important lessons can be learned from the ghosts of interventions past,
present and future. One hopes that these lessons will help banish the
spectral gloom that has settled over an increasingly violent world.
There are signs that this hard task is becoming increasingly important.
Should we fail to heed history, the spectre of intervention may no longer
frighten us into confronting it. One wonders if the phantoms of intervention
will eventually become tolerated, ignored, and otherwise consigned to
the same shadowy realm where now exist John Ashcroft's "phantoms
of lost liberties." Indeed, as with Dickens' originative tale of
yuletide redemption, will there be a happy ending to the tale of intervention?
Let's see what the phantoms reveal.
GHOST OF INTERVENTION PAST: BYZANTIUM, 1204
of the best examples of intervention gone wrong occurred in 1204, when
Constantinople was sacked by the forces of the 4th Crusade,
led by Venice. Although there were many signs of hostility between Latins
and Greeks even before 1204, it was not until a scheming pretender to
the Byzantine throne got involved that the ultimate catastrophe was
unleashed. By 1204, the Crusader's altruistic aims of "liberating"
the Holy Land had worn a bit thin; it was obvious that the whole game
was motivated by a thirst for power and wealth. Originally scheduled
to pillage the Muslims, the mission was transformed with the arrival
of a young man, Alexios IV Angelos, who contemporary Byzantine historiographers
portrayed as a scoundrel and traitor. With the help of the pope, Angelos
begged to be reinstated to his "rightful" throne. Of course,
in the fractious infighting endemic to Byzantine civil life, the pretender
Alexios had no chance.
since all that was needed was a pretext, Angelos' plea could not fail
but to stir the chivalrous Latin knights to action. And so, incredibly,
the "holy war" to rescue the Holy Land from the infidels was
re-routed to Byzantium a state to which the West owed a major debt
of gratitude. The Byzantines, after all, were the ones who for so long
had kept expansionist Islam out of Europe. It was a giant buffer state,
and a preserver of Western culture and values. But it was to be betrayed
by its Western co-religionists.
the story of the Latin conquest, acclaimed Byzantinist Donald Nicol
reveals how a scheming pope was able to ensnare the would-be "Alexios
IV" Angelos towards his plan to control the Christian east. Soon
after the crusaders set out, they were ordered to alter their route.
Instead of the Holy Land, they were to go to Constantinople "to
right the wrong done to the young Emperor of the Greeks." Alexios
was sent along with a papal legate to meet the Venetian doge, Enrico
Dandolo, at which time the rhetoric of intervention flowed freely. According to Nicol,
the legate stated that
going on their errand of mercy to Constantinople, the crusaders would
earn the same indulgences as for going to Jerusalem. The Doge piously
observed to the Franks that they could hardly refuse to obey the order
of the pope, their spiritual father. They agreed; and the Doge took
the boy Emperor of Constantinople in his arms. When they reached the
City and it became evident that the arrogant Greeks did not want their
infant Emperor, the Doge convinced the Franks that they would have to
fulfill the pope's command by force, for otherwise he would excommunicate
them.. and so, concludes (the Italian chronicler) Canale, "it was
through the wisdom of this great man [Dandolo] that a city as grand
as Constantinople was taken; and this he did in the service of the Holy
in other times and places, the Western crusaders first offered to "negotiate"
with the Byzantines: we come in peace, as long as you place this man,
the "rightful" emperor, on the throne. Of course, the Byzantines
refused, and so the onslaught began. With a barbarity that would have
made even the wickedest sultan blush, the Crusaders looted, burned,
raped and murdered their way through Constantinople, stealing both saleable
riches and priceless works of art, destroying age-old monasteries, and
generally going against everything that their "Christian"
ideals stood for. In its severity, the Latin conquest of Constantinople
was ten times worse than the Ottoman conquest of 1453.
those Ancient Greek texts which are no longer extant, several were in
circulation right up until 1204. Yet none of today's "lost texts"
were to survive that year. Although the terrible loss of human life
is today barely an echo in our historical consciousness, we are still
suffering from the cultural destruction caused by the Western sack of
Constantinople. It is all but forgotten, however. While everyone recalls
the rapacity of the Turks (presumable, because they were Muslim), no
one remembers the violence unleashed by one Christian state on another,
in a period when religion constituted the grounds for diplomatic relations.
aftermath of the invasion followed predictably enough. The Westerners,
whose appetite for empire had been whetted by three previous crusades
in the Levant, divided up the spoils between themselves. Being the sponsor
of the whole adventure, Venice took control of the city, and the coastal
areas and islands most important to expanding her maritime empire. The
French, Germans and Normans divided up the rest, and "Byzantium"
was cut into three disjointed parts: one in the Epiros region of Greece,
the second in the northwestern half of Anatolia, and the third in the
Pontus. This was to change the course of European history forever.
