the US 'Ended' the Bosnian War
End A War, by Richard Holbrooke
York, Random House, June 1998, 432 pages (hardcover)
things have been as grossly misunderstood as the General
Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, commonly
known by its birthplace as "Dayton." Agreed at the
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside Dayton, Ohio and initialed
in Paris, France on 21 November 1995, the Dayton Agreement
finally established Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state, after a
three-year interethnic war following its 1992 international
It also completely failed to resolve any of issues that caused
it was a feat of social engineering unprecedented at the time,
attempting through force and bluster to forge a nation out
of bitter enmities. That should not have surprised anyone,
given that force and bluster were the main character traits
of Dayton's chief creator, rogue American diplomat Richard
had a long and distinguished career in foreign affairs, starting
from his Foreign Service job in Vietnam in 1962. He also edited
Policy journal (1972-76), served as Assistant
Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs (1977-1981),
US Ambassador to Germany (1993-94), and Assistant Secretary
of State for European and Canadian Affairs (1994-96). It was
in this last capacity that he came to preside over the "peace
process" in Bosnia.
End A War is an extraordinary book documenting not just
his endeavors in Bosnia, but the underlying logic, emotions
and politics behind them. For all his failings arrogance,
ignorance and vanity easily spring to mind Holbrooke is
also earnest. Though his memoir is as self-serving as, say,
Lord David Owen's Balkan
Odyssey, unlike Owen, Holbrooke is not trying to make
excuses: he is actually proud of his actions, thoughts
and opinions. There is not one hint of modesty false or
otherwise in Holbrooke, and for that one must be grateful.
For in chronicling his efforts to badger, bully and beat the
Bosnians into ending their war on American terms, of course
he offers surprisingly clear insights into the U.S. Balkans
policy at the time, and his own role therein.
Holbrooke's memoir, one needs to keep in mind that this man
is the chief creator of the current Bosnian state, a paradox
protectorate continuing to exist in spite of itself.
Am The Empire'
who even slightly doubts the Official Truth about the Balkans
wars will be struck by Holbrooke's cavalier dismissal of any
pretense of civility when dealing with the locals especially
the Serbs, for whom he had only disdain dangerously bordering
on hatred. To him, prejudices, deceptions and fabrications
represent fully justified means to the goal. Cautioned by
his British colleague to treat Serbs with some consideration,
Serb view of history was their problem
ours was to end a
is tempted to wonder if that was a royal "we." Holbrooke
not only represented the United States, he literally made
American policy concerning Bosnia, often on the spot. He was
no mere emissary, but an avatar of the entire American government
in the eyes of the warring factions. When Secretary of State
Warren Christopher told him, "I'm not always sure what
you are doing, or why
but you always seem to have a reason,
and it seems to work," (239) it was abundantly clear
that Holbrooke had a carte blanche from his superiors.
thing Holbrooke used this power for was to orchestrate Imperial
intervention and support certain combatants in actions that
would normally be condemned as despicable and even atrocious.
For example, the greatest ethnic cleansing of the entire war,
the August 1995 Croat offensive against the Serbian
Krajina, is put into perspective in Chapter 6. During
one meeting with Croatian officials, Robert Frasure, a senior
US diplomat who soon thereafter died on the road to Sarajevo,
handed Holbrooke a note:
We "hired" these guys to be our junkyard dogs because
we were desperate. We need to try to "control" them.
But it is no time to get squeamish about things. (73)
sympathies for the official Bosnian Muslim cause (as opposed
to the real
cause) are revealed as early as Chapter 3. In a 1992 policy
proposal to the Clinton administration, he advocated "direct
use of force against the Serbs," (52) something he finally
had a chance to do in 1995. After an explosion in Sarajevo
killed a dozen people in the marketplace, NATO began bombing
Bosnian Serb targets determined months in advance (102).
bombing helped establish NATO and the Americans as the
strongest party in the conflict. Peace took a back seat to
power: "It is now essential to establish that we are
negotiating from a position of strength
if the air strikes
resume and hurt the negotiations, so be it." (119)
was also no doubt as to whose side the US supported: "It
helped that Izetbegovic saw I was fighting hard for something
he desperately wanted the resumption of the bombing."
determination resulted in a plea to Washington: "Give
us bombs for peace." (132) And a strategy was born.
the time the bombing, cajoling, badgering, and "shuttle
diplomacy" gathered the representatives of three warring
parties at the airbase near Dayton deliberately chosen as
a display of American air power (233) Holbrooke was almost
completely in control of orchestrating the end the Bosnian
War. His greatest coup was managing to maneuver Serbian president
Milosevic into representing the Bosnian Serbs, thus making
it appear Belgrade was always behind their actions just
what the Muslim and western propaganda had alleged all along.
especially interested in better understanding Milosevic can
find much useful information in Holbrooke's memoir. Even though
he worked relentlessly against the "Serb aggression,"
(42) and tried to trick, bully and double-cross the Serbian
leader, Holbrooke cannot help but describe Milosevic with
a mixture of grudging admiration and respect:
Milosevic turn on his charm, Warren Cristopher observed that
had fate dealt him a different birthplace and education, he
would have been a successful politician in a democratic country."
wonder that Milosevic wants to call Holbrooke as a defense
witness before the Hague Inquisition.
