I have never learnt so much about Bosnia as I did recently from American media covering presidential elections. All expert assumptions that the presidential race this season would be about the war in Iraq proved so wrong. It surprisingly turned out to be all about Bosnia.
The first time Bosnia emerged as a serious issue was when CNN and FOX broadcasted a material informing that the Bosniaks (coincidentally they keep applying for the membership in the EU) put the future female Commander-in-Chief and her daughter Chelsea (a presumptive Democratic nominee in a decade or so) under sniper fire in Tuzla. Then, when America was getting ready to go angry at them, they suddenly called it off and sent instead a young child to greet Mrs. Clinton with flowers. Subsequently they were blamed for posting a misleading video at YouTube ambiguously depicting Hillaryâ€™s Bosnian visit.
The second major Bosnian incident involved Obamaâ€™s foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, who went to Bosnia at the beginning of the 90’s and it had such a deep impact on her that she came back to the U.S. and started publicly calling Hillary Clinton a monster.
The third (but most notable) Bosnian incident, occurred at the end of the last month when Richard Holbrooke, a Nobel Peace Prize nominated diplomat and a chief Hillary Clintonâ€™s foreign policy adviser, disclosed Hillaryâ€™s plan on how she intends to end the civil war in Iraq and bring U.S. troops home. Holbrooke published an op-ed in Washington Post, in which he claimed that a solution to the peace in the Middle East lies in his Bosnian experiences. Clintonâ€™s team announced that the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended war in the Balkans, could be easily renamed the Bagdad Peace Accords and enforced in Iraq.
LEGACY OF THE 90’s
One of the reasons I never became Hillaryâ€™s supporter (since day one) is because of Clinton Administrationâ€™s failed foreign policy legacy in places like Bosnia and Rwanda.
Holbrooke says that the biggest positive outcome of the Dayton Peace Accords was that it ended the war in Bosnia. Well, one cannot argue with this because itâ€™s true that every peace ends military conflict and therefore saves peopleâ€™s lives. However to make my point, I would paraphrase Obamaâ€™s famous speech against war in Iraq, when he said that he doesnâ€™t oppose all wars, but he only opposes dumb wars. I pretty much feel the same towards the peace from Dayton, which seems to be dumb peace built on numerous misjudgments.
One of the reasons I believe the Dayton was a misconception is because those 150,000 Muslim victims, whom Holbrooke mentions in his op-ed, could never have died in the first place, should the Western countries changed their policy toward imposing the arms embargo on Bosnia, 3 years prior to said peace negotiations. From retrospect, it was a policy which hugely contributed to the murderous genocide, producing stunning number of deaths (thatâ€™s actually not only my opinion, as it has been also publicly claimed by many independent experts, diplomats and academics).
Bill Clintonâ€™s foreign policy in Bosnia has been flawed since the beginning of his first term and resulted in dramatic consequences. In August 1992, when he was campaigning against George H. W. Bush for the presidency, he publicly promised to put an end to Serb concentration camps in Bosnia; he said he â€œwould begin with air power against the Serbs to try to restore the basic conditions of humanityâ€. Clinton claimed that “the United Nations’ demands should be backed up by collective action, including the use of force, if necessary”, and that “the United States should be prepared to lend appropriate support, including military, to such an operation.” (read original here). But when he became the president he gave up on his promises and sort of forgot about the existence of those concentration camps. Instead of sending air planes to stop the strife, he sent Richard Holbrooke to begin negotiations.
Despite what Holbrooke tries to picture in his articles, the U.S. did not suddenly step in to bring the end to the genocide in Bosnia. This issue has been on the table for years and the U.S. has been called upon for help since 1992 , and not necessarily understood in terms of sending money or troops, but merely as a request for a change of flawed policies in the region, which the Clintonâ€™s team never seriously contemplated, when the time was right.
It seems to me that those, who were Bosniaâ€™s best friends were not the Clintons, the Holbrookes or the Lakes. The accurate analysts of the Bosnian tragedy were people like Sen. Bob Dole, who made numerous public appeals to immediately lift the arms embargo allowing Bosniaks to defend themselves. Or Congressman Frank McCloskey, whose unpopular support for Bosniaâ€™s cause and numerous visits to the region at that time cost him a Congressional defeat in 1994 elections and brought a bitter end to his political career.
