The More Things Change…

This past May, voters in Serbia were subjected to a barrage of propaganda about how the "democratic reformers" would lead the country into a better, prosperous future, while the "nationalists" would somehow plunge it back into the "horrors of the 1990s." In yet another twist of Balkans irony, the "reformers" eventually ended up in a political marriage with the Socialists, who were actually in charge during the "horrible 1990s." In 2000, American and British ambassadors were organizing the Democrats to overthrow the Socialists and their leader, Slobodan Milosevic, from power; today, they broker a coalition between them – all in the name of "Euro-Atlantic integrations" and "eternal friendship." Or was that obedience?

Making matters even more humorous, the most passionate "reformers" and "democrats" today are actually biological and political heirs of the old Communists who lost an internal power struggle to Milosevic – in 1987.

Serbia is not the only country where the tired and expired has been repackaged as new, though. The Empire itself may meet a similar fate this fall.

There is little doubt that John McCain represents the "old" – or rather, the continuation of policies and ideas championed by the present occupant of the White House. In that context, it is easy to believe that Barack Obama is "new." He is certainly different from many previous candidates for Emperor, and he keeps talking about "change." Until, that is, one looks closer at his foreign policy – and finds Bill Clinton.

Echoes from the Past

This revelation comes via none other than Obama supporter Roger Cohen, columnist for the International Herald Tribune. Cohen used to be a reporter during the war in Bosnia, who joined forces with other "advocacy journalists" in clamoring for an Imperial intervention in the brutal civil war. In his criticism of Hilary Clinton’s fib about a risky trip to Bosnia (some months after the war was over), earlier this year, Cohen lapsed into the usual delusional trance of rabid interventionists, claiming that the "gelatinous" Bill Clinton engaged in "circumlocutions" while the evil Serbs committed not one, but two genocides against the innocent, helpless Muslims – until finally, and belatedly, the "brilliant" Richard Holbrooke intervened and made peace.

It is worth noting that Cohen’s criticism of Hillary Clinton was also a thinly veiled endorsement of Obama:

"What’s needed, rather, is some new, creative thinking about a changed world in which authoritarianism is enjoying a renaissance and America and its allies need to work together to spread peace, prosperity, freedom, equity, security and, yes, democracy."

How interesting. Cohen’s purpose for America is no different than that of Bush the Lesser; it’s just that Bush is doing it wrong!

Some "change" indeed.

Holbrooke’s Ghost

It took Cohen a couple of months to develop his one-liner paean to Holbrooke into a full admiration piece: the July 9 column titled "The mother of friendships lost."

Here Cohen laments that Holbrooke has been frozen out of Obama’s foreign policy team, "oddly weighted, for a professed change agent, toward veteran Washington insiders." Other Clinton supporters – Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher and William Perry – crossed over without much trouble. Not so Holbrooke, and Cohen speculates this could be on account of a rivalry with another former Clinton-era diplomat and Obama supporter, Anthony Lake.

Once friends, the two men had become bitter rivals at some point. Cohen claims Lake shrugged off the possibility of becoming Secretary of State, but "wanted to make sure Holbrooke didn’t get the job."

This is obviously something that bothers Cohen greatly:

"I, like others who witnessed his Bosnian diplomacy, am a fan, however maddening the Holbrooke ego. It was impossible, having watched mass slaughter over years, not to wonder at his ability to forge enduring peace against all the odds. He deserved a Nobel Peace Prize."

Actually, if one reads Holbrooke’s memoir about the Dayton peace talks, it becomes quite clear that the man who deserves the greatest credit for their success is the late Slobodan Milosevic. "To End A War" paints the late Alija Izetbegovic and Franjo Tudjman in a rather unflattering light, and even Holbrooke himself comes off as a scheming Machiavellian.

As far as Cohen is concerned, that’s an asset. He is just about pleading for Obama to embrace this loose cannon:

"Get Holbrooke in, rejuvenate a too-traditional inner circle with some fresh talent like Christopher Hill and the ousted Samantha Power, and forge a true ‘team of rivals’."

Hill was Holbrooke’s apprentice in Dayton, and later a key player in the dismemberment of Macedonia. Samantha Power rose to prominence by claiming that the American Empire had a moral obligation to intervene anywhere to "stop genocide." It’s bad enough that Obama is already listening to such putrid imperialists as Albright; now he’s supposed to re-create Clinton’s Kosovo cabinet? Who’s next, Wesley Clark? Oh wait…

The "Serbian Question"

Perhaps it is worth noting at this point that in October 2004, Roger Cohen had broached the topic of the "Serbian Question," arguing that there won’t be peace in the Balkans – or in Europe – until Serbia was reduced in size and influence to a level more acceptable to the Empire. Within just a few months, the Bush administration launched its "new" Balkans policy – entrusted to Clinton hand Nicholas Burns – to accomplish just that.

By 2006, Serbia’s federation with Montenegro was dismantled through a questionable referendum. Following months of sham negotiations, the occupied province of Kosovo was declared an independent state this February, and recognized as such by Washington and its 40-odd clients. And now, with the new "democratic socialist" regime, Washington has finally succeeded in installing an actual client government in Belgrade, after many years of feeble but frustrating Serbian resistance.

Already, Belgrade is being sent a clear message that it will have to recognize Kosovo’s secession before any thoughts of entering the EU can even be entertained (not that they will be, mind you).

Roger Cohen is well informed enough that one cannot dismiss his argument in favor of Obama embracing Holbrooke as mere wishful thinking. If this comes to pass, as his predictions about the "Serbian question" have, then the "change we can believe in" will be nothing more than a return to making more wastelands called peace.

And you thought Serbia had it bad.

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.