberately making a demand he figured the Serbs would not accept. Slobodan Milosevic, forced into negotiating on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs, surprised everyone by offering Izetbegovic a concession. Trapped by his own clever scheme, Izetbegovic signed the agreement, but was obviously displeased. (Richard Holbrooke, no friend of Milosevic, describes this in his memoir.)

Soon enough it became obvious that the "international community" was more than eager to shape Dayton into something more to Izetbegovic’s liking. The "spirit of Dayton" soon replaced the letter, until eventually both were eschewed in favor of the "spirit of Brussels": the assumption, accepted without debate, that the goal of all Bosnians was to enter the EU and NATO.

The Bosnian Serbs have tried to defend the Dayton peace from its authors, and have been repeatedly pummeled into submission because of it. Attempting to gain favor with their foreign overlords, they began to agree with the impositions, hoping that at some point they would end. The most recent case was their reluctant acceptance of the "reform" that put all police under central government control. It was called the last step necessary for European integration. But according to Burns, it was just the beginning. He "suggested" to the Bosnian leaders

"to look for the evolution of the Dayton Accords to see the strengthening of a single presidency in the future, the strengthening of the prime minister’s position, and of course an effective parliament in the future. These reforms have been talked about; they are the logical extension of Dayton Accords and they are the future that will lead forward from the progress made on defense reform and police reform."

Not even under Izetbegovic did Bosnia have a single president (though he styled himself such, legally he was simply the chairman of a seven-member council). In a country divided three ways among mutually hostile ethnic groups with wartime grudges, how could any one man – or woman – enjoy the trust of all?

Logic, however, cannot be allowed to stand in the way of "moving forward."

Un-American Dreams

Burns, however, did not stop at passing off the rape of Dayton as its "logical extension." Answering the reporters’ questions, he blurted out:

"Building a unitary state, strengthening the institutions of the state, should be an ambition that all the people of this country have … all the members of NATO are single unitary states, and I think it’s true that the European Union and all the members of the European Union are single unitary states, as well. So, there has to be an evolution, there has to be progress."

Since when are all the members of NATO "single, unitary states"? Quick, someone send a memo to binational Belgium, or the Federal Republic of Germany, or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – or better yet, the United States of America! But there is no contradiction in Burns’ mind, since he would declare just a moment later:

"I represent a unitary national government called the United States."

Well, then, there you have it. The whole notion of state, local, and federal government was just abrogated by a U.S. envoy visiting a conquered satrapy. Surely the "states" that united to form the USA were never really sovereign, as their name might mistakenly suggest. There are no differences in laws, taxes, or prices between different American states, as that would hardly be unitary or national. All police in America are controlled by the unitary national government, and police districts are drawn on criteria of efficiency, having nothing to do with city, county, or state borders.

No? But why, then, does the "unitary national government called the United States" insist on just such an arrangement in Bosnia? Is it because the policymakers in Washington value this unitary model of government much more than the one they currently have, that they have sworn to uphold and protect?

Here a comment Burns made in another context – namely, the police reform the Bosnian Serbs want implemented gradually, over five years – is very illustrative:

"It needs to be implemented in a very aggressive way, and it needs to be implemented in such a way that the authority of the state is not in question."

Who was it that said, "Everything for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State"? Ah, Benito Mussolini

Eager to Serve

Why do Burns and his employers believe the people of Bosnia and the Balkans in general would agree to their diktat, even if they have done so regularly over the past decade? Because they want the Empire to love them, that’s why.

"[L]eaders of this country, including the Republika Srpska leadership, care desperately about a new relationship with NATO … the Serb leadership in Belgrade understands the same thing. They desperately want to see their country recognized and accepted and working in a normal way with NATO and the European Union."

Of course, it isn’t Empire’s fault that these eager sycophants are not accepted with open arms – it is those dastardly, genocidal war criminals, who "are a great symbol of all that was wrong here in this region," Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

"The economic advantages that will come with the normal trade relationship with the United States and with Europe, the political and security advantages that come with NATO and the European Union – all of that is being denied to people of this region because of two individuals who refuse to give themselves up for the crimes that they surely committed during the Bosnian wars."

As long as Nicholas Burns and the U.S. government are sure, why bother putting them on trial at all? Like the one of Slobodan Milosevic currently taking place before the Hague Inquisition, it would be an embarrassing show of Imperial hypocrisy. But the key here is to blame the Serbs, so as to make them more willing to obey.

Greater Things to Come

The history of modern U.S. involvement in the Balkans has been one of subterfuge, treachery, aggression, manipulation, and hypocrisy. But to Nicholas Burns and the people he represents, it is a source of pride. At the end of the press conference in Sarajevo, he called to reporters:

"We expect to have worldwide coverage of this. It’s been awhile since the people of the world focused on this region. They should focus on it, because there are positive things happening, and there are greater things to come, we believe."

Woe unto those who find themselves the target of imperial "focus," recipients of its "positive things," and intended subjects of "greater things to come." The smoldering ruins of Orthodox churches in Kosovo, cities in Iraq, or any of the countless other places destroyed in the name of "democracy," can bear witness to that truth.

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.