GHOST OF INTERVENTION PRESENT: THE BALKANS
is immaterial whether Europe would have been better or worse off had
things been different for Byzantium. Such cogitation, while entertaining,
quickly becomes lost inside the maze of opinion. Yet apologists for
Yugoslavia, and especially the clerics, have drawn the comparison between
Western intervention in 1204 and in the 1990s. An insurmountable gulf
of differing conditions and experiences makes this comparison untenable,
except in one regard: that both interventions aided Islamic expansion
in "Christian" lands.
I call the Balkans intervention "present," I mean the recent
past as well everything from 1990 right up to today. The fact that
events there are still unfolding forces us to hold off on some judgements.
But the pattern seems clear enough.
is well-known that the US armed the Bosnians, and later the Kosovar
Albanians, to fight against the Serbs in Yugoslavia's complicated civil
war. If ever there was a hornet's nest buzzing with potential problems,
it was there. Yet those who backed the enterprise now express surprise
that al Qaeda and similar mujahedin groups have become established in
Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania. It is claimed that bin Laden himself, and
many of his top lieutenants, hold Bosnian passports, and it is well-known
that OBL tried, only a few years ago, to enter Albania. When it comes
to Macedonia, where the presence of mujahedin has also been widely attested,
cranky interventionists denounce altogether the idea that the terrorist
pattern has followed its logical course to that beleaguered semi-state.
In short, US officials and apologists consider the presence of terrorists
in the Balkans an "unforeseen" complication, and not a predictable
result of intervention.
we have the continuing saga of Kosovo. In 1999, NATO heartily complied
with Kosovar invitations for intervention against Serbia. The Albanian
leader Ibrahim Rugova exulted, calling NATO "our own private air
force." After being freed, the Kosovars got to avenge their own
dead by killing and expelling the Serbian minority. Further, rather
than a democratic liberation, the NATO action gave free reign to organized
crime in Kosovo. As was recently attested in a Reality Macedonia
interview, not even ordinary Albanians are safe from KLA/mafia intimidation.
In other ways, too, the Kosovars may have gotten more than they bargained
of NATO's enduring legacies will be the still unknown effects of depleted
uranium dropped in 1999. Despite some urbane and apologetic studies
carried out on NATO's behalf, many are still suspicious. Gulf War veterans
complained of all sorts of strange symptoms after being exposed to DU,
and it has also been blamed for birth defects in Iraqi children. No
matter how "just" a war, there can be no justification for
dropping tainted, uranium-bearing bombs especially on those one claims
to be "helping."
we are left with two possibilities. First is the great expense associated
with getting rid of contaminated nuclear materials. Conceivably, this
led NATO to use Yugoslavia as its uranium dumpster, contaminating the
land, lakes and rivers with a dangerous radioactive substance. After
all, NATO troops could just go home: it wasn't their land, their lakes,
or their rivers. NATO's lame defense, that "it wasn't that
dangerous!" still fails to answer the fundamental question: why
was DU used at all?
perhaps another, more sordid explanation exists. There are maps which
show precisely where the DU bomblets were dropped, and from these one
can make some inferences. First of all, the majority of bombings occurred
in the western part of Kosovo, near the border with Albania. The towns
of Decani, Ponosevac, Dakovica and Dragas had the heaviest concentration
of DU bombing. If one infers that DU bombs were used because they were
somehow more effective, one would assume they'd be dropped on the retreating
Serb army, or on fortified positions near the border with Serbia. Albania,
on the other hand, offered freedom of movement and reinforcement for
the KLA. So then why was the Albanian border area targeted?
