Biden Does the Balkans

Even before he became Emperor, Barack Obama signaled the direction of his foreign policy by choosing Joseph Biden as his running mate. What Dick Cheney was for Bush the Lesser, Biden became to Barack the Exalted: a belligerent voice of the old establishment, their only distinction a different party tag. And just as Cheney brought to the regime of Bush II an obsession with Iraq from the days of Bush I, Biden has carried his copious Balkans baggage from the Clinton era into the Obama White House.

Today, Biden is in Serbia, on a state visit to the Balkans that will also send him to the self-proclaimed "republic of Kosovo" and Bosnia. There is little doubt that Biden will be met cordially in Pristina and Sarajevo; he has been a steadfast and very outspoken supporter of both the KLA and the Bosnian Muslims since the 1990s. In 1993, on CNN’s Larry King Live, he called the Serbs "illiterate degenerates, baby killers, butchers, and rapists." And during the 1999 NATO attack on Serbia, he appeared on Meet the Press (May 9, 1999) and called for "a Japanese-German style occupation of that country."

In January 2007, Biden clamored for action on the pages of London’s Financial Times, for the sake of "new Kosovo," a state about to be illegally established in the occupied Serbian province. Within a year, it became obvious that Biden wasn’t just shooting his mouth off, as he’s prone to doing. Behind his words stood a large faction of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

Desperately Seeking Success

Obama was elected because he promised "change" to an America tired of Bush’s futile imperialism. What Americans got was a promise of a more successful Empire, and to deliver on this promise Obama has turned to people like Biden and Hillary Clinton to revive the Balkans agenda from the 1990s.

Truth be told, that agenda never went off course, even under Bush II. It may have been on autopilot for several years, while Washington’s priorities shifted eastward to Afghanistan and Iraq, but by May 2005 it was fully embraced by Bush, for the same reasons it is now supported by Obama: the U.S. needs a victory, somewhere, anywhere, to distract the public – foreign and domestic – from the fiascoes in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan, as well as the economic trouble at home.

Then there is always the forlorn hope that jihadists across the world will take note of U.S. support for Muslims in the Balkans (in Bosnia as well as Kosovo) and call off their holy war against the "Great Satan," agreeing to an alliance with the U.S. instead. Biden himself appears to believe this fantasy, arguing for an independent Kosovo as a "victory for Muslim democracy" (FT, January 2007).

Empire’s Plan

Washington seeks to make permanent the current situation, which is a result of some two decades of intervention, intrigue, propaganda, and outright violence in the territory that was once Yugoslavia. The country was systematically dismantled in the early 1990s, by recognizing as independent states the administrative units established by the Communists in 1945. An attempt by two of those units, Serbia and Montenegro, to preserve a union was finally defeated in 2006. Additionally, a portion of Serbia – the province of Kosovo – was occupied in 1999 and declared independent in 2008.

Slovenia, the first to secede, is now a member of the EU. Croatia had fought a four-year war against its Serb population, emerging victorious in the summer of 1995 with American help. Now it looks set to become a province of Brussels as well (ironically, held up by a feud with Slovenia). The Bosnian declaration of independence resulted in a four-way civil war, eventually halted by the American-sponsored Dayton Accords in the fall of 1995. Macedonia separated peacefully, but has constantly feuded with Greece over the country’s name and symbols. In 2001, an Albanian rebellion claimed a third of the country, and the government in Skopje was pressed by the U.S. to capitulate.

The only "unfinished business" at this point is to finalize the conquest of Serbia, centralize Bosnia, and secure the "independence" of Kosovo. And what a coincidence, those are the very places Biden is visiting!

The Bosnian Conundrum

America’s problem in Bosnia is a fundamental misunderstanding of that country. Every ruler of this region, from the Ottoman Turks through Austria-Hungary and the Yugoslav Communists, recognized the complex relations between the three principal ethnic communities and found a formula to make them coexist, more or less successfully. That formula most often involved some combination of "divide and rule" and brute force.