THE KISSINGERS OF THE BALKANS
There has been a movement (lead by the Clintonians) to promote the Dayton Peace Accords to allow its creators to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (as I mentioned before Holbrooke did get nominated and so did Bill Clinton for his overall peace endeavors). However, it has not become a serious issue (fortunately). A just question arose whether one can be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for stopping a crime, which he has originally aggravated by ignorance and pursuit of wrong policies? Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Holbrooke/Clinton would be like awarding it to Henry Kissinger for stopping the war in Vietnam. Yes, it did happen in the past but afterwards everybody thought it was undeserved and the very image of the prize suffered. The Clintonians might have hoped to become the Kissingers of the Balkans, but it did not work out this way though.
It is perhaps not even irony that all peace endeavors made by the Clinton Administration in the 90’s, produced only one Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to Al Gore in 2007 for saving penguins and icebergs in the South Pole.
OSAMA BIN LADEN PLANTS A TREE AND BUILDS A HOUSE IN SARAJEVO
It is said that all people around the world immigrate to the U.S. in pursuit of the American dream. Well, Hillaryâ€™s people claimed that Osama bin Laden wanted to immigrate to Bosnia instead and pursue his own dream over there.
Firstly it was Richard A. Clark (Clintonâ€™s chief anti-terrorism adviser), who during his deposition before 9/11 Commission on March 24, 2004, testified that back in 1994, the U.S. government knew that Bin Laden was organizing a terrorist network in Bosnia and intended to play an important role in the new Bosnian government. According to Clark: â€œU.S. and Allied actions halted the war in Bosnia and caused most of the al-Qaeda related jihadists to leaveâ€. Holbrooke repeats those allegations in his op-ed and explains that the U.S. government was â€œconcerned with the presence in Bosnia of a little-known group of Islamist extremists who would later become infamous as al-Qaeda.â€ According to Holbrooke: â€œin the Dayton Agreement, we required their removal and gave NATO the right to attack them; without Dayton, al-Qaeda would probably have planned the Sept. 11 attacks from Bosnia, not Afghanistan.â€
To be honest, if somebody showed me those statements but didnâ€™t tell they were authored by Clark and Holbrooke, I would assume they were taken out from Milosevicâ€™s testimony before ICTY (and by the way, those revelations have not been confirmed in testimonies of other U.S. officials before the 9/11 Commission, including testimony of George Tenet, the CIA director).
The first most obvious implication of Clark/Holbrooke â€œal-Qaeda remarksâ€ is that if the U.S. government knew that Bin Laden and his group was infiltrating Bosnia, so must have known Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Therefore perhaps the ethnical cleansing they conducted did some good to Bosnia, because by killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims (some of them must have been extremists) they prevented 9/11 attacks being planned from the Balkans! (I apologize for being sarcastic).
In comparison, George W. Bush did it a lot better in Iraq in respect to Saddam Hussein and other war criminals, who guilty of crimes against humanity, were promptly captured, tried and hung without unnecessary delays.
And here we come to the second implication (my favorite one). According to Clark/Holbrooke, the U.S. government knew about Bin Ladenâ€™s terrorist operations in Bosnia back in the 90’s, was subsequently able to track and destroy his network, to get his supporters out of the country, to infiltrate them to the extent to be able to figure out they wanted to participate in the Bosnian government, however at the same time the U.S./NATO intelligence somehow didnâ€™t notice massive infantry movements approaching Srebrenica, the U.N. safe area, in July 1995 where 8,000 men and children were slaughter overnight (the largest mass murder in Europe since the World War II).
Is it historical irony, coincidence or simply a lie, that the Clinton Administration was able to track down in Bosnia a â€œlittle known group of Islamist extremistsâ€ (using Holbrookeâ€™s own words), but they werenâ€™t able to track down well-known war criminals like Karadzic and Mladic (who many times were seen drinking coffee in public places or freely passing U.S./NATOâ€™s checkpoints)?
Adding insult to injury, the Dayton Peace Accords do not contain even one word like â€œAl-Qaedaâ€, â€œterroristsâ€ or â€œIslamist extremistsâ€.
Additionally, the 9/11 attacks were planned in detail from the territory of the U.S. and not remotely from Afghanistan (if actually any particular territory can be justly claimed, because the group had international reach, was very mobile and had cells in many other countries, including Germany). As a matter of fact, Mohammed Atta, the leader of the group which conducted the 9/11 attacks, lived in the U.S. for over a year before the hijacking. If we acknowledge that Osama bin Laden was a spiritual leader and financier of the attacks, we still have to agree that he had no personal interests in countries like Bosnia, where his activities could have been easily uncovered, exposed and destroyed without any American help. Moreover, Bosnia is a country with no history of hatred towards the U.S. and Western Europe. To the contrary, Bosniaks have always regarded themselves as Europeans and as a part of the West, even though they have been practicing different religion than the rest of Europe.
