Clinton and Syria, part 2: on Bosnia and Kosovo

Following on from my earlier post, let’s talk about Bosnia and Kosovo, Clinton’s shining examples of Intervention Done Right. I’ve written about Bosnia before, but it can’t be repeated enough that NATO intervention had much less to do with the end of that conflict than the fact that the paramilitary groups who were fighting to drive Other People out of the neighborhoods they controlled had largely finished that job by the time western assets were brought into the conflict. Bosnia today consists of two completely disconnected halves (as per the Dayton Agreement that ended the fighting), the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (controlled by ethnic Bosniaks and Croats, who don’t really get along either) and the Republika Srpska (controlled by ethnic Serbs). The two sides don’t fight anymore, because they don’t do anything together anymore. It’s a failed state, with an economy a fraction of the European average and a central government whose corruption is exceeded only by the impotence forced on it by Dayton, which everybody assumed was only a temporary arrangement but has proven to be the Bosnian status quo. Does anybody in the Western foreign policy establishment, which foisted this official semi-permanent division on Bosnia, care what’s happening there now? Do they even know?

As for Kosovo, well, hard to argue that the NATO intervention didn’t end that war, since the Serbs weren’t going to stop until they’d killed or driven out every ethnic Albanian they could find, but Kosovo today makes Bosnia look like a model of post-war recovery and economic growth. Unemployment ranges anywhere from 40% to 60%. By some accounts, Kosovo is a narco-state run by a former warlord, Hashim Thaçi, who has ties to al-Qaeda and the international heroin trade that go back to his time at the head of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which funny enough was designated a terrorist organization by Bill Clinton’s State Department while we were helping them against the Serbs. European bodies have tried to investigate Kosovo’s role in international human organ trafficking. All told it’s a real success story for Western military intervention.

If you didn’t know any of this stuff, you’re not alone. The western press forgot Bosnia and Kosovo existed almost the minute we stopped dropping bombs on them. It’s hard to report on stuff that happens in Places That Are Not America, you know, and Americans don’t want to hear about it anyway, or so we’re told.

All this is to say nothing of the fact that Yugoslavia, whose inherent dysfunction was the ultimate cause of all this violence, never would have existed in the first place had it not been for a group of exiled Slavic elites in London, taken with western ideas of “ethnicity” and “the nation-state,” who thought they could cobble together a country made up of peoples whose cultural identities had never before been united so as to “free” those peoples from their Austro-Hungarian oppressors. These leaders, the Yugoslav Committee, made an impressive-sounding declaration at Corfu, saying in its preamble that Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes were “a three-named people that was one and the same by blood, spoken and written language, sentiment of unity, continuity and wholeness of territory, where it lived undivided.” When a new country’s leaders have to explain to its people that they’re all one people rather than the smaller tribes with which they’ve always identified, that country is probably not off to a great start. And what happened? Hitler invaded, divided that “one people” across very neat and well-established cultural lines, and set his new Croat allies to work committing atrocities against the Serbs. Hooray for unity! Poor, benighted Yugoslavia never stood a chance, a made-up country for a made-up “ethnicity” that could barely survive a single decade after the death of the only ruler who was strong enough to hold it together. Maybe the catastrophe that was Yugoslavia wasn’t a direct result of western intervention, but it was definitely influenced by ideas that were en vogue in western Europe in the early 20th century.

None of this should be taken to imply that things would have been better in Bosnia or Kosovo had the West not intervened, but it does illustrate that Western intervention, despite the blood and treasure that was spent, hasn’t really resulted in anything positive in either place. Effective foreign intervention in situations like these, or Syria, intervention that produces sustained long-term positive outcomes, is so elusive as to be almost impossible. Bad Things are happening and people in power, many with the noblest of intentions, want to Do Something about it, but chances are that whatever they do isn’t going to help.


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