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.

6 comments:

owen said...

Kirk, I went to the Foreign Affairs website to read the Death of Daytopn article and was confused. It says that there's free access to the article for registered users, then when I tried to register it seems to involve subscribing for $32.

I have yet to read a satisfactory explanation of why the international community continues to allow Dayton to drag Bosnia off the ladder of national reconstruction.

Will seems to be saying that conflict is the natural state of affairs in the world, force doesn't stop conflict, trouble doesn't mind its own business but expensive negotiated settlements don't get you anywhere. Not exactly helpful.

Anonymous said...

Reading the article, Bosnia is simply a microcosm of the former Yugoslavia. Croatians in Bosnia are just that, Croatian, while the same goes for Serbs. Three ethnic groups that do not get along and teaching different ideas on history will not prosper as a nation. Bosnia is a patient on life support. It always has been since 1995. The country will never function in its current form. Dissolving the country maybe the best development for the Balkans in a long time. People from the West can't understand the animosity amongst a people that share the same language and culture but differ in religion. War, genocide, and ethnic strife is in the blood of the Balkan people. You can thank the Ottomans for introducing it to the region.

Kirk Johnson said...

Owen--Yes, I should have made it clear that you cannot read the article in its entirety through that link. In fact, I had originally half-seriously suggested that Will knew that, so that most readers of his column would never actually get a chance to read what the Foreign Affairs article actually said. But that seemed unfair, and since I wasn't entirely serious I chose not to include that thought.

I read the article in the print edition. It's a very sobering read, but not at in the spirit of Will's column which, as you noted, is "not helpful."

Anonymous--dissolving the country would be bad, not good, for the Balkans. The region needs to come to terms with its polyglot cultural and ethnic reality, and the continued existence of the historical entity of Bosnia as a multiethnic democracy founded on the sanctity of the individual before the law is crucial to that endeavor.

owen said...

Anonymous, you are writing off all those Bosnians who do not see consider themeselves defined by/comstrained within/condemned to ethnic nationality.

Dissolving the country would be conceding the game finally to those people who wanted to destroy Bosnia - the perpetrators of genocide.

Srebrenica Genocide Blog Editor said...

Anonymous blames Ottomans for inducing genocide in the region. It seems that he has been feeding himself with Serbian propaganda history for a long time.

If Ottomans wanted to erase Serbs from the face of the Balkans, they could had done it. But they did not. Instead, they gave Serbs all rights - religious, political, and all other rights that Muslims had. But Serbian lies and history made Ottomans look like Nazis.

Let me teach you one lesson my friend: Do Not Trust Anything That Comes from Serbia's Mouth.

Remember Jasenovac? Serbs claimed that 700,000 of them were killed in Jasenovac, but the US Holocaust Museum in Washington explicitly states that around 50,000 died. I am convinced 100% that if the names of 50,000 Serb victims were properly audited, duplicates removed, fraudulent names erased - then the number of Serbs killed in Jasenovac would probably be half that figure. I am sick of your lies and fraudulent history.

God damn you for all evil that you have done to Bosniaks, Croats, and Albanians in the Balkans.

Yakima_Gulag said...

George Will might be very intelligent, but he is often ill-informed on the Balkans as a region, too many important Americans are!