During the 1992-1995 war, the U.S. supported both the Croats and the Muslims against the Serbs, to the point of forcing an alliance between the two in 1994. It also turned a blind eye to Muslim militants from all over the world that flocked to Bosnia seeking to continue their Afghan jihad. Thus the Dayton agreement came as a bit of a surprise to many Muslims, who felt they were robbed of a "final victory" (of the Croatian kind).

It would appear that the U.S. has several objectives in Bosnia, which are mutually contradictory. On one hand, it’s locked into a propaganda narrative about the "multi-ethnic" and "tolerant" Muslims and the evil Serbs, and seeks to claim credit in the Muslim world for "saving Bosnia." For the sake of this narrative and that elusive credit, American diplomats have been supporting a decade-long campaign to "reform" Dayton and create a more centralized Bosnian state.

At the same time, however, militant Islam has been gaining traction in Bosnia, capitalizing on the perception that the "perfidious infidel West" did nothing while Muslims suffered, then added insult to injury by imposing Dayton. So the U.S. vacillates between suppressing the Islamists, and suppressing the Serbs to appease the Muslims. What this policy may eventually accomplish is anyone’s guess, but it sure doesn’t look like victory.

Remaking Serbia

Serbia has been the real prize all along, of course. Identified as the principal obstacle to U.S. dominion in the Balkans and a potentially dangerous example to other countries in Eastern Europe (see here), the Serbs had to be not only conquered but transformed into obedient subjects.

Through U.S. intervention, the Serbs in Croatia were eradicated, and those in Bosnia pacified by the Dayton agreement. But that was only a pause for breath. By 1998, Washington was sponsoring terrorists in Kosovo. The following year, Serbia was used as an excuse to assert NATO’s global mandate to do whatever it pleased, and Kosovo was occupied. In October 2000, Milosevic was deposed through a "popular revolution" (a tactic used afterward in the Ukraine, Georgia, and – unsuccessfully – in Belarus). Yet even though the regime of Zoran Djindjic practiced unquestioned obedience to the whims of Washington and Brussels, it balked at the separation of Kosovo. Ever since, Washington has been on the lookout for a properly pliant regime in Belgrade.

Last summer it seemed that one had been found, with President Tadic’s surprise coalition that completely sidelined the conservative opposition. Yet even these groveling quislings have been unable to openly endorse the Kosovo land grab. Why?

This isn’t so much about the land as about the symbolism. For Washington’s purpose, it isn’t enough to sever Kosovo from Serbia by force, ethnically cleanse it of all non-Albanians, and obliterate the Serbian cultural heritage in the territory; for this to work as intended, Serbia has to renounce Kosovo, voluntarily. Kosovo was the place where the Serbs fought for their faith and liberty and refused to give them up even after being conquered. Washington’s outgoing ambassador to Serbia, Cameron Munter, told the Belgrade daily Politika that Americans are hoping for a time when Serbia will accept the fait accompli in Kosovo and "move on." But by "moving on," the Serbs would be giving up their soul.

The Tadic regime is perfectly aware of this; their tactic has been to gradually accept Washington’s desires while trying to keep the population distracted with shameless lies, empty promises, and fictitious victories. Anything more risks shaking the weary, confused, and impoverished Serbian public out of its apathy and into a fit of desperate rage, with decidedly unpleasant consequences for the quisling government.

Unintended Consequences

Actually, Biden’s visit might be making things worse for the quislings. Not only is he presenting them with an impossible demand to accelerate their agenda, his presence is serving as a lightning rod for the opposition. Already there are posters across the country telling Biden to "Get Out of Serbia" and "Yankee Go Home."

Both American diplomats in Belgrade and their lackeys in the Serbian government like to talk about "friendship" between their countries. Had Washington really wanted Serbian friendship at any point between 1989 and 1999, all it had to do was ask. But asking is not something empires do. Instead, it demonized, bullied, bombed, and occupied. And then it was "concerned" that the Serbs might have taken it personally!

The policy Joseph Biden’s visit is supposed to further is predicated on America’s asserted ability to create reality and compel obedience by force. Though it may appear at times that this effort has paid off, and even approached success, it is never wise to bet against reality and its annoying habit of triumphing in the end.

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.