Time in Kosovo Coming?
there a chance the Bush Administration will do anything other than
muddle through with the failed and failing policies put in place
by the Clinton administration in Kosovo and the Balkans? Early on
some comments by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice suggested
that it was time to rethink what has in essence become an open-ended
commitment to imperial garrisons in the wake of the Kosovo bombing
exercise. She was quickly put in her place by expressions of horror
from some European and EU leaders, and Secretary of State Colin
Powell subsequently reassured NATO leaders that the United States
wasnít planning to cut and run but would instead stand shoulder-to-shoulder
with our staunch European allies.
the safest bet would be that the Bush II administration will simply
stick with the open-ended commitment in Kosovo left by the Clinton
administration so long as it doesnít require increasing the commitment
or watching body bags come home in large quantities. But the situation
in Kosovo is not likely to remain as stable as seems to be the ultimate
ideal in American diplomacy. Indeed, events in the past few weeks
suggest that conflicts may be heating up, which could require some
DESIRE TO CHANGE COURSE?
talked with Gary Dempsey, a foreign policy analyst at the libertarian
Cato Institute who visited Kosovo
and the Balkans in late 1999 and predicted then much of the chaos
that has since caught the attention of a few journalists and policymakers.
He surprised me by seeing some intimations, in some of Colin Powellís
statements, that at least some elements in the Bush team might be
open to ideas for reducing the U.S. commitment or even phasing it
you study Colin Powellís comments to NATO ministers after his Middle
East trip, Dempsey claims, youíll see it doesnít make an unambiguous
commitment to a permanent US presence. Dempsey thinks or maybe itís
more hope than analysis that Powell may have been laying groundwork
for an eventual reduction in the Bosnian commitment if a graceful
way can be found to do so without alienating other NATO foreign
ministries too much.
Colin Powell is smooth and smart, and most of his instincts seem
inclined in the direction of what he would deem I think realistic
and reduced commitments rather than open-ended and unfocused commitments.
The tendency is strong enough that establishment outlets, quite
recently Newsweek, have done what I would call sophisticated
"hit" pieces on Powell, describing almost every action
in his career that I would view as heartening and sensible as alarming
and potentially dangerous to American imperial ambitions and commitments.
the other hand, he may simply be using smooth diplomatic language
to soothe ruffled feathers and keep his options at least theoretically
open. And a good bit of the evidence coming from various tea leaf
readers about Washington policies who often have to rely as much
on indirect clues as the old Kremlinologists did during the bad
old Soviet days suggests that despite the image George W. Bush will
have the final say on policy, that he will not be content simply
with appointing experts most certified experts respect and letting
them run foreign policy.
best course would be to find a graceful way to remove the United
States from primary responsibility for the future of the Balkans.
Given the history both of the region and of recent US-NATO activities
that might not be easy. But the alternative is more conflict, more
expense and more direct danger to US personnel. So US policymakers
might be forced by events into at least some mild alterations in
the current, inherently unstable halfhearted commitment.
danger was highlighted by a recent decision to have NATO troops,
including US troops, increase patrols along the Kosovo-Macedonia
border, where ethnic-Albanian guerrillas have been operating, upsetting
authorities in both countries. NATO troops are supposed to operate
only in Kosovo proper, but a US contingent chasing some rebels found
itself surrounding a farmhouse which was, the owner notified the
troops, in Macedonia. The misunderstanding was papered over, but
it could have been grim.
Albanian guerrillas, who may or may not be coordinating with ethnic
Albanians in Macedonia, have reached an agreement for a cease-fire
in the Presovo Valley, in a buffer zone between Serbia and Kosovo
on Kosovoís other border. NATO officials have also agreed to allow
Serbian authorities to step up their anti-guerrilla activities in
the valley. But the cease-fire might last only a week, and an Albanian
commander added a proviso that he could not be held responsible
for violence by "independent" Albanian guerrillas.
likely to get worse," Gary Dempsey told me. "Itís still
winter in the Balkans and insurgents usually wait until spring.
This year they seem especially eager."
fundamental instability, Mr. Dempsey believes, is largely of American
making. "The US intervention into the Kosovo civil war brought
the insurgents who dream of an independent, Albanian-dominated Kosovo
to the brink of success," he said. The most radical of these
groups have designs not only on Kosovo but on chunks of Serbia and
pieces of Montenegro, the other province remaining in former Yugoslavia.
They viewed the US bombing as a de facto declaration of support.
the US wants stability. As usual it has outlined grandiose ambitions
a peaceful democratic multiethnic state reveling in IMF-induced
economic development, simply dripping with tolerance and good will
without committing enough resources to have even a breath of hope
for their realization. So the default position is to maintain stability,
to keep the appearance of having the lid on simmering conflicts.
the US, which did so much to build up the Kosovo Liberation Army,
a band of guerrillas with a heavy level of criminality and thuggery,
as a thorn in Milosevicís side, considers the KLA a problem. So
it finds itself, in essence, backing the Serbian government, now
that Slobodan Milosevic is out of power. Milosevic must be laughing
up his sleeve at the irony.
as Albanian insurgents are making life difficult for authorities
both in Kosovo and Montenegro, Montenegro has a referendum scheduled
for April on whether it should stay affiliated with Belgrade. If
Montenegrins vote for some measure of independence, it could mean
the dismemberment of the last vestige of the old Yugoslavia. That
might not be a bad outcome over the long haul. Yugoslavia, cobbled
together by the allies after World War II and ruled successfully
only by the fairly ruthless (but with a conciliatory face to the
outside world) regime of Tito never made much sense.
breaking the place up could be a messy and complicated business.
Would you partition parts of Kosovo with parts of Serbia and Montenegro
to create a majority Albanian entity, then incorporate the Serbian
portions of Bosnia into Serbia proper? What would you do with all
the Muslims in the region, who donít all live in one compact portion?
Would they get an Islamic state? A lot of blood could be shed over
from a few reassuring statements the Bush administration seems to
be on autopilot regarding the Balkans. It hasnít even appointed
some of the sub-secretaries who would have operational authority.
Maybe there are mighty struggles going on behind the scenes between
those who want to move toward disengagement and those who really
think the United States can fix things if it keeps troops there
could argue that the US created the mess and should stay around
to fix it. But the likelihood of a successful US fix is low.
best bet would be to negotiate the gradual "Europeanization"
of the Balkan situation, recognizing that Western European countries
have more at stake there and a better chance (even if not a very
good one) of resolving conflicts with minimum bloodshed. But it
would have to be clear that the US would not jump in if it became
impatient with the Europeans, as it has already done twice, in Bosnia
and in Kosovo.
US imposed the Dayton agreement (after a round of bombing, our intelligentsiaís
preferred method of diplomacy) when our foreign policy gurus got
impatient about Bosnia. The US was the prime mover behind the Kosovo
bombing exercise. So the record is that the United States murmurs
nicely about multilateralism and rains death and destruction when
things donít go well. It will take a lot to establish credibility
for a policy not just of multilateralism but of Europeanization
and gradual US disengagement.
the new administration really should make finding a graceful way
out of Kosovo a top priority. Not that I think itís all that likely,
but that really would be the most intelligent policy direction.
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