of the chief complaints of the Serbs (and now, the Macedonians) is that
the growing Albanian population increases regional instability, poverty
and war. Might it be that NATO, in its long-term strategy, used DU in
Albanian regions to put some slow, subtle restraints on population growth?
is something to think about when one looks back at those photos of Clinton
and Blair kissing Albanian babies in 1999. Will these gracious crusaders
for human rights be there in twenty years, when the children of those
children are crippled with birth defects if they can even have babies
at all? NATO's selective use of depleted uranium (on the Kosovo-Albanian
border) may show that Serbia was not the only country concerned about
reducing the high Albanian birthrate. Some methods just take longer
is also a second consideration. When one compares the map showing DU
use with the map showing KFOR zones
of deployment, it becomes clear that the majority of DU bombing
occurred in what would become the Italian and German sectors. The US
and UK zones, on the other hand, suffered relatively minor DU bombing.
Just something to keep in mind when the US which had already experienced
DU in Iraq claims that such an unnecessary weapon is "safe."
the Balkans ends up politically, economically, socially and environmentally
we can be sure of one thing: its fate is no longer in the hands of
its own peoples. The ghost of intervention present is a baleful one
indeed. From mujahedin influence in Bosnia
and also in Kosovo,
to the latter's
puppet government, from the show
trial of Slobodan Milosevic, to the West's continuing interference in Macedonian affairs,
the Balkans has become a disjointed, ugly place, where chronic upheaval
benefits only its foreign overlords, and the unfortunate local politicians
who aid them. I think we have already heard this story; the former masters
could be the Pope, the latter unfortunates, Alexios IV Angelos. This
is the true relationship between the ghosts of intervention past (Byzantium
in 1204) and present (the Balkans today).
GHOST OF INTERVENTION FUTURE: GEORGIA
official US special forces have arrived in Georgia. In a detailed
and provocative World Net Daily report, the momentous geopolitical
importance of this move is analyzed. Nowhere else in the world does
intervention have more explosive possibilities than in the Caucasus.
If we thought the Russians grumbled during the Winter Olympics, just
wait 'til they see US military bases in their own backyard. Worse, the
humiliation of being condemned by the West over their campaign in Chechnya
only to have it be ripped out from under them by the Americans is
sure to enrage Russian sensibilities. In short, the potential effects
of intervention in Georgia are more dangerous than anything recent history
has to offer.
clear that the stakes are high. According to the report, containing
Russia and controlling Caspian oil routes are the prime elements of
America's latest "strategic victory." In an ominous sign for
the future, the article also claims that
Washington chooses to unleash its firepower against Baghdad, Georgia
could provide an extra base for the U.S. Air Force to attack Iraq from
the north. If Turkey, which has expressed opposition to such a war,
should balk at allowing U.S. forces to use its territory to launch strikes,
Shevardnadze would be more than willing to serve Washington in this
and any other actions."
other words, American ally Turkey will be allowed to sit out Iraq II,
so that it can preserve its relations with the Arab world, while Shevardnadze
will endanger Orthodox Georgia in order to humor the Americans. Until
now, Georgia has not been an arena for mujahedin jihad. Contrary
to what the official charge (which prepared the ground for the US arrival)
claimed, Georgia was until now beset only by internal conflict. Yet
if the US makes it a staging post for its "war on terror,"
poor Georgia's problems are just beginning.
interventionist mess, however, is several years in the making. Were
there no void to fill, the US would not be able to step in. This fractured
nation, once the preeminent Soviet vacation destination, survives in
abject poverty. It has been wracked by two major civil wars in the past
ten years. Each conflict has been made possible by foreign intervention.
Weak Abkhaz separatists in the west have received vital aid from Russia,
while the South Ossetians got aid from their brethren in "north"
Ossetia (across the Russian border). In the southwest, the Muslim Georgian
Adjara minority leans on Turkey, and the restive Armenian minority also
makes noise from time to time. Besides all this, we have the area of
interest to the Americans the Pankisi Gorge of north Georgia, where
Chechen rebels and apparently, Al Qaeda fighters, are holed up.
circumstances which have led to expanded US intervention in Georgia
are complex. Basically, we can say that the Russians have played the
Abkhaz separatist threat off on the Georgians, who were in turn accused
of harboring Chechens in Pankisi, in order to threaten the Russians.
