Monday, September 28, 2009

"In Harm's Way" by Martin Bell [3]

Chapter 2: Peacekeeper's Accomplices

And then we're in Bosnia...

The chapter starts early in the war, as Bell and his colleagues witness the human cost of the early days of ethnic cleansing in the Drina valley. Bell is painfully aware that the presence of Western journalists like him gives people false hope--he knows far better than they that he can do nothing. He makes this tragically accurate observation:

"We were the first indication they had received that the world beyond their valleys either knew of their plight or cared. What they did not know--and neither at the time did we, though we were both to find out later--was that there would be a world of difference between knowing and caring, and indeed between caring and acting."

Whatever else Bell did in Bosnia or says in this book, he deserves credit for that bald statement.

We have already established that Bell is a likable character, and the first few pages of this chapter demonstrate that he knew what was going on in numerous small towns and villages and the countryside outside of Sarajevo. So Bell has a reservoir of good will, one which he begins to test when one encounters this passage:

"Both sides were set on a collision course at a terrible cost to their people, and the war had already taken on such a momentum that the most gifted of mediators would have been powerless to prevent it. But that did not mean that they should stop trying, or that we as journalists stood neutrally between those who wished to intensify the conflict and those who wished to end it. There were two chief peacemakers in the field and both became friends and allies. One was Colm Doyle for the European Community, the other was Lew MacKenzie for the United Nations."

There is a world of potential trouble in that paragraph. To begin; this statement reveals that Bell had already internalized the idea that this was a war between people and "their" leaders from the outset. The fact that one of those leaders was actually the elected President of the entire country, versus strongmen and warlords in service to an illegal breakaway entity, does not figure in this statement, even though Bell has just demonstrated that he was aware of ethnic cleansing and furthermore was aware of who was behind it.

Secondly, I do not believe that it is noble or honorable for mediators and peacekeepers to keep trying to make an impossible peace. If traditional mediation cannot work, then the international community needs to try something else.

Thirdly, it seems that Bell draws a rather hasty conclusion, proposing a dichotomy by which one either wanted to stop the conflict cold, or intensify it. This simplistic view only makes sense if one ignores the very different war aims of the different actors. The unspoken implication--and perhaps Bell did not intend it--is that ethnic cleansing and widespread civilian suffering were the only possible results of any military success by either side. This was in April of 1992, it should be noted, long before the war and the neglect of the West pushed the government forces to a more nationalist and overtly Muslim-survival strategy.

The above were all, to varying degrees, common misconceptions and often unexamined and unconscious biases of Western observers and participants throughout the war; what is more exceptional is his frank statement that he became friends and allies with both Doyle and future Srebrenica-denier/Serb nationalist paid spokesperson MacKenzie.

This dynamic is what is most of interest here. I will continue with the second half of this chapter in the next post.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"In Harm's Way" by Martin Bell [2]

Chapter 1: Marching as to War

This is a short post; sorry, but it's "pre-Bosnia" so hopefully that's OK.

This chapter describes Bell's experiences with the military; first, his National Service with the Sussex Regiment as a young man; and then as a war reporter, specifically focusing on his stint as a BBC reporter with British troops in the first Persian Gulf War. This chapter is amusing and entertaining, and Bell comes off as charmingly self-effacing and possessed of that dry, understated wit we Yanks assume is indoctrinated into our British cousins from birth. This chapter not only introduces the reader to Bell as a person, but also provides some context to how he approaches the job of war reporter and how he acquired the skills and knowledge necessary to survive and prosper at the craft.

So far, so good...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"In Harm's Way" by Martin Bell [1]

So, on to another book review. This one, subtitled "Reflections of a War-Zone Thug", is an account of BBC reporter Martin Bell's experiences covering the Bosnian war; as such, it is not a strict history of the war, nor is it an impassioned work of advocacy such as David Rieff's Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West. This is an account of war reporting as much as it is an account of an actual, specific war. Still, Bell was one of the more visible and respected broadcast journalists covering Bosnia, so his interpretation of events will be of some interest to anyone wishing to understand how the Western media filtered events for consumption back home.

It should be noted that Bell, whatever else I will say about him, was obviously moved and deeply affected by what he saw in Bosnia. The Prologue explains that this is "my first and probably my only book." He needed to write about his experiences in Bosnia, a need he had never felt or at least never pursued before. He freely admits that this book may be difficult to catalog, noting with amusement that booksellers "didn't know whether to classify In Harm's Way as Biography, Politics, Military, or Journalism. One of them even tried Travel."