The Balkans, by a definition, is an unfriendly territory to Bin Laden and he could not have successfully planted and grown his vicious network over there to the extent gravely endangering the security of the West. Thatâ€™s a given.
THE BAGDAD PEACE ACCORDS
There is no comparison between Bosnia and Iraq. It is a big misunderstanding to assume that Bosniaâ€™s experiences under Dayton Peace Accords could be used in the Middle East peace process. The situation in the Middle East is that it is at a verge of evolving into a bigger regional conflict (including Israel, Turkey and Iran among other players). In Bosnia, the West had to deal with genocide only, in Iraq it has to handle an open civil war between 3 parties and combat the â€œrealâ€ al-Qaeda (not the imaginary one from Sarajevo).
Iraq needs a solution to a problem of Kurds living in the northern part of the country. The Kurdish issue is not parallel to the problem of Bosnian Serbs in the 90’s. The creation of Bosnia by a referendum in 1992, left Bosnian Serbs outside of the territory of Serbia, which they regarded as their homeland. It was a similar situation to the one produced by the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which left number of native Russians living not in Russia, but in neighboring states. The Dayton Accords perhaps could be utilized to some extent in comparable situations, for example to help to resolve present crisis in Abkhazia region, where the majority of the population is Russian, although its territory is located within Georgia.
The Kurdish problem is of a different sort. Kurds are a nation which has been fighting for independence for centuries and they are dispersed in several neighboring countries, this is in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. If the Kurds in Iraq were given autonomy comparable to that of Republika Serpska, it would likely create a domino effect and prompt Kurdish wars for independence in all those states. As a matter of fact, Turkey is already actively fighting Iraqi Kurds, who make incursions into Turkish territory to fight over there for the creation of free Kurdistan. (Read our independent assessment of the Middle East situation here).
Finally, Iraq is an artificial state created in August of 1921 and expanded in 1926 to suit political convenience, while Bosnia (despite latest genocide) has a centuries long history of nationhood and integrity. There is no historically identified â€œIraqi nationâ€ and there is no common interest among Sunni, Shia and Kurds to make them to concede to living together in a single country. There does not exist any powerful consolidating element keeping the Iraqis together. In the United States, as the scientists claim, such an element is religion, which firmly unites people of different nationalities and races. In Iraq, the religion is an element of disintegration. In Bosnia we have three different religions, however the number of intermarriages has been statistically very high and therefore has been a strong element integrating the nation.
NEGOTIATING WITH TERRORISTS
One more observation. Hillary Clinton and her team are poorly positioned to solve the Iraqi crisis. Obama came out with this proposition that as a president he would meet with leaders of hostile countries without preconditions. Clinton/McCain rejected such an idea and called Obama extremely naive.
It is worth noting, though, that Hillary had some different opinion about it during her husbandâ€™s presidential terms. Bill Clinton sent out Holbrooke and Madeleine Albright to negotiate (without preconditions) with a notorious murdered and war criminal, Slobodan Milosevic. He also sent out Madeleine Albright to meet privately with a well known terrorism sponsor Kim Jong-il of North Korea, and was himself ready to meet with Kim afterwards. Hillary Clinton did not protest those steps back then, although she is presently eloquent to protest Obamaâ€™s plans to duplicate her husbandâ€™s ideas.
Actually, Obama may be very realistic, and not naive, in this respect, because solving the difficult situation in the Middle East may require shaking hands with the devil. He pledges to be ready to do it. From the Washington Postâ€™s op-ed, we already know that Richard Holbrooke would be ready to shake those hands as well, however Hillaryâ€™s opinions in this field remain inconsistent.
THE INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE
Simply put, Dayton Peace Accords cannot be renamed Bagdad Peace Accords and implemented in Iraq. It is however intriguing that the Nobel Peace Prize may be awaiting for the one, who peacefully solves that conflict. Would it be Hillary Clinton or somebody from her team? Well, under present circumstances it may happen only if she decides to run for the president as an independent candidate in general elections , against Obama and McCain (she would definitely carry New York, California, Florida and Michigan – â€œthe big states, which matterâ€). Unfortunately right now, it may be the only option for her or diplomats like Holbrooke to put their fingerprints on the Middle East peace process and claim the Prize.
Author of the article holds Master of Laws degree in EU and Polish law from Lazarski School of Commerce and Law in Warsaw, Poland.