September 30, 2003
by Alan Bock
Bush administration's Iraq policy seems to be imploding rather affectively
without much help from me this week. President Bush's speech at
the U.N. last week seems to have received the reception it deserved
from the thugs standard-issue commentators are pleased to call the
"international community" – about what you'd expect from
somebody who says: "We were right, you were wrong, now come
now comes the rumor or whatever that somebody at the White House
"outed" Valerie Plame, husband of former diplomat Joseph
Wilson, who blew the administration's cover on the Niger "yellowcake"
story, as an undercover CIA agent. Not that I don't have a certain
sympathy with the general idea of outing CIA agents (or abolishing
the agency altogether), but as nearly as I can figure, the conventional
wisdom that this is against the law seems to be true – and if the
story pans out it was people at the White House, perhaps Karl Rove,
who leaked the name, to at least six journalists. These are the
people who are charged by delegation with faithfully executing the
laws of the United States, not with blatantly violating them.
that is great fun, but I had an opportunity last Thursday to talk
with with Dragan Covic, currently chairman of the three-person presidency
of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I thought that might be of interest.
We still have troops in Bosnia after all these years (and all those
promises from Clinton that they'd be finished by Christmas of, oh,
1996 or so) and they're likely to be there a bit longer. Mr. Covic
was officially optimistic that Bosnia is on the road to being a
democratic paragon worthy of membership in the European Union (for
whatever that may be worth), but one could detect undercurrents
in his comments. He danced around the question of whether Bosnia
and Herzegovina could survive in its present ethnic and political
form, for example.
fact that the best way they can figure to provide a modicum of stability
in the country is to have a tripartite presidency suggests how fragile
the arrangement in Bosnia-Herzegovina is. To be sure, this is the
Balkans, after all, where ancient resentments are always vulnerable
to political exploitation. But this arrangement seems especially
curious, and one wonders how long it will last when (or if) foreign
troops leave the country.
Covic, a former corporate manager with a Ph.D. in economics, is
an intelligent and impressive person, tall, graying and articulate
(at least in transalation, though I suspect he knows more English
than he lets on). His small country (about 3.5 million to 4 million
people in an area roughly the size of West Virginia) still faces
numerous problems, some of which may well have been exacerbated
rather than helped by Western occupation.
SPICY ETHNIC STEW
its latest incarnation Bosnia and Herzegovina reflects the outcome
of the fierce civil war (250,000 killed, 2.7 million refugees) that
raged from the declaration of independence from the former Yugoslavia
in 1992 until the Dayton peace accord in November 1995.
population consists mainly of three ethnic/national groups, the
Serbs (38 percent), Bosnian Muslims, called Bosniaks, presumably
to differentiate them from militant Muslims (48 percent) and Croats
(14 percent). Within the country is a mostly autonomous Serb Republic
(about 49 percent of the territory) and a Muslim-Croat federation.
joint presidency, elected for four years, runs the central government
in Sarajevo, with one representative from each ethnic group. The
chairmanship is rotated every eight months and major decisions have
to be made by consensus. Dragan Covic is the Croatian president.
The Bosniak president is Sulejman Tihic, while the Bosnian Serb
is Mirko Sarovic. All were elected last October.
the Dayton accords about 60,000 NATO troops (20,000 from the U.S.)
occupied Bosnia for peacekeeping and nation-building. Beginning
in 1999 the number of foreign troops was reduced, and there are
now about 12,000 troops, with about a third of them from the U.S.
to Mr. Covic, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a reformed and independent
judicial system in place and is working on economic reforms that
will qualify it to enter the European Union within a few years.
The banking system has been privatized, and 60 percent of former
state industries have been as well. He says there's a consensus
on free markets as the basis of the economy.
Covic's main purpose in visiting the United States was to speak
to the U.N. General Assembly, which he did yesterday. But he also
took advantage of the visit to try to drum up interest, mostly among
Croation-Americans, in investing or starting businesses in Bosnia.
After visits to New York, Cleveland, Chicago and Toronto, as well
as Southern California, he said he has received interest from numerous
businesspeople in an economic development conference in Sarajevo
country with an ethnic balance so delicate as to require a tripartite
presidency, in which groups were literally killing one another with
gusto just a few years ago, is obviously inherently fragile. The
central government must rule with a light hand while making sure
minority rights are respected.
civil war and its aftermath decimated the economy – the GDP, while
growing the last couple of years, is still below 1990 levels and
unemployment is at 40 percent. But Mr. Covic told us the elements
are in place for robust economic growth. It is encouraging to see
officials interested in boosting the private sector and phasing
out international aid, but one wonders how deep-seated or sincere
this desire is. Qualifying for membership in the European Union,
after all, would probably not be enhanced by establishing a small-government
laisssez-faire economic system with cirtually no social welfare
BUT SKEPTICISM WARRANTED
is entitled to hope that conditions improve quickly enough for foreign
troops to leave soon, although one should be skeptical about whether
the continuation of foreign troops will have anything to do with
improving conditions. After all, there are still U.S. troops in
Germany and South Korea decades after any conceivable necessity
relating to stability was eliminated decades ago.
Covic said he would like to see NATO troops remain a while longer
but leave in two to three years. I hope he's right, but I'm skeptical.
One may also hope that Bosnia and Herzegovina builds its future
on private investment, free markets and trade, and respect for individual
rights and liberties, without entertaining too many illusions about
how likely that is.
most likely future for Bosnia-Herzegovina is eventual absorption
of the Serb and Croat populations into Serbia and Croatia, which
adjoin and almost surround the small country. That would leave a
small mostly Muslim enclave surrounding Sarajevo that might or might
not be economically or politically viable in the age of the Internet.
If the country is admitted to the European Union before this partition
– which is hardly inevitable however likely Imight consider it –
and borders mean little when it comes to trade, it just might work
possibility is that the Republika Srpska will eventually be absorbed
into Serbia while the remaining territory continues to be a Muslim-Croat
confederation – at least if the Muslims don't persecute the Croats,
who will be a relatively small minority. This is possible because
the ethnic Croats (who are rleigiously differnetiated, being mostly
Roman Catholic while the Serbs are mostly Orthodox Christian) are
not as clearly concentrated along the borders of Croatia as the
Serbs are alng the border with Serbia.
might hope that given all the recent bloodshed that the residents
of the area would have had enough of it and might make reasonably
strenuous efforts to tolerate one another just a bit. But this is
the Balkans, after all, and it would be unwise to predict peace
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