We will see if his views on Bosnia are easier to categorize.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

George Will Draws the Wrong Lessons from Bosnia

It's a little hard to pin down exactly what George Will is trying to say in Bosnia's Lesson, his syndicated column today. Will--who has recently called for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan--suggests that the deteriorating situation in Bosnia today has lessons which can be applied to nation-building in Afghanistan. And, as far as that goes, he is most likely correct. But what are those lessons, exactly? Will does not say--although he quotes the late Samuel Huntington (whose famous work "Clash of Civilizations" completely misread the situation in Bosnia) approvingly: "It is human to hate." Well, yes. It is also human to love, to fear, to worry, to hope...and so on.

Will does encourage the reader to read The Death of Dayton, and this suggestion is by far the most useful and productive passage in his column--oddly enough, it seems he did not take his own advice.

While Will seems to be arguing for the pointlessness of trying to use "force" to create a nation in a place torn by hatred, the authors of the Foreign Affairs piece he alludes to do not at engage in broad generalizations about how humans have an innate need to hate, or that--as Will cryptically states--"Communities, like individuals, crave clear identities, which sometimes are built on foundations of shared dislikes." Rather, the article--which really is worth your time (and unfortunately is not available in full through the link in the article)--addresses the specifics of the Bosnian situation, and the mistakes made by the international community. The primary mistake, of course, was the faulty Dayton constitution imposed on the country, which strengthens nationalist extremists, discourages political moderation and compromise, and fosters endemic corruption.

It is also worth noting that one repeating theme throughout this article is the damage that decentralization has done to postwar reconstruction in Bosnia. The authors do not pretend that ethnic tensions do not exist in Bosnia, but they recognize that some political systems can harness, contain, or even diminish ethnic tensions, while other systems can inflame nationalist passions and deepen ethnic divides. Will seems to agree with Huntington that the human "need" to hate is the primary fact of geopolitics. The very article he selectively quotes--without acknowledging that the authors are calling for a renewed Western commitment to Bosnia rather than a pullout such as he called for in Afghanistan--refutes that contention.

It is not clear whether or not Will even recognizes the disconnect. Like so many pundits on the subject of Bosnia, he alters the facts to fit his beliefs rather than the other way around.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict" by Greenhaven Press [9]

Chapter 5: How Can Ethnic Conflict Be Prevented?

This final chapter is only related to Bosnia and the Balkans in the most general of ways, as all five essays are concerned with trying to find a general framework for dealing with all ethnic conflicts. Madeleine Albright weighs in with "Collective Security Can Prevent Ethnic Conflict", which if nothing else is a refreshing whiff of internationalism after the putrid stench of Rothbard's reductivist tribalism.

Her suggestion is probably the best of the bunch, but in the interests of wrapping this review up (and, frankly, I'm a little reluctant to give this volume any more time and attention after being forced to spend time with Murray Rothbard), I will leave it at that and move on to the next project.

If nothing else, this book is a sad reminder of how skewed and misinformed the debate over Bosnia and the fall of Yugoslavia was.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Nationalism and Ethnic Violence" by Greenhaven Press [8]

Chapter 4: Should Nations Intervene in Ethnic Conflicts? [continued]

Nations Should Not Intervene in the Balkans

There are only three essays in this section. The second is actually the transcript of Senator John McCain being interviewed by reporter Major Garrett. The general tone of McCain's argument--and his superficial knowledge of the situation--can be garnered from his answer to the very first question:

"Garrett: You oppose limited U.S. military involvement in the Balkan civil war. Tell us what you hope will be the result of following the policy you support. What do you hope U.S. action or inaction will have accomplished?

McCain: I hope the result would be the civil conflict in what was Yugoslavia that has been going on for at least 700 years will be at a very low point, that the boundaries will have been stabilized, and that sanctions, embargoes and other measures will bring about a dramatic reduction in the slaughter. That's what I hope would happen. I am by no means convinced that that would be the case."

Well, what is there to say? "700 years" Senator McCain? Really? That's your "analysis" of the situation.