Moscow has for months blamed Georgia for failing to crack down on Chechens
in the Pankisi Gorge. Backing statements from Abkhaz leaders, Russia
even claimed that some Chechens were fighting alongside Georgian militiamen
in the Kodori Valley near Abkhazia.
very recently, the US has sided with Tbilisi, denied the presence of
Chechens in Pankisi, and taken a generally dim view of Russia's anti-Georgia
contentions. Now, however, everything has changed, and the traditional
alliances are in mortal flux.
Abkhazia, for example. The breakaway region of Georgia has for years
stuck firm with its Russian defenders, and sworn to achieve complete
"freedom" from Georgia. Recently, however, Abkhazia has become
increasingly dissatisfied with Russia, which of course sits prominently
on the UN Security Council. It was this body which on 31 January offered
a compromise plan to appease both the Georgian and Abkhaz claims. While
Georgia reacted with "caution," the
Abkhaz response was downright hostile:
the United Nations nor the UN Security Council, nor any other international
organization, has the authority to impose on us a form of settling the
conflict," the prime minister of the self-declared republic of
Abkhazia, Anri Jergenia, told journalists while commenting on the 31
January UN Security Council resolution on Abkhazia."
denunciation of the very grounds for intervention seems a bit rich,
coming from a nation that owes its "independence" to the combined
intervention of Russia and the UN.
overtures to the West have been equally strange in their own way. The
consummate politician Eduard Shevardnadze once invited NATO to bomb
Abkhazia, drawing the parallel to Kosovo in a rather shameless way.
This reckless attempt to solicit intervention was thankfully ignored.
Yet Shevardnadze pushed on, and last year NATO exercises were held for
the first time on Georgian soil. That said, perhaps Tbilisi's new role
in the "war on terror" should not seem so incongruous. It's
unlikely, however, that this role will be to Georgia's long-term advantage.
the negative Abkhaz reaction is anything to go by, Russia appears to
have made some concessions on the topic of Georgia. Let's remember that
almost simultaneously, the US announced
the presence of Al Qaeda in Georgia. Interestingly enough, the area
mentioned the Pankisi Gorge borders on Chechnya. It is the one area
of Georgia that Russia has long threatened to put down. Pankisi has
been both the thorn in Russia's side, and the guarantor of its control
over Georgia. Now this influence is gone.
the past decade, Russia's war in Chechnya has received nothing but condemnation
from the US. Now, however, the US has hijacked that war, and is preparing
to fight it by itself to the utter humiliation of Russia.
short, what we are seeing in Georgia right now is unprecedented in
the modern age, at least. An entire war has daringly been subverted,
allegiances have been shifted, and an increasingly dangerous cloak-and-dagger
mentality has taken hold. All this so that the US can make the world
safe, through a moral crusade that will conveniently win it strategic
economic and military positioning, a crusade carried out at the expense
of its "allies."
things have happened but not since 1204.
articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
the Boundaries in Macedonia
The Terror Goes Down To Georgia: Some Thoughts On The Caucasus Imbroglio
Macedonia, Terrorism Remains the Law
Would It Be an Evil Axis?
and Politics in Macedonia: an Interview with Dr. Sam Vaknin
and the Media
of the Blue Café
the Front Lines in Tetovo
with Ljube Boshkovski
Connection Between NATO and the NLA?
Legacy of War: Kidnapped Persons in Macedonia
Day's Disturbances and Developments in Macedonia
Crisis in Macedonian Government
Vice President Resigns
Albanian Hackers Deface Macedonian Website
Names and Power
Partition: Macedonia's Best Lost Hope?
Notice to Readers of the Macedonia Page
Selective Democracy Comes
With a Friend Like
Interventionism, Seek Unity
Terrorists Are Everywhere
Earthquakes, Armenians, and the Loss of Cyprus
Chechnya Comes Home
A Quiet Battle in the
Caucasus: Georgia Between Russia & NATO
Central Asia: The Cauldron
Bin Laden, Iran, and the
The Meaning of
Phrase-Book: Writing NATO's Dictionary of
Barbarism and the Erasure
Macedonian Endgame: The
Sinister Transformation of the Status Quo by Christopher Deliso
is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events
in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey,
and the Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in
Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely
in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia
issue, the Cyprus problem, and the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.