Balkans Redux

Sooner or later, a chronicler of Empire’s path of intervention notices he is trapped inside a loop. All of this has happened before, and it keeps happening again. Not in the goofy comedic way Bill Murray’s weatherman experienced in Groundhog Day, either, but rather the disturbing manner of Christopher Nolan’s Memento. The only thing that isn’t quite clear is whether it’s the Imperial officials, the mass media, or the general public that suffer from memory loss induced by brain trauma.

Is it the arrogance of power, or complete absorption into a virtual reality of its own making that makes the Empire no longer even bother creating new excuses, but simply recycling the old? Things have gone way beyond reductio ad Hitlerum; the new interventions are now remakes and reboots of the old, with the script barely altered.

For those who were willing to see it, the pattern was obvious nearly a decade ago. Trapped in the false dichotomy of "liberals vs. conservatives," the American public refused to compare Bush II’s interventions to Clinton’s, even after Bush openly embraced Clinton’s Balkans policy. Intervention at least faced some criticism during Clinton’s second term; there has hardly been any challenge to Obama’s Clinton Restoration. In fact, both McCain in 2008 (and ever since) and Romney now have been as bloodthirsty as anyone.

That Empire’s rulers have not been deterred by the financial meltdown or the de-industrialized economy at home is hardly surprising. Again, they live in a virtual reality they adjust as needed. Not even a Teutoburger Wald-style military disaster is likely to check their appetites. More alarmingly, though, the public seems to have stopped caring. There were marches against the bombing of Serbia, or the invasion of Iraq. The rape of Libya was shrugged off. So is the march to war in Syria.

All of this has happened before. And it is happening again.

Narrative Über Alles

The talk in Washington these days is reminiscent of 1992, not 2012. Now, however, when Clinton – Secretary, not Emperor – talks about "safe havens," she doesn’t even bother pretending they would be demilitarized zones where civilians could seek relief from the ravages of war. That was the pretext for setting up "safe areas" in Bosnia, two decades ago. Yet from day one, they were precisely what Clinton now wants to see in Syria: a military "base for further actions" of the belligerent favored by the Empire. In Bosnia, that was the Islamist regime of the "Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina"; today it’s the alphabet soup of "opposition" factions united by the desire to topple Syria’s President Assad.

The Bosnia intervention was promoted by "advocacy journalists", who uncritically accepted propaganda accounts of atrocities, then inflated them for good measure. Syria has denied access to these vultures, but that hasn’t made much of a difference. Western mainstream media simply skipped the expense of sending correspondents, uncritically airing propaganda from the rebel "activists" instead. Facts are nowhere in the picture; it is all about the narrative.

One part of the Bosnia narrative that hasn’t worked well in Syria is the massacre story. Every time a major escalation of Imperial involvement was to happen, a tragedy of some kind would helpfully occur, providing a pretext. A cargo aircraft gets shot down? Impose a no-fly zone. A bread line gets bombed? Blockade Serbia! A marketplace gets bombed? Demand "safe areas" and "exclusion zones." Another marketplace attack? "Bombs for peace" away!

This was taken to the next level in 1999, when the Empire claimed a "massacre of civilians" took place at the village of Racak, after a battle between the Albanian terrorist KLA and Serbian police. At the "peace talks" in Rambouillet, Serbia was given an ultimatum to cede Kosovo to the KLA and allow NATO occupation. After 78 days of war, NATO did occupy Kosovo, although the Empire is still having problems imposing its "independence" on Belgrade, even with a succession of quisling regimes it has installed since 2000.

However, it took years for the truth about Racak to emerge: the CSI team was pressured to declare it a massacre. In contrast, the massacre stories coming out of Syria have been debunked within weeks or even days.

When All Else Fails

The campaign to intervene in Syria has been going on for nearly a year. Damascus was supposed to topple like a domino, following Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli. But while the Egyptians and Tunisians hadn’t been aware of foreign agents manipulating their grievances until afterwards, and the Empire had to send the bombers to the rescue of its inept proxies in Libya, the Syrians have managed to resist so far.

The "lesbian blogger" that captivated the Western public for months turned out to be a middle-aged American man. The "massacres" turned out to be the work of the rebels (Houla) and legitimate fighting deaths (Tremseh). Unable to actually send in the big guns – on account of not having any handy – the Empire is now trotting out the propaganda artillery.

Allegations of "systematic and mass rape" were a key component of the propaganda narrative in Bosnia. Even today, entirely unsubstantiated claims that the Bosnian Serbs embarked on a systematic and widespread campaign of raping Bosnian Muslim women are repeated as established fact. The newest reports out of Syria accuse the government of – you’ve guessed it – mass rape.

The rebels recently launched a two-pronged attack on Syria’s major cities, Damascus and Aleppo. Abysmally stupid from a standpoint of military strategy, the move appears to be serving the propaganda war. Cameras, not cannons, are what the rebels and the Empire are betting on. Now that the rebels have been routed from Damascus and are battling for Aleppo, the Empire has announced it fears a "massacre." Odds are that Aleppo will be turned into a new Srebrenica, the ultimate propaganda trump after which the bombs are certain to follow.

Neither actual history nor Imperial narrative is entirely repetitious, of course. A particular twist in the Syrian case has been the claim that Al-Qaeda terrorists have infiltrated the country, therefore presenting a threat to the Empire. Trouble is, these terrorists are part of the Empire-sponsored rebellion – just as they were in Libya. Just as the Empire and jihadists that would later became Al-Qaeda worked together in Bosnia. Indeed, as the Balkans examples demonstrate, the Empire doesn’t mind terrorists as such; only terrorists who wander off the reservation.

The Wheel of War

At this point it may well be mentioned that, just as the Syrian civil war was instigated by the Empire, so was the war in Bosnia. In March of 1992, the newly-coalescing European Union mediated a power-sharing agreement between the three communities in Bosnia, providing for its peaceful separation from Yugoslavia. Following a visit from the American ambassador, the Muslim member of the country’s collective presidency reneged on the agreement, ending all attempts at a political solution for the Bosnian crisis. 

Consequences of the hysterical propaganda about the Bosnian War still linger, more than sixteen years after its official end. It took a decade just to establish an accurate death toll, which ended up being two to three times less than what the mainstream media had claimed. Yet the basic myth of the noble Empire swooping in to save the helpless "Bosnians" from genocide – the ultimate weaponization of human rights – continues to power the virtual reality in Washington. Without it, the Empire has no purpose. This is why it so dead set on a war in Syria – and after Syria, somewhere else. It is not a vulture’s hunger compelling this belligerence, but a rationalization hamster.

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.