But in fairness to McCain, we all know that this line of "ancient hatreds" was the excuse of first resort for so many Western policy makers during the Balkan wars. It was just sad that so many in the media swallowed this line without complaint. 700 years, of course, is the maximum time one could say that Islam has been in the Balkans, so one wonders if the implication is that the Bosniaks brought their troubles onto themselves by becoming the 'other'. Were Croats and Serbs getting along famously before then? And who were the Bosniaks prior to conversion anyway, Senator McCain?

These are rhetorical questions of course, because I presume all regular readers of this blog not only have answers, they also have some understanding of how problematic the premise is--who were "those people" seven centuries ago? These are lazy assumptions, easily dismantled, and it's depressing that for the most part, the media allowed politicians and military "experts" to use such facile reasoning as an excuse to duck our moral and international legal obligations.

The third essay is by Misha Glenny, and is entitled "Foreign Military Intervention Would Fail." While his tone is fairly reasonable through most of the essay, and he approach to the issue is to consider the political and military realities as they existed in May of 1993 (I can't blame him for not being able to see ahead in time to the forced Croat-Bosnian Government alliance, so his claims that the logistics of actually arming the Muslims cannot be dismissed as a cop out), it is hard to shake the nagging sensation that he is simply playing Whack-a-Mole with any possible scenario. He never once suggests a possible remedy for any of the complications he has cobbled together. Nor does he suggest any alternate to military intervention; his only "solution" is to write in favor of the UN "safe areas" which he freely acknowledges is hardly a noble or just solution. But, he seems to say, absolutely nothing can be done; Clinton does not have a coherent policy for intervention, so why try and formulate one? It's hopeless! The neighboring countries are worried about wider instability? It's hopeless! And my favorite--the Serbs are not cowards just because they've been waging war against unarmed civilians with heavy artillery. No, no--they're extremely tough and fearless killing machines; you don't want to mess with those guys!

Which leads up back the first essay, a truly loathsome work of paleoconservative libertarianism from Murray N. Rothbard, in a piece ("Don Non Intervene Against the Serbs") that is not nearly as clever or insightful--or anywhere near as amusing--as the self-regarding author seems to think it is. It is, however, a dandy example of how inadequate Libertarianism is as a guide to foreign policy, and a helpful reminder that paleoconservatism is, at heart, anti-democratic and racist. To the core.

Rothbard is not subtle; he begins his critique of intervention by claiming that modest steps--such as bombing--won't work, so therefore it will only be a matter of time before Clinton nukes Belgrade. If case you're wondering how somebody this dense gets published, I should point out that Mr. Rothbard writes for the Rothbard-Rockwell Report. Why the editors chose to include this piece of drivel is beyond me.

Why will any Western military intervention fail? Because:

"...the Serbs are a magnificently gutsy people, a "primitive" folk who don't give a tinker's dam for "world opinion," the "respect of the international community," and all the rest of the pretentious can that so impresses readers of the New York Times."

With friends like these, the ten million-plus individual human beings in this world who happen to be Serb don't need enemies.

At any rate, one of the things Rothbard admires so much about these mythical primitives he fantasizes about is their disdain for "world opinion." Which is another way of saying they are the farthest thing from being a cosmopolitan people. Which, in Rothbard's dingy little world is a great compliment.

His rant about the situation in Bosnia--and the actions of the "pro-war Left" (the fact that humanitarian liberalism was liberal makes it a de facto evil in the paleoconservative world)--is little more than incoherent rambling laced with a healthy degree of ignorance. I won't insult the readers intelligence by dealing with the specifics, but suffice it to say that the old "Bosnia is an artificial country/Bosniaks are not a real nationality" is front and center.

But Rothbard at least has integrity--he explicitly states that the Greater Serbia project is "perfectly reasonable." And he assures the reader that "ethnic cleansing" just sounds bad in translation--after all, the Serbs don't want to kill the Muslims and other non-Serbs on the land they're taking, they just insist that they leave and never come back--what could be more "perfectly reasonable" than that.

Rothbard also dismisses the atrocities of mass rape by noting that "..I don't want to disillusion any tender souls, but almost all victorious troops through history commit systemic rapin' and lootin' of the vanquished." Yes, the apostrophes are in the original. I guess that's his way of making a "tough point." The systemic nature of the rape camps in Bosnia means nothing to him.

