There They Go Again

“Fears of new ethnic conflict in Bosnia,” declared the New York Times on December 13, in an article that may yet be one of the most curious cases of the dog that did not bark. Authored by Dan Bilefsky, what is supposed to be a news feature ends up being a somewhat subtle editorial promoting more American intervention in this bloodied corner of Europe. Yet nothing in the article is actually news. The “recent” editorial by ex-US envoy Richard Holbrooke and ex-viceroy Paddy Ashdown that Bilefsky invokes was actually published in mid-October, and the ongoing feud between Muslim leader Haris Silajdzic and Serb prime minister Milorad Dodik is as novel as the “discovery” that water might, in fact, be wet.

Bilefsky’s claim that “talk of the prospect of another war is creeping into conversations” for the “first time in years” is just false. In fact, it seems to be based solely around the speculation by one Srecko Latal of the notorious IWPR-sponsored propaganda outfit BIRN. By contrast, the current viceroy, Miroslav Lajcak is quoted in the article as saying, “I don’t see the prospect of another war.”

So, what gives? Why is such a story appearing at all, let alone now?

Return of The Clinton

A paragraph that might explain the story’s actual purpose is, naturally, buried halfway down:

“Leaders across Bosnia expressed hope that Mr. Obama would be more engaged in Bosnia than President Bush has been, while emphasizing that the president-elect’s multicultural background made him ideally suited to mediate here.”

Who are these phantom “leaders”, Bilefsky doesn’t say. Just as he doesn’t name any of the “analysts” or “Bosnians” or just about anyone he invokes as the source of baseless speculation and trite propaganda that fill up the rest of the article. In reality, only a handful of politicians in Bosnia wants more external involvement, and only as a way to achieve an agenda that could never become reality otherwise.

Even so, it’s not Barack Obama who will be meddling in Bosnia come January, but his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Not only does she not have a “multicultural background,” she brings with her the legacy of a government whose meddling in Bosnia is to a great degree responsible for the country’s misfortune in the first place!

Foundations of Empire

As Mick Hume observed this July, following the arrest and rendition of Radovan Karadzic, the West had “loaded” the Bosnian conflict with all sorts of subtext designed to give meaning to both liberal and conservative interventionists left disoriented at the end of the Cold War. His colleague Brendan O’Neill further argued that the Bosnian War was a transformative experience for both the West and the Islamic jihadists similarly searching for meaning after Afghanistan:

“It was the conflict that made many in the West pro-interventionist, convincing them that the “international community” must ignore sovereign norms and intervene around the world to save people from tyranny. And it transformed the Mujahideen from religious nationalists – who during the Afghan-Soviet war possessed “no global blueprint transcending their individual countries” – into global warriors against “evil,” who also, like their humanitarian paymasters, began to care little for old-fashioned ideas about sovereignty. It is after Bosnia that we see the emergence of international networks of Islamic militants.

In effect, the Empire was built on the myth of Bosnia: that the Bosnian Muslims (often simply “Bosnians”) were pure, innocent, defenseless victims of deliberate, genocidal aggression by the evil Serbs, whose depravity was on par with Hitler’s. The effect of this was that the Serbs became everyone’s favorite villain, the one group in the world anyone could demonize, insult, slander or abuse with impunity. Muslims, on the other hand, became immune to criticism; anything that challenged the Official Truth promoted by the regime in Sarajevo (even inadvertently – which wasn’t so hard, considering that the “truth” changed depending on the time of day) would instantly be labeled “genocide denial.”

Ironically, the “advocacy journalists” that peddles outlandish stories about Bosnian atrocities – from inflating casualty figures to flat-out making things up – were too successful in their task; the notion that the West “stood idly by” and “intervened too late” while the innocent Muslims were being slaughtered has resonated in the Islamic world beyond anyone’s expectations, helping recruit new martyrs for the global jihad.

Danger, Danger!

Just last month, the leading Croat, Serb and Muslim politicians – not including Silajdzic, whose actual support among the electorate is less than George W. Bush’s at the moment – met and agreed on a common interest in amending the country’s constitution and abolishing excess bureaucracy. They did so without being forced by the international viceroy. Not only was this development a threat to Silajdzic – who has been a U.S. protégé for years – but also to the entire international bureaucracy in Bosnia, and perhaps even the Empire itself.

For, if the peoples of Bosnia could actually come to an agreement and live together in precarious peace, what would be the point of the legions of well-paid foreign bureaucrats, police and soldiery? The entire lucrative job placement program for disgraced Eurocrats would be imperiled. Down the line, someone might actually wonder why, if they could come to an agreement now, Bosnia’s communities could not have done so in 1991, avoiding the bloodshed? And that would be a direct challenge to the very purpose of a “liberal-interventionist” Empire, which bombs, invades and occupies not to expropriate oil wells but to “save people” and “stop genocide” (and if there isn’t one, it can be invented).

In it From the Start

The popular myth, established by the same media that a decade later slavishly repeated claims of “Saddam’s WMDs,” was that America and the West “stood idly by” while Bosnia burned, only to be shamed into intervening in 1995 and “ending the war.” In reality, Washington has had its fingers in the Bosnian mess from the very beginning. It was after meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to then-Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmerman, in March 1992 that Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic decided to renege on a deal he had just signed, which would have guaranteed peace in Bosnia by decentralizing the government. Within days, the country was consumed by civil war. Over the next three years, Washington’s carte-blanche support for the Izetbegovic regime scuttled at least three peace initiatives.

In the aforementioned NY Times article, towards the end, there is a quote by the Bosnian Serb PM Milorad Dodik, who wonders: “If Silajdzic doesn’t like Dayton, then why did he sign it?”

It is a legitimate question. The answer for it is available straight from the horse’s mouth, as the case may be; reading through the Dayton chapters of Richard Holbrooke’s 1998 memoir reveals that the Muslim delegation in Ohio mostly sat back and complained, while Holbrooke and his team did all the work for them. Especially significant is the account of how Izetbegovic’s nonchalant rejection of the Americans’ late-night efforts to obtain a deal from the Serbs launched the normally sanguine Warren Cristopher into near-apoplectic rage. Here was the man who knew he could yank the Empire around, because, having fabricated a myth about him and his people as the noble, innocent victims of genocide, the Empire had no leverage over him at all.

In fact, as Holbrooke’s account clearly reveals, Izetbegovic signed off on the plan only when it became obvious that he would have been held responsible for the conference’s failure.

Full Circle

This is not to say that there weren’t hatreds in Bosnia, both old and recent, that careened out of control once the first shots were fired. Nor does it absolve anyone who murdered, burned, pillaged and raped during the Bosnian War. One is left to wonder, though, whether that war and the horrors in unleashed were really inevitable in the first place, and if they could have been avoided, or at least been lessened somehow had Washington not been such a staunch supporter of an uncompromising regime run by an Islamic fanatic. The notion that Alija Izetbegovic stood for multiethnic democracy has the same relationship with reality as the story of Iraqi WMDs.

American intervention in the Balkans was not an accident. By the admission of its architects, it was conceived as a way to establish U.S. hegemony over Europe and Russia. No doubt some of the people involved had genuinely humanitarian motives at some point; but by and large that was just a distraction for the gullible. Now that the people who exploited and stoked the Balkans tragedy are sweeping back into power on the promise of “change,” they are about to do it all over again.

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.