Cheat and Bully
own accounts of Dayton indicate that his team was literally
negotiating on behalf of the Muslims, whose role was limited
to petulantly rejecting all solutions in the hope that better
(i.e. more favorable) ones would be produced next. At one
point, the Americans succeeded in securing 55% of the territory
for the Muslim-Croat Federation until Milosevic accidentally
saw the charts aimed to persuade the Muslims and angrily accused
Holbrooke of cheating him (295).
the Americans were not honest brokers, Milosevic then tried
to strike a deal with the Muslims directly, and signed away
territory after territory to make that possible:
was clear: Milosevic wanted an agreement then and there. But
he insisted, at all times, to 51-49." (299)
even as Milosevic and Izetbegovic's foreign minister Silajdzic
agreed on a map (though with much protestations from the Croats),
Izetbegovic himself refused to accept it! Here is Holbrooke's
11:00 a.m., [EU envoy Carl] Bildt came to my room to ask how
we were doing. 'We are deeply concerned,' I said, that even
if Milosevic makes more concessions, the Bosnians will simply
raise the ante.'
you think Izetbegovic even wants a deal?' Carl asked. It was
a question that Warren Christopher had also been asking. 'I'm
never quite sure,' I replied. 'Sometimes he seems to want
revenge more than peace but he can't have both.' Chris Hill,
normally highly supportive of the Bosnians, exploded in momentary
anger and frustration. 'These people are impossible to help,'
he said. It was a telling statement from a man who had devoted
years of his life to the search for ways to help create a
Bosnian state." (302)
that "Bosnian" here is used interchangeably with
"Muslim." Policy was made based on such ignorant
assumptions. But were they ignorant, or deliberately malicious?
For Holbrooke himself uses the term "Muslims" often
enough. For example, when discussing the status of Bosnia's
capital, Sarajevo, which both he and Izetbegovic insisted
on reuniting under Muslim rule:
still sought political equality among ethnic groups in Sarajevo,
a proposal we rejected because it would disadvantage the Muslims,
who would be vulnerable to a Serb-Croat coalition or Serb
a result, Sarajevo is over 90% Muslim today.
Call to Empire
a direct result of Dayton, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia are
vulnerable to political domination by the Muslims the
very issue which sparked the war in 1992. But Holbrooke could
care less when the Dayton agreement was signed, it accomplished
a much greater purpose than ending the Bosnian War: "Suddenly,
the war was over and America's role in post-Cold War Europe
it was Holbrooke who most clearly articulated the Imperial
argument that intervention in the Balkans helped shape the
post-Cold War course of U.S. foreign policy:
of President Clinton as a weak leader ended abruptly, especially
in Europe and among the Muslim nations. [
] [E]ven those who
chafed at the reassertion of American power conceded, at least
implicitly, its necessity. [
] After Dayton, American foreign
policy seemed more assertive, more muscular. This may have
been as much perception as reality, but the perception mattered."
began with Bosnia, continued in Kosovo, and went on to Afghanistan
and Iraq, each intervention more brazen than the one before,
each accepted because of the precedent of the one before.
That Bush escalated the policy initiated under Clinton only
shows that Empire transcends party lines.
concluded To End A War with a call to Empire:
will be other Bosnias in our lives areas where early outside
involvement can be decisive, and American leadership will
be required. The world's richest nation, one that presumes
to great moral authority, cannot simply make worthy appeals
to conscience and call on others to carry the burden. The
world will look to Washington for more than rhetoric the next
time we face a challenge to peace." (369)
though he is no longer a major player, his call has been heeded.
So much for the "day everything
Star to Footnote
the Dayton Accords may have been the pinnacle of Holbrooke's
career. After a two-year stint as an investment banker, he
re-entered diplomatic waters with mixed results. In late 1998,
he tried to repeat his work in Bosnia by persuading Yugoslav
president Milosevic to surrender Kosovo. But the same trick
could not work on Milosevic twice. Holbrooke returned home
following year, he was nominated as the US Ambassador to the
UN, but the appointment stalled when he was accused of violating
federal ethics guidelines. He admitted no wrongdoing but paid
the fine. After the UN stint, he was tapped to become Secretary
of State in Gore's administration. The scandal-ridden election
of 2000 extinguished that hope. Richard Holbrooke thus passed
from the diplomatic stage, and it is unclear whether he will
ever step into the limelight again. But even as he becomes
a footnote in American politics, the effects of his 1995 campaign
in Bosnia remain,
lingering on as a reminder of what one arrogant, unscrupulous
man can do with Imperial power.
if that is not the best argument against the existence of
Imperial power, what is?
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