Also, forget trying to understand this situation, fellow Americans:

"American meddling is made even more futile by the fact that it is impossible for Americans to understand, not only those fierce rivalries, but the tremendous sense of history they all possess. How can Americans, who have no historical memory whatever and scarcely remember when Ronald Reagan was president, possibly understand these peoples of the Balkans, to whom the great 15th century battle against the invading Turks is as real, nay more real, than yesterday's dinner?"

One feels dirty just reading this anti-humanist sludge. I feel civilization shaking under my feet when I read such collectivist, tribalist, racist nonsense. And it gets even worse--Rothbard not only repeats the discredited belief that the Bosniaks are descended from the Bogomils, he even claims that the Bogomils were truly evil heretics and--and we're getting into "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" territory here:

"...there is much evidence that the Muslims still practice their Bogomil rites in secret, engraving its symbols on their tombstones."

What, no blood of Christian babies in their cevapcici?

Throw in the usual canards about the Serbs failing to be good Nazis, unlike the Croats and the Bosniaks in World War II, and that about wraps up this despicable piece of proto-fascism. Rothbard concludes by gloating, with bloodthirsty relish:

"Frankly, in any kind of fair fight, my nickel is on the Serbs. Every time. And, by the way, if you were caught in an ambush, wouldn't you love to have a few Serbs on your side?"

Serbs--the Rottweilers of the human race, brought to you by Murray Rothbard.

Shame of the editors of this volume for bringing this piece of filth to a wider audience. Shame on Greenhaven for lending legitimacy to such an obviously hate-filled windup. This was not an essay, it was a provocation, and a poorly written and woefully uninformed one at that.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict" from Greenhaven Press [7]

Chapter 4: Should Nations Intervene in Ethnic Conflicts? [continued]

There are four essays in the 'pro' section ("Nations Should Intervene in the Balkans"). The first essay, "NATO Should Intervene in the Balkans", by Paul C. Warnke, gets it right; NATO has the ability to intervene and should do so, by taking firm military measures to force the aggressors to stop. The third essay, "The United States and NATO Should Intervene in Kosovo" by Bujar Bukoshi, also hits the mark, and I give the editors some credit for including this essay in 1994, a half decade before the Kosovo War when most casual Western observers didn't understand the connection. Had the author's words been heeded, the KLA might never have come into being and Kosova might not be saddled with the baggage that organization brought with it. The fourth essay, "Limited Military Intervention in Bosnia May Be Necessary" by John Roach might seem timid and halfhearted, but it is worth noting that the author was the archbishop of Minneapolis and was speaking in agreement with the official Vatican line. His argument is that intervention in Bosnia would have met the "just war" criteria the Church believes in, and that is actually a very strong argument in favor of intervention.

However, the second essay is problematic. Entitled "Use Military Force to Partition Bosnia", the authors John J. Mearsheimer and Robert A. Pape take an approach that was depressingly familiar at the time--they accept the logic of Serb nationalism while deploring its tactics. Their sympathies are with the Muslim plurality, but their solution is simply to dismember Bosnia as the Serb nationalists wanted to, only on different terms. Their plan would have "awarded" the Muslims 35% of Bosnia, and the Serbs 45%. This, the reader is assured, is perfectly reasonable.

In a short section entitled "Interest in Partition", the authors actually admit that this option is exactly what the Serb nationalists want, only with territorial concessions, while opining that "a multiethnic Bosnia must now have little appeal" for Muslims, after admitting that they have steadfastly argued in favor of a multiethnic state.

What is more remarkable is that while their plan would have restored easten Bosnia to Muslim control--an area which was mostly Muslim-majority prior to ethnic cleansing--it would give the Bihac region--another area of overwhelmingly Muslim majority--to the Serbs, and force the Muslims there to move to the Muslim ministate in the east. With friends like these, the Muslims of Bosnia did not need enemies.

The rest of this essay is concerned with the military and logistical details of this plan. To be fair to the authors, they do acknowledge the moral shortcomings of this plan. They also acknowledge that the rump Bosnian Muslim state would be much weaker than its neighbors, particularly Serbia, and they argue that in order for this plan to be viable NATO must take this vulnerable state under its wings. They also do not engage in false equivalencies, and it is clear that their sympathies are with the Muslims and that their plan is guided by political realities (i.e, what Western countries are willing to actually do). I don't want to smear them unfairly.

