An Idea Whose Time Has Gone

Rumors in early November that Hillary Clinton would be Barack Obama’s Secretary of State have by now been substantiated; the official announcement is thought to be only days away. Other Clinton-era officials, such as Bill Richardson, have been tapped for cabinet positions as well. As one Washington journalist observed, "There is hardly a soul on [Obama’s] transition team or among his prospective administration who hasn’t been inside the Beltway all along."

Stipulating, for the sake of argument, at the moment that Obama’s desire to re-create the economic climate of the Clinton era amounts to substantial change from the post-Bushian depression, the fact that Washington is not getting a fresh start but rather a recycled government may not seem so terrible. However, Obama isn’t returning to the nineties just in terms of domestic policy. Between Clinton at Foggy Bottom, the belligerent Joe Biden as Vice President, he looks set to revive the Clinton-era doctrine of "humanitarian imperialism," which differs from the Bush doctrine only in flavor, not in effect. And given that he’s keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, the argument that Barack Hussein Obama is not interested in getting rid of the American Empire appears to be rock-solid.

As Justin Raimondo pointed out earlier this week, what seems in store is a "protracted period of confusion and internal struggle, punctuated by periodic foreign crises in which Team Obama will be all too eager to prove their ‘toughness’." This isn’t exactly change from the Bush era, much less something anyone other than the power-crazed neocons in Washington can believe in.

Continuity of Empire

Here is an important fact about the American Empire: it is bipartisan. It honestly doesn’t matter whether a Democrat or a Republican sits in the White House – not to the people halfway across the world paying for it with their lives, and not to Americans who are paying with their liberty and property.

During the Clinton years, many Republicans and especially the conservative commentariat opposed the military adventures in Somalia and the Balkans. It was instructive to see some of those people change their tune completely once George W. Bush took office and launched expeditions into Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, those who cheered the "humanitarian bombing" of Serbs would protest the "shock and awe" aimed at Iraqis.

Yet as British historian Kate Hudson noted in 2003, there is hardly a difference between Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Clinton’s expedition against Serbia in 1999. For all his criticism of "nation-building" and promises of a "more humble foreign policy," Bush was all too willing to use the precedent offered by Clinton’s naked aggression to justify an aggressive war of his own.

Assuming for a moment that a punishment expedition into Afghanistan was warranted by the events of 9/11 – which is by no means indisputable – certainly a protracted occupation and a "nation-building" experiment were not. Iraq was a naked power grab, justified by lies and fabrications, simply criminal in nature and execution – just like Kosovo.

What, then, is Obama’s "change," precisely? America will still bomb people and invade countries, but it will be more polite about it?

Whatever happened to America that would be a "well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all" but "champion and vindicator only of her own," a country that "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy" but "will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example"? That is not an America of the Clintons, or of the Bushes – and apparently, not Obama’s America, either.

The Ghosts of Bosnia

During the campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Joseph Biden made frequent mention of their involvement in the Balkans. While Clinton was mostly upbraided for her gaffe about landing at a Bosnian airport amidst sniper fire – six months after the war ended! – Biden’s belligerent prattling about how he "looked Milosevic in the eye and called him a war criminal" was taken as proof of his foreign policy experience!

It is a commonly accepted myth that only U.S. intervention – first military, then diplomatic – ended the war in Bosnia after European peace initiatives repeatedly failed. The framework peace agreement that silenced the guns after 1,326 days of fighting was negotiated and initiated at a U.S. Air Force base outside Dayton, Ohio in November of 1995.

However, much less known is that U.S. meddling actually helped start the war, and that continued support from the Clinton administration to the regime of Muslim militant Alija Izetbegovic helped prolong the fighting by scuttling several European peace proposals.

Throughout 1991 there had been numerous attempts by local politicians to strike a bargain between the three principal ethnic communities in what was still a part of Yugoslavia. Izetbegovic sabotaged all of them, determined to create an independent, centralized Bosnian state. European negotiators supported a deal, as did Bosnia’s Croats and Serbs, who would have consented to separation from Yugoslavia in exchange for broad autonomy. Izetbegovic even signed a European proposal (the "Lisbon Agreement") that would have given Bosnia independence as a federation of ethnic provinces.

However, following a visit by Warren Zimmerman – the last U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia – on March 28, 1992, Izetbegovic reneged on the Lisbon agreement. His decision to declare independence on April 5 was the spark that lit the conflagration that soon engulfed the entire country. To his dying day, Zimmerman denied that he had urged Izetbegovic to scuttle the Lisbon proposal; yet the course of events clearly suggests otherwise.

A Real Change

Some 100,000 people died in the Bosnian bloodshed, destroying the already frayed fabric that held its communities together almost entirely. For the past thirteen years, Bosnia has existed in a limbo of nominal peace, a quasi-protectorate of the self-appointed international administrators, while the war continued by political means.

Earlier this month, however, leaders of the three principal ethnic communities actually sat down, without pressure from the country’s foreign overlords, and agreed to work together on structuring the country in a way acceptable to all. Following the news of the deal, the Muslim representative in particular came under severe criticism from Izetbegovic’s ideological successors. It is still quite possible that residual ideological fanaticism from the war will manage to torpedo this breakthrough agreement, but if by some miracle it manages to survive, it would be the first step in some form of reconciliation, and the possibility that Bosnia might survive as a country in the long run.

Who knows how different the lives of all Bosnians would have been without American support for Izetbegovic’s madness sixteen years ago? Certainly a lot more would have been alive, and a lot fewer scattered around the world as refugees. Yet Washington calls its Bosnia policy a success – and thinks the same of Kosovo.

Overtaken by Events

If the 19th century was an age of empire building, then the 20th was an age when empires died. The great European suicidal slaughters of 1914-18 and 1939-45 took care of Austria-Hungary, Germany, Britain and France. Russia succumbed to Communism, until the Soviet Union dissipated in 1991. Now the last remaining vestige of the 20th century, America’s Atlantic Empire, is imploding rapidly. Even though it appears that President Obama and his cabinet will try to keep it alive as long as they can, the prognosis is terminal.

Who will replace it? No one, and that’s just the thing. The very concept of a power that would have "full spectrum dominance" and unchallenged primacy over global affairs has been demonstrated as impractical at best, if not downright absurd. The time we’re living in is witnessing not just the end of American hegemony, but of hegemony as such.

Pity that Team Obama is still living in the last century.

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.