Sound and Fury

Coverage of the Democratic takeover of the U.S. Congress in the past couple weeks has focused on Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), the first female Speaker of the House, and her "100 hours" agenda. But if most of the voters who booted the Republican incumbents in November 2006 did so because of Emperor Bush’s war in Mesopotamia, by now they realize the new people under the Capitol dome are going to be the same as the old people. America’s two governing parties are debating the length of stay in Iraq and the number of additional troops to be sent to their deaths, but not the legitimacy of the war and the subsequent occupation. While the Emperors may be replaced, the Empire itself must never be doubted, their reasoning goes.

Five days before he announced on NBC that he would be running for president, senior Democratic Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) published a belligerent, fact-challenged and demagogic editorial in London’s Financial Times, spelling out what the Democrats considered successful foreign policy. It was a throwback to the darkest days of Clintonism, that only look bright and naïve in comparison with the nightmare of Bush the Lesser that came afterward. But with Biden becoming chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, was his rant merely friendly shilling for old allies – or a foreshadowing of Empire’s intentions?

Chairman’s Rant

Biden’s screed, titled "Opponents of new Kosovo must be stopped," appeared in January 2 Financial Times. In just over 700 words, he declares that "adroit diplomacy to secure Kosovo’s independence could yield a victory for Muslim democracy, a better future for southeast Europe and validation for the judicious use of American power," but warns of "a growing risk that Serbia and Russia will conspire to seize defeat from the jaws of victory."

According to Biden, in the seven years since NATO ended "Milosevic’s reign of terror," the UN mission has "largely succeeded in bringing stability;" now only undefined status stands between the "people of Kosovo" and prosperity. He also claims that delay in Kosovo’s secession is holding Serbia back from EU membership. Biden is fond of citing poll figures that suggest a majority of Serbs is willing to part with their occupied soil, and declares that, "On the whole, the citizens of southeast Europe [sic!] are mentally prepared for an independent Kosovo."

All cards are laid on the table when Biden dares suggest that "The people of Kosovo – already the most pro-American in the Islamic world – will provide a much-needed example of a successful US-Muslim partnership."

But the absolute gem in his "argument" has to be the claim that Russia has imperial designs:

"A Russian effort to delay a deal on Kosovo would be in keeping with the Kremlin’s habit of fostering weak, subservient governments in formerly communist states. Moscow has apparently reached the conclusion that impoverished, unstable regimes are easier targets for manipulation than prosperous, independent countries."

"A responsible Russian approach to the issue," says Biden, "could demonstrate the Kremlin’s commitment to global order at a time when its credibility is in tatters."

Desperately Seeking Validation

Problems with Mr. Biden’s expostulations are legion. First off, the "people of Kosovo" are Albanians – Serbs, Roma, Turks or any of a dozen other ethnic communities absolutely do not count in his narrative. As for the Albanians themselves, their Islamic faith is emphasized when an argument is made for placating the Muslims world ("successful US-Muslim partnership"), but minimized when credible accusations are made concerning the Albanians’ connections with militant Islam.

Biden’s invocation of opinion polls and Serbs’ supposed readiness to give up Kosovo is specious. If democracy means respecting the will of the people, then how dare he tell the Serbian people what to think and how about a portion of their own country?

More than seven years after NATO illegally occupied it, Kosovo is neither "stabilized" nor secure. True, murders of Serbs and mistreatment of Roma, almost a daily occurrence in 1999, are rare these days. Mainly because there are few Serbs left to kill, and no Roma to mistreat any more. Just in case, Biden invokes the specter of another "March 2004" – described at the time as an Albanian "Kristallnacht" aimed at the surviving Serbs – while trying to portray it as a conflict between Serbs and Albanians.

The bit about Russia is actually humorous. It is not Moscow, but Washington that suffers from a global credibility deficit. If anyone has a habit of fostering "weak, subservient governments in formerly communist states" it’s Washington, not Moscow. Seriously, who came up with the concept of "Color revolutions," Vladimir Putin or the National Endowment for Democracy?

One doesn’t have to read the entire screed to understand Biden’s purpose, only to grasp the extent of his brazen disregard for truth and reality. What he really seeks in Kosovo is "validation for the judicious use of American power."

The only way Kosovo could be considered "judicious" is in comparison with Bush the Lesser’s invasion of Iraq. But then, anything looks wise and sensible when compared to that disaster.

Gentle Mockery

Serbian ambassador to Washington, Ivan Vujacic, responded to Biden’s text on January 8 in the only appropriate way: with gentle mockery. Among other things, Vujacic says:

"The truth of the matter is that Kosovo has a dismal record regarding basic security, the rule of law and respect for property and human rights for non-Albanians. Democracy should be universal and not ethnic, nor based on religion. Should the threat of violence be rewarded by a quick move to independence or is Kosovo just a propaganda tool for the Muslim world as Senator Biden seems to suggest?

"Serbia expects that the principles of international law and the UN Charter should be adhered to. It does not believe that a democratic nation should be dismembered. It has stated so publicly. Surely, this is not conspiracy."

Ambassador Vujacic’s letter was followed by several more letters to the FT, including one from Slobodan Samardzic, advisor to Serbian PM Vojislav Kostunica. All of them challenge Biden’s premises and conclusions. This is a significant development; there was a time, as late as several months ago, when Serbs would not dare speak out against such a high-ranking official of the Empire. Politically, Joseph Biden still lives in 1999, when American power was at its peak. Seven-odd years later, that has changed.

But Does It Matter?

There is ample reason to worry about Biden and Co. running the U.S. foreign policy in lieu of Cheney, Rumsfeld & Perle, but it is the Americans who should be worried the most, not the Serbs. For despite the bellicose rhetoric from the mouth of the narcissistic Senator, the actual capacity of the Empire to shape world events has significantly diminished since the days he cheered on the KLA and the bombs over Belgrade, calling for a total occupation of Serbia.

Much as some Americans may rightly revile Bush the Lesser, it is worth remembering that his military adventures stood on the foundation of "humanitarian" wars that "liberal interventionists" of Biden’s ilk had constructed on the ruins of Yugoslavia. Slovenia and Croatia were a precedent for Bosnia, which was a precedent for Macedonia and Kosovo, which was a precedent for Iraq… and soon enough, American aggression against anyone – anytime, anywhere – was not an exception but rather the rule.

Now, it is probable that Biden’s belligerent musings in the Financial Times are a sign of "liberal" interventionists’ return. But a much more likely case is that it represents the last roar of an establishment whose time has passed, and while still capable of mischief it cannot fundamentally change the course of events. So to borrow a description from Shakespeare (Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5), "It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing."

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.