Perhaps this article, then, can best serve as an example of how the inaction of the West had made such a morally reprehensible policy proposal--using Western force to complete the work of third-rate Balkan fascists--into a reasonably argued least-worst scenario.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bosnia Battles to Tie With Turkey: World Cup Qualification Second Round a Real Possibility

Thanks to a game-tying goal from Sejad Salihovic, Bosnia was able to maintain their 4-point lead over Turkey to hold on to second place in Group 5 World Cup qualifying.

Bosnia-Herzegovina 1 - 1 Turkey

As noted in the article, a win at Estonia would seal the deal as far as making it to second-round qualifying.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

"Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict" from Greenhaven Press [6]

Chapter 4: Should Nations Intervene in Ethnic Conflicts?

It should be obvious by now that there is a fatal flaw in the premise of this book--the distinction between genocide and "ethnic violence" (which is never clearly defined to my liking) is never made. I'm not sure the editors even recognize that genocide is more than merely "ethnic violence" on a wide scale.

The introductory section of this chapter, "Intervention in the Balkans: An Overview", was not written by the editors themselves but rather excerpted from a publication by the "Friends Committee on National Legislation", a Quaker committee devoted to social and political issues. With all due respect to this organization, it is odd, and a little disheartening, to see the editors avoiding the task of framing the discussion in this chapter and providing background and context for the essays to follow.

One already knows where the "Friends" are coming from within the first paragraph, in which the violence in the Balkans is described as "senseless killing"; a product of "complex situations" in which we can't "categorize those involved in the conflict into victims and executioners or judge them as good or evil." The conclusion is that "[t]aking sides will not make things better. We are challenged to remember that every person is a holy place."

This, of course, is sanctimonious nonsense. The issue isn't really about judging people as evil or not, but their actions--and then holding them accountable for those actions. And sometimes, this will require vigorous and aggressive action.

After this dreadful opening, they really have nowhere to go but up and they mostly do--after a laundry list of "queries for policy makers considering what actions to take in the former Yugoslavia"; a predictably "neutral" list of peace-without-justice measures shot through with a healthy dose of false equivalency. One of the 'queries' is about that Jimmy Carteresque phrase "Conflict Resolution", one of the lamest and most pathetic responses to genocide one can muster.

The next few pages provide a synopsis of events in the region over the preceding few years, and there is little here which is objectionable or controversial. However, the "overview" concludes with a section entitled "Warnings About Intervention", in which we learn that intervention might be bad because it would put UN peacekeepers at risk (Adam Le Bor and David Rieff would get a kick out of that), and in the very last paragraph we learn that "crimes against humanity are apparently occurring on all sides of the battle lines."

The words "genocide" and ethnic cleansing" do not appear in this introductory piece at all.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Road Win Improves Bosnia's Chance at World Cup Qualification

Bosnia's chances of playing in next year's World Cup in South Africa are even better than they were, as the national team solidified it's second-place standing in Group 5 with a 2-0 win on the road.

Armenia 0 - 2 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia is not out of the woods yet--they have three games left, including one each against Spain and Turkey. But those are both home games, and sandwiched in between is a road game at Estonia. Bosnia's chances of making the next round of qualification are very good right now. In fact, Bosnia is in striking distance of group leaders Spain, should they stumble.

Bosnia is at Turkey Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

"Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict" from Greenhaven Press [5]

Apologies for dragging this rather sub-par review out for so long. There isn't much more of direct interest to this blog, so I'll wrap it up shortly.

Chapter 3: What Are the Causes Of Ethnic Conflict?

In a nutshell--five essays, all of which postulate that some outside factor* is the primary cause of ethnic violence. I appreciate that this chapter implicitly argues that there needs to be a cause, rather than simply concluding that some areas of the world are inherently violent and unstable, or that some mutually antagonistic ethnic groups simply cannot keep themselves from giving in to bloodlust without outside coercion or domestic repression.

Chapter 4 concerns the Balkans directly; I will consider it in my next post. Only one chapter after that, and then I can move on. I apologize for what I acknowledge has been a sloppy and unfocused review. It's been a busy summer.

*In order: Nationalism; Religious Radicalism; Economic Prejudice; Political Exploitation of Ethnicity; Political Crisis. All much better choices than "